Near the end of the ride, our 5-year old grandson, Walker, began to fidget, sprawling across his parents' laps, encroaching on his cousin Jake's personal space and on the cusp of a scolding.
"You want to sit up here with me?" our driver asked. Walker did, and with a little help from his big brothers, Aaron and Hunter, was soon seated just behind the two magnificent Percheron horses pulling the sleigh over the snow-covered, woodland trail.
The driver, a friendly, skillful young man named Mike, put the reins in Walker's hands and he drove us back to the corral.
We have rare opportunities in the South to slide through the woods in a sleigh. It's more common in the northern reaches of Wisconsin where we spent Christmas with our daughter's in-laws.
The sleigh ride was a high point of Christmas week in a winter wonderland. We saw deer along the wooded trail and unidentified animal tracks, and enjoyed a mid-point bonfire and hot chocolate break. Our driver allowed me to pet his horses.
John and Karen Lewis, Stacey's in-laws, live in a cabin on a lake near Minocqua, Wisc. They graciously invited Pat and me to join them for Christmas this year. We cheerfully accepted.
Two feet of snow accumulated several days before we arrived. The lake was frozen, a solid expanse of slippery footing extending to the tree line on the opposite shore. Wildlife tracks broke the otherwise undisturbed snow covering the ice — until the boys added footprints, sled runs and snowmen to the tableau.
Paul, my son-in-law, shaved out a sled run, including a few moguls to add interest. Walker, Jake and younger cousin Graham abandoned the sleds and made do with their backsides to speed down the "luge" run.
Pat and I, understanding the wisdom of Shakespeare's advice: "Discretion is the better part of valor," opted to watch — from the deck at first, but then decided to attempt the treacherous descent to the lake. Only one fall going down, but the snow was soft and provided an ample cushion. The view from the lake was worth the effort. The sunset painted a red and orange sky just above the trees on the distant shore, more brilliant juxtaposed against the snow-covered lake.
Getting back up the hill was at least as treacherous as getting down. I slogged up an untrampled spot, avoiding the icy path. First step, up to my knees; next step, slipped and into the snow, face first. Pat made it too, with no mishaps.
Temperatures during our visit ranged from the mid-teens to 36, unusually warm, according to the locals who had endured minus 9 the week before.
We didn't mind the cold; experiencing Christmas in a winter wonderland was a rare treat. And the sleigh ride offered a truly unforgettable Christmas memory.