Laura Grace Weldon
That annoying passenger who grips the armrest when a car goes around a corner a little too fast? That’s me. I’m a proponent of safety in all its guises—bike helmets, carbon sequestration, peace accords. I’d never risk my life in a speeding recreational vehicle. And yet.
One winter afternoon my sons offer to fix the neighbor’s snowmobile. The job is completed with much male enthusiasm. I stand at the kitchen window, judging them as they break winter’s hush with the engine’s whine, as they mark up virgin snow with tracks. Who raised these boys, anyway? I thought I’d taught them to appreciate nature by canoe rather than motorboat, on foot rather than four-wheeler, certainly not by snowmobile.
They stomp in and out of the house with gusts of cold air and loud voices, repeatedly cajoling, “Just try it, you always say it’s good to try new things.” I finally give in to avoid hearing about it again. Swaddled in down coat, thick hat, and thicker gloves, I trudge outside to betray my ecological principles.
There I’m given a lecture by young men who, not long ago, fell asleep in my arms with drool twinkling at their lips. I’m told the snowmobile goes from 0 to 60 in four seconds. Told to be careful. Told to ride it only through the yard, not out back around the cattle pasture. I’m impatient at being told what to do after a lifetime of mostly behaving myself.
I get on and tentatively accelerate. Surprisingly, this machine doesn’t scare me, probably because it slows immediately when I let off the throttle. I let myself go faster, then faster. It is exhilarating. It feels as if I’m flying. My face is stretched in a smile and I don’t want to stop.
I realize there are much longer straight runs if I go out back where there’s a heavy layer of pristine snow impeded only by posts strung with high tensile wire. I drive carefully over our bridge, past the small woods, then head around the west side of the pasture. I can really open up here.
This is SO. MUCH. FUN.
I slow to turn the corner, go around the shorter south side, then speed up on the east side. My daughter Claire comes out of the cow barn. Covered by hat and scarf, her expression is unreadable. Claire is a careful being. Have I raised her to be too cautious? Maybe my joy in this adventure will be an example to her.
I lift my hand to wave. I do this at the same time as I careen over what must be a downed branch or log fallen from our woodpile.
Instantly I shoot off the snowmobile and up into the air. I am a human arrow.
Every sensation and impression expands. I am up in a vivid blue sky, whirling around and around…weightless… free. Claire sees me flip three complete revolutions.
Then time’s stretchy glue shows me what my speeding face will hit on the way back down to the ground. High tensile wire. I don’t consider how easily it will slice through my skin and bone. I simply watch with strangely detached curiosity as the wire blurs in front of me, pure cold gleaming beauty, before I slam into the snow. I miss the wire by a few molecules.
The snowmobile is still running, crazily angled upward. My oldest, Benjamin, knows something is wrong when he hears it. He runs from the house, boots barely on and no jacket, appearing in what seems like seconds.
I lie in the snow, body coursing with euphoria, and laugh.
It’s not until both Ben and Claire chastise me, until they haul me to my feet, until I trudge back to the house to start making soup for supper that I notice the fibers of my body are vibrating like an instrument in full voice. Trembling with shock and gratitude, I realize how close I have come.
But oh, if you do have to die, twirling up in the blue sky three times before falling is the way to go.
Laura Grace Weldon is the author of three books, most recently the poetry collection Blackbird (Grayson Books, 2019), the strength of which led her to being named Ohio Poet of the Year. Her creative nonfiction appears in Wired, Under the Gum Tree, Minding Nature Journal, Tikkun, and elsewhere. Laura works as a book editor and teaches community-based writing workshops. She lives with vast optimism on a small farm where she’d get more done if she didn’t spend so much time reading library books, cooking weird things, and singing to livestock. Find her at: lauragraceweldon.com.