The Spirit Sled
by Sue McAley
A great big pine tree stood tall among her fellow trees within the Small Mountain forest. They spoke among themselves the beginning of each winter. They pondered which one of them would meet its ending to an ax. For each year a few of them were chosen to stand in the living rooms of the towns people. They were decorated in a fine manner, lights, stars, angels and sometimes candy canes. This was a fine way to celebrate the spirit of life, beginning of the year and the end of a tree.
The great big pine tree spoke to the smaller ones. “Don’t fear your purpose, for it is the reason you are here.”
“That’s easy for you to say big tree” said the smaller one. “You have been on this mountain growing taller and taller, the towns people could not make a decoration out of you!”
“Yes, that’s true, but my purpose is different from yours” the big tree replied. “My purpose is to reach the top of the mountain.” The smaller trees knew this would not be an easy task. It would take years for the big tree to grow to the top of the mountain. Yet it was possible, for the mountain top was just fifty feet away. There was yet to be a tree among them that grew that tall. But they knew that many trees grew that tall and some even taller.
Footsteps were heard among the trees, they heard joyful voices which became louder with each step. “Make sure it’s round all around, not just on one side” said one man. “Make sure it will be small enough for two of us to carry,” said another.
The trees spied five men carrying axes, with the blades freshly sharpened. The men carefully walked around each small tree passing judgment on each tree. “This one looks a little thin in the branches,” said the chubby man. “This one is too small,” said the man with the big ears. “The one over here looks lop sided” said another. “That one over there would be nice, but it has a birds nest in it, and I know the birds will return,” said the man with the red hat.
“That one there,” said the man with the beard, “that one is perfect.” He continued walking up to the great big tree. “What? That will never fit inside your house,” said the man with fake fur brimmed hat. “No, no, not for the Christmas tree, but for my boy’s present, I’m going to build him a sled,” the man with the beard replied. The other men agreed, and they discussed how they were going to pull it to town with two snowmobiles.
The men chose their trees and began chopping happily. The trees that were being chopped felt a little pride, and a little sadness, for they knew they would never see the mountain again. After the men chose the trees and left, the big tree said, “I feel like a weeping willow for I am afraid that I will never fulfill my purpose of seeing the top of the mountain.”
“Maybe they will forget to come back, or get lost on the way up here” said one small tree. “I wish the men were that daft,” said the big tree, “but they have proven that when they really want something, they can get it, unlike us who are at their mercy and mother nature’s beckon call.”
The big tree was right for the very next day she heard the loud hum of machines. The big tree could only stand, wishing that she could fly like the birds that have perched upon her branches many times. At last the snowmobiles arrived, the men walked toward the big tree with determination in their faces. This is the last the big tree would see of the mountain. The bearded man raised his ax high and began to chop.
The big tree started to feel a little dizzy, but she was not in pain. Slowly the big tree felt herself falling, and fall it did. The other trees watched as the big tree was chained and taken away. The big tree realized something very exciting, she was not dead. In fact she was moving quickly through the forest. The tree had only known slight movement before courtesy of the wind. The tree started to enjoy the forest as she had never seen before.
As the snowmobiles came to a halt, the tree had but one thought. That was that she had never made it to the top of the mountain. Yet the tree had hope, maybe the people would take her back up to the mountain some day. The tree was determined to make it to the top of the mountain.
The tree was unchained and was surrounded by the same five men that she saw the day before. Together they hoisted the tree upon a bench. To the horror of the big pine tree, the sound and sight of spinning saw blades forced her into dreamland. Slowly the tree was directed toward the blades, it was not long after that the tree was now prime pieces of lumber. The tree chose to remain in dreamland where she was on top of the mountain, roots still in the ground. The man with the beard thanked his friends as they began to walk away.
“What are you doing Dad?” a young boy asked to the bearded man.
“Oh, just tinkering around, why don’t you go back in the house help your sister decorate the tree?” replied the bearded man.
The boy was disappointed but left without conflict. The bearded man took each piece of the tree and carefully shaped each one with a special saw. Hours had past when the bearded man completed his task, the big pine tree was now ready to become a sled.
The next day the bearded man came into the workshop bright and early, for he knew he had to complete the sled within the next week. Methodically the bearded man began to take each piece and put them together with screws, glue and hammers. The big tree started to wake from dreamland, she realized he had taken a new form. The bearded man became excited with pride for this was the most beautiful sled in town. The bearded man took great care in attaching the sled blades to the bottom of the sled; he knew he could split the perfect wood and ruin the sled.
The big tree now was the big sled, although she much rather have still been the big tree, there was still hope that she would watch over the mountain top.
Christmas Eve arrived, and the bearded man had made the sled shiny with gloss. The bearded man’s wife carefully wrapped a bow around the sled and sat it under the tree. The tag read, “To Arthur, Merry Christmas love Mom and Dad.” The big sled was amazed to see that the very tree he sat under was one of her sister trees from the forest.
“Peggy Pine Tree, it’s you!” exclaimed the big sled.
“Oh dear,” replied Peggy, “and I thought that my destiny was undesirable, look at you, you have been reduced to the sum of your parts.”
The big sled was embarrassed, “Yes, I guess there is little glory in being transformed into something you don’t want to be, regardless of how much you are admired by others,” replied the sled.
“Soon my job will be done, and I will be set out, or set on fire. Either way I am not long for this world either,” replied Peggy Pine tree. “I will say though, it is nice to be decorated, and looked at with love.”
The bearded man and his wife unplugged the lights, and the Big Sled and Peggy sat silent waiting to meet their fate.
The next morning just as the sun was rising, there was a big commotion from the other room. The next thing the big sled and Peggy knew was that there were two children running towards them.
“WOW, a new sled, it’s the most coolest sled I have ever seen!” exclaimed Arthur.
“Oh look,” said his sister Fran, “I’ve got a bead making kit.”
The kids continued to rip through wrapping tossing it about. Peggy watched as the big sled was pushed aside as other gifts were opened. She thought to herself that maybe her fate of the fire was better than being pushed aside waiting to be cared for.
The big sled did not fret for she knew that she would soon be climbing the mountain in the arms of the boy. Memories of her friends waving in the wind, losing their needles, and letting their fragrance off in the air gave her more determination to return to the mountain. How he wished she could be a tree again. In the midst of her thoughts, she felt herself being lifted from the ground and placed on the living room rug.
“Did you really make this sled all by yourself Dad?” asked Arthur.
“Yep, sure did, my own two hands,” the bearded man replied with pride.
Arthur sat upon the sled, his feet near the front. The big sled was strong and barely noticed the pressure. “Dad can we go sledding down the mountain tomorrow?” asked Arthur.
The man scratched his beard with a smile and said, “I suppose we could go half way up the mountain, but no further because I heard there is bad weather coming our way.” In truth, the bearded man could not wait to try the sled out.
The next day after a hearty breakfast of blueberry pancakes and vegetarian sausage, Arthur and the bearded man set about on a hike up the mountain. They knew it would be a long walk, but the ride down would be quick and thrilling. Just as they hit the path, Arthur and the bearded man happened upon Arthur’s friend with big ears and the man with the big ears.
“Hey Bobby” exclaimed Arthur, “Looks like you got a new sled too.”
“I sure did, just the one I wanted, right from the environmentally friendly department store.” Arthur looked at Bobby’s sled, he knew it was a nice sled, but not as nice as his. Arthur was polite though, and replied, “MMM looks like a great sled, would you like to race?” Bobby looked at Arthur’s big sled with curious eyes and said, “I’ve never seen a sled that big before, or any that look like that, where did you get it?”
“Yep, she’s a beauty,” the man with the big ears added.
Arthur and the bearded man beamed with pride, but gave a simple reply, “My dad actually made it.”
“Really?” asked Bobby. “He must of spent a long time on it, you’re lucky, the only thing my dad ever made me was a waffle, and it didn’t even taste good.” The group laughed as they continued up the hill.
As they went on, Arthur saw a clearing in the woods, “Hey Dad, why don’t we stop right here and just sled down this clearing, we have time, we can climb back up in less than fifteen minutes.”
The bearded man did not think this was such a bad idea. “Sure, okay, go ahead, I’ll wait for you,” the bearded man replied. Arthur and Bobby locked eyes. They knew the race was on.
Arthur laid on his sled belly down, his head in front. Bobby preferred to lean back and steer with his feet. “Hey dad. give us a count!” Bobby shouted.
The two men now felt competitive. “Okay, on three,” the big eared man replied. “One, two, three!” Bobby pushed himself and started to race down the hill. Arthur remained in his starting position and could not seem to budge the sled.
Little did Arthur know that the big sled was determined to reach the top of the mountain. Arthur pushed and pushed but still the sled did not move. Arthur switched positions so he was seated like Bobby. He pushed and pushed, but the big sled refused to move. He got off the sled and took a running start, landing face down on the sled. Still, the big sled refused to move. By this time Bobby was out of sight, and probably at the finish line.
The bearded man walked over to the sled. “Looks like I didn’t wax these blades good enough,” said the bearded man. He took out of his pocket a small jar and a rag. “Good thing I remembered this,” the bearded man said with slight embarrassment. The bearded man took great care in waxing the blades. He thought for sure the sled would fly down the hill.
Bobby came running up the trail. “Hey Arthur, nice trick, looks like you lost though.”
Arthur looked down at the sled, “It’s not my fault, the blades just needed to be waxed,” he replied.
“All right then, we’ll go further up the mountain, and I’ll race you from there,” Arthur stated with confidence.
“You got a deal,”answered Bobby.
So the group of four began to trek further up the mountain. They felt a cold wind come from the east.
“Feels like that storm front is on its way,” said the man with the big ears. The man with the beard agreed and said, “Yeah, sure does, but I think we can make it at least a quarter more up the mountain.”
The two men and two boys began a quick trek up the mountain. They were out of breath as they reached the next clearing which was three quarters up the mountain. The bearded man said, “Okay Arthur, those blades are wax to the max, do you think you can handle a speedy ride?”
Arthur looked at his father with some embarrassment for such a corny comment, but did not want to disrespect all the work that his father put into the sled. “Dad, I can hardly wait,” replied Arthur.
Arthur turned to Bobby and said, “This time you take a head start, and I’ll bet you my stocking candy that I’ll still beat you.”
Bobby rolled his eyes at Arthur’s boldness, “No, it’s okay, I can beat you with or without a head start or candy.” Arthur began to blush at his own pride for he knew that Bobby could very well beat him again.
“We’ll see” replied Arthur.
“You boys better quit yapping and do more sleddin’,” said the man with the big ears.
The boys laid their sled on the top of the incline. They both decided to take a running start and dive onto the sled, face first down the hill.
“Be careful now” the bearded man yelled to the boys as they started to run. Arthur and Bobby reached the sleds at the same time. This time Bobby’s sled took off on an angle and he had to correct its path before he hit a tree. The big sled had been dozing and suddenly realized she was being sent down hill, and after Arthur went a quick ten feet, the sled stopped suddenly and Arthur kept going. There the sled sat, still on the steep incline as if held by a rope.
“Dad, I think I hit a rock,” Arthur said as he picked himself off the ground, brushing snow off himself.
“You all right?” the man with the big ears asked as he kept his eyes on his own son fearing the same thing might happen to him.
“I’m fine” replied Arthur, “but I hope I didn’t ruin the sled”.
The bearded man began to investigate the sled and ground. “I’ll be darned!” exclaimed the bearded man. “There’s no rock or anything in sight that could have stopped this sled.”
Arthur must have stuck his hand out or something,” said the man with the big ears.
“I don’t think I did anything that could have stopped the sled,” Bobby answered with some frustration.
The big sled began to feel more at home for she was very close to the place that she had spent many years. Just as she was thinking about how nice it would be a tree again, she felt the boy tug at her to try to get her down the hill. The big sled had to hang on so tight she thought he was going to be a pile of splinters.
“Dad, this sled WON’T GO” Arthur said, nearly in tears.
“What do you mean it won’t go?” the bearded man replied. “You just were on it when it took off like a rocket.” The bearded man approached the sled. He picked it up and started to walk up the hill toward the flat. The big sled was happy to go up hill and Arthur was dumbfounded.
Once again, they knew they had to wait for Bobby to try to make it up the trail again. It was dangerous for someone to be alone on the mountain for long. The bearded man began to feel disappointed with himself for making a beautiful sled that is only good for dreams and store fronts. But the sled was useless as far as fulfilling what he thought was the tree’s purpose. The big sled felt so excited at the prospect of going up to the top of the mountain. She tried to relax and let the men move her from side to side as they examined her for defects. But she knew in her heart that she did not have any defects, but rather a different purpose than what the men wanted.
Bobby ran up the hill as the men were waxing the blades again. “Arthur, what happened this time?” Bobby asked as he caught his breath.
“I think I caught a rock, but Dad said I didn’t.” Arthur replied. Arthur drooped his shoulders and even Bobby and the sled could not help to feel bad for Arthur. “Next time, you get the head start, and I’m not leaving until you take off,” Bobby said trying to get Arthur excited again.
“All right, but let’s go to the top of the mountain, so the ride will be extra long, we’ll go all the way to the bottom” replied Arthur.
“Arthur, I don’t think that’s a good idea, the weather is changing quickly, it is starting to flurry and we don’t want to get caught,” the bearded man said.
The sled nearly panicked at the prospect of not making it to the top of the mountain. Her will was so strong that she started to edge her way to the top. “DAD LOOK, IT’S MOVING BY ITSELF!” Arthur yelled.
The bearded man l looked down and saw the sled not only move, but move upward. “That’s funny,” said the man with the big ears.“There’s not enough wind, maybe the sled is tired of being a boat anchor.”
The bearded man took a deep breath, knowing that he desperately wanted his sled to fly fast down the hill. “I guess if we can move real quick, we can be down the mountain within an hour or so,” the bearded man stated.
The men and boys once again made their way to the top of the mountain. The sled could not be happier as she began to feel the thin air and cold breeze the closer she was to the place she had longed to be. She spied the needles of her former pines peeking through the snow. She could never forget where she was, where she came from and where she needed to be. She thought if she could just speak to the men, they would have left her and used the oak tree instead. She heard that he was getting bored anyway.
As the men reached the top of the mountain, they sat their sleds down. “Arthur, you go first” said Bobby.
Arthur was in no mood to argue for the sake of pride, all he really wanted was to ride his beautiful sled. All the sled wanted was to stay put, for she finally realized her dream of being on the top of the mountain. Arthur sat on his sled and pushed, the sled did not move. Arthur got off and tried to run with the sled, the sled sat still. “Let me give you a push,” Bobby offered.
Bobby got behind Arthur and gave a firm push on Arthur’s back. The sled was motionless as Arthur was pushed off the sled. “Hey!” said Arthur as the men started to laugh, “It’s not funny!” Arthur got on the sled and noticed that the snow fall began to fall quicker.
“Okay Son, I’m going to push you now, we are running out of time, the blizzard is on its way.” The bearded man squatted low and gripped the edge of the sled. He pushed and pushed, but the sled was determined that she was to stay.
“Oh come on now, Arthur isn’t heavy, so you must be weak as a girl.” The man with the big ears said jokingly.
The sled thought to herself how she was going to show them just how weak a girl was. She knew she would never move now, they would have to burn her off if they wanted her off. The man with the big ears gripped the sled on the other side. The sled thought that the man with the big ears needed a lesson and she moved just enough for him to lose his footing and she stopped suddenly. The man with the big ears tumbled face first into the snow.
Now the bearded man was satisfied, he knew something was wrong with the sled but would not let the idea of his boy riding it to the bottom of the mountain go. This was a risky situation for the snow was falling as fast as snow could. The men and boys were beginning to be covered in snow.
“Okay all of are going to push on three, she’s going to go down this mountain.” With all their force, they pushed, and the sled would not move. The men and boys were red in the face from pushing. “I’m sorry Arthur, she’s not moving today, I’ll have to take her home and look at her. Maybe she’s unbalanced,” said the bearded man. He was beginning to see that there must be something wrong with the work he did. And that made the sled both sad and happy. She was sad because they did not recognize her strength and desire, but happy because the bearded man admitted he had made a mistake.
The wind was starting to blow faster and colder, and the snow had reached their ankles. “Arthur, pick up the sled and pull it down,” said the bearded man.
Arthur obeyed because he knew the danger of waiting too long. Arthur grabbed the sled and began to pull. The sled would not move. “This is no time to play around Arthur!” cried Bobby who was feeling afraid.
“I’m not playing, it won’t move!” replied Arthur.
“I’ll get it”, the bearded man exclaimed, and he quickly grabbed the sled and gave a firm yank and pulled.
“OUCH MY BACK!” The bearded man felt the pain in his back as the sled refused to move.
“Gee whiz, does this run in the family,” the man with the big ears said as he started to pick up the sled. He then realized that this was no joking matter. The snow was now creating conditions where one could not see more than five feet a head of them. The men had to leave or be stranded on the mountain.
The bearded man looked at Arthur and said, “I’m sorry but we are going to have to leave her hear, we’ll be stranded if we waste one more minute up here.”
Arthur knew his dad was right. He also knew that the sled would be buried and chances of finding her again were slim. The two boys and the two men all squeezed themselves tightly on Bobby’s sled and rode down the mountain slow but sure. The sled was finally happy as she felt herself being blanketed with the beautiful snow she had once experienced in a different way. She fell fast asleep and knew she would wake up in the thaw.
The very next spring, Arthur and Bobby made a trek up the mountain to find the sled. It took them almost all morning and a picnic to spot the sled. The sled was set deep into the ground, underneath, was a rabbit’s nest. The sled was afraid she would be moved, and feared for the safety of the rabbit.
“Look Bobby, the blades are rusted,” said Arthur.
“Yeah, and a rabbit even made a home for itself,” added Bobby.
“She ain’t worth the trouble now,” said Arthur, “besides, the new one my dad made worked just fine. I guess the oak tree was a better choice of sled wood.”
The two boys studied the rabbit’s nest without disturbing it. They walked away talking about the same week the blizzard started, and what would have became of them, had they insisted on making the sled go downhill. The big sled heard the final words fade away from her.
“Maybe it’s a good thing. If she went down the first times, we would of kept sledding just for fun.”
The sled was completely content and at peace knowing that she had fulfilled her purpose. She was on top of the mountain and could look down at the many plants and animals that she once knew as her own form. She accepted her new form and found a completely new purpose, to protect the baby bunnies from those who wanted to make Easter pets and coats out of them.