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The Ski Doo opened up our winter world even more. Trails, previously bogged down by several feet of snow, now became passable with the snowmobile. Everyone (with the exception of mother) became adept at handling the machine. It was a challenge. Today’s snowmobiles offer big roomy rides. The tracks are longer and wider. The skis are set wider for extra stability. There are suspension systems which allow the sleds to grip the snow even better and make for easier turns. The weight distribution is superior, and provides better balance. Frankly it’s like driving a sports car.

The 1968 Ski Doo was a physical workout. You had to stand up on the machine and tip your weight on the ski to get it to dig in and make a turn. Because the tracks of the old machines were narrow, it was like balancing on top of a ridge. Each fluctuation of weight could tilt you the wrong way. If you had a passenger, the two of you would have to work in tandem throwing your weight to one side or the other to make turns and avoid snow drifts. I would compare it to riding a mechanical bull.

But it was worth the thrill of blazing around the cabin property. Hearing the engine whine and howl. Smears of green and white flashing by in blurred shapes. I became aware of what it’s like to be on the cusp of control. I embraced the moments when fate would decide if I would crash or not. For me it was an out-of-body experience. I felt fully alive every moment.

Our snowmobile races honed the abilities of each kid. Dad would break trail around the back forty acres we called “Circle Drive.” Each child would be given a turn while he stood outside with a stopwatch. The three of us were highly competitive. We launched off the first drift and roared into the woods. My brother and I regularly switched off winning, but mother was the real story. Dad also timed her. But. It was to see how quickly she ran into a tree (which was often). Then we heard cries of “Bob” because mom couldn’t wrestle the Doo out of the snowbank. You could set your watch by her.

Dad also cut trails through the woods, which made it easier for the deer to find the cabin. They often appeared at twilight when the brightness of the snow faded to a muted blue. Dad distributed bags of deer corn. The scent bringing the graceful creatures in droves. With the outside light on, we tried to count the number of deer. But they just kept appearing and disappearing. So it was impossible. Even after we went to bed, we could hear the rustling of the deer as they competed for the corn.

From my vantage point on the third deck of the bunkbed, I could see the moon as it traveled through the sky. The glow cast an otherworldly feel into the night. Shapes of deer morphed creating shadowy figures.

I dreamed of taming a deer and riding the beast through the woods with a green harness that tinkled tiny bells. Together we would explore special places deep in the forest.

It was at this time, I decided there were deer on the moon. There was no factual basis for this conclusion. But at the age of ten-years-old, I made up my own rules about reality. I still insisted that my family call me D’artagnon. Although the lapses in this request were frequent. I began to weave the tale to my brother who was still my faithful aide de camp in most things. I created a herd of moon deer with shiny white coats and pale eyes. These sparkling creatures watched from the moon to help animals and children in need. When a resident of the woods was in trouble, they trotted down on stair step moonbeams streaking to the rescue.

I embroidered upon this tale building up rescue scenarios of lost bear cubs and injured fawns. Each saved in heroic fashion by the moon deer. In fact, I thought so much about the moon deer, I began to believe something magical did live in the night sky.

It was at this time that we were introduced to the delights of night sledding. Dad allowed us to take the Ski Doo for evening runs. It was a rush. Because it was such a challenge for two to ride the Doo, we took turns bursting around the back forty.

It was a frosty night when I took my turn on the Ski Doo, and halfway around the circle crashed into a snow drift. Crashing was not a big deal. You knew it was going to happen. You just let yourself fall into the snow. That night I got up and brushed myself off. There was no way I was going to wrangle that machine out of the bank. But I wasn’t worried. Dad kept track of when you left and when you should be back. So I knew it was simply a matter of time before I would see his dark shape with a flashlight stomping through the woods.

I turned off the machine and sat down on the cushion seat to wait. The night was motionless. The black sky provided a dark contrast to the blue tinted snow. I took a deep breath letting myself feel the beauty of the night. This was simply heaven on earth. I smiled at the moon above (and possibly the moon deer who lived there). My eyes dropped back down. It was then that I saw him. An impossibly white deer. His shiny coat reflecting the moon beams. It couldn’t be. A moon deer. I had been right all along. There he stood. His breath puffing small wisps of steam into the arctic air. I couldn’t move. My shock so complete. We stared at each for what seemed a lifetime. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Then he was gone. Like magic. I turned my head and saw the reason why. Dad was trudging along in the snow waving his flashlight back and forth. I jumped up from the Doo and rushed toward him through the snow.

“Dad,” I exclaimed. “They’re real! I saw one!

He shone the flashlight at me. “What are you talking about?” he said.

“The moon deer. Dad. The moon deer. I saw one. Right by the Ski Doo!” I exclaimed.

Dad not being up on his Northwoods folklore had no idea what I was talking about.

“What’s a moon deer?” he asked.

“Dad!” I was exasperated. “They live on the moon and come down to help animals and people too! The moon deer was watching over me while I waited for you.”

“Okay,” said Dad. “Well, that’s nice.”

“Nice!” I burst out. “No Dad. It’s amazing. It’s crazy. I can’t believe it.” I stopped for a moment. Dad was bouncing the Doo upright. He flipped that machine around like a toy.

“Dad,” I said with all the seriousness of a 10-year-old. He stopped and turned toward me. “I do believe it. Moon deer are real. He stood just right over there.” I pointed to the snowbank.

“Just look,” I insisted. “I bet his tracks are still there.”

So together we climbed the small hillock and peered behind. Sure enough. There were hoof prints. Unmistakable.

“Well, something sure was here,” said Dad. “Definitely looks like deer prints.”

“Not deer prints!” I said. “MOON deer prints!”

“From the moon right?” asked dad.

“Yup,” I replied. “Right from the moon.”

He smiled then. Dad was not an overly affectionate man. But he didn’t want to break my heart. So he gently said. “Well, I believe you. I’ll keep a look out for the moon deer.”

“Thanks Dad,” I said.

He grasped the cord of the Ski Doo and pulled. The machine roared to life. “Do you want to drive it back? he asked.

I smiled “yes”. He gave a wave and started walking through the snow back to the cabin.

I took the long way back hoping for another glimpse of my magical creature. But I saw nothing more that night.

Later that winter, dad heard from the neighbors who lived year round in the Northwoods that an albino deer had been spotted. The word was put out through the local taverns and bars that the albino deer was off limits. No one was to harm her. Eventually the deer was named “Caspar” and became a favorite resident of the woods. I never saw her again but she was often sighted making her way through the moon lit nights.

Just like a moon deer.

Maybe they are real.










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