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On the Turtle’s Back

We had some awful steps across that frozen lake. Snow above the knee, snow shoes not present, something about a below zero forecast. Minnesota has more ice than a Botswana diamond mine and we had a group of seven. Some pushed ahead of the group and some took their time. Even a snail can pursue at an invaders pace. Banshees of the night. Two of us had headlamps but that was over by the time we reached the island, only a mile from our cabin, as the crow flies. With the snow it felt like five miles of semi-submerged mud atop a bogged-down wetland and that black silhouette in the distance looked like a silk dress wrapped around a pretty women. So someone said, there it is and we were nearly there to the island. It looked like a turtle, to me. We collapsed under a relic stone still, probably used for cooking, but I couldn’t tell. It may have been fifty–make that sixty–years old. It just applied for artifactship; a young relic. The snow was deep enough to burrow like dogs and so we did burrow in like dogs; enough to juke the wind and above the stars were far enough away to spy on. We turned our headlamps off but only out of respect to those dyeing suns. It was here we passed the moonshine and tried to find the dipper. We breathed like Nords. All hail the northern winter.

The island was rolling, like the bridge of a violin and a sense of wayward expansion accomponied the increasing size as we moved up along the trail. A slight incline to the center where the terrain moved up into the guts of the island and then down again into a frozen marsh that I hadn’t been able to see until it was very close and I could see the vegetation change. We walked along the line of deer tracks only briefly. Here in the trees is where the wind was buckled to its knees, having lost its bite after ricocheting through tree limbs left it but a whimper on our shoulders. This was where we first strapped in and, one by one, carved through the powder and rode over bent tress like those satellites seemed to straddle the stars above us. It was quick. Probably worth more than the climb but we cheered as the few headlamps lit the runs of those who were blind without them. There’s more if we keep going. More powder up the hill, into the interior of the island. A hill, much larger than this and an old cabin where we can relax. I believed them.

Not much logging here, I thought. The trees were large and powerful without any undergrowth to survive and their limbs were high and out of our way.

photos shot by Cale MacMillan

We continued until we couldn’t. The cabin was more like cabins, in the plural sense. An old camp left to rest while the summer waited for spring, and the spring waited for winter. Picnic tables piled with snow and handprints made by the mud of the lake painted the walls: it was wallpaper of the cheapest kind and intuitive as well. We found one unlocked. Clean on the inside but cold without insulation or a proper door. We sat on the frames of the bunk beds and smoked tabacco sacrilegiously. What we had was a tired ambition of ruthless example; many of us knew it was a simple run. A simple run from the summit and back to the cabins at the bottom. Somewhere we knew it was without competition or watchful eyes nor rails nor jumps. Snowboarding of the simplest kind. The snow continued to fall outside as we cussed and talked and also sat silent at times. Camaraderie of the simplest kind, too. We only wanted to ride a toy.

We climbed to the top of the hill. It was the highest point and also the steepest. Snow had gone from our knees to our waists so we used our snowboards for pikes when we climbed. That’s just the way it was up there. Deep as hell. There was a cross, too. Made from wood and tall as a man. It might have been ominous at times. Empty cabins, crucifix, old growth forest. Fuck it, I said. Because its hard to think of anything negative with a snowboard attached to your feet.

We went up and down all night and watched each other barely miss the trees. Like missiles or surfers. There’s that mythology. You know the one about the world being on a turtle’s back? I thought about it a whole lot that night. It just walks with all that weight on it’s back, day after day, forever. And the world doesn’t even care. Only when it adjusts its position, and it’s head blots out the sun. It just does it’s simple little thing while everything happens. I thought about the snow and the vikings on their skis. I thought about the night sky, too and I wondered how many people have lived and died. I thought about the deer that made the path to the marsh. I thought about the campers putting their muddy hands on the cabin walls. I thought about the rest of the world sleeping and I asked myself how old I was really. I thought about the kings and the queens, the frozen grass under the snow. I thought about Jake Burton and Tom. And It suddenly all just made sense to me, that turtle with the world on its back. And I looked down at my snowboard that was attached to my feet. And I saw my friends in the powder, disappearing into the night. It all just made sense to me.