You may recognize these two hellions who always tried hard, though unsuccessfully, to keep out of “trouble.”
Here is another episode of The Adventures of Muck and Finn, by guest writer, Lorne Finlayson.
Winters were colder when Muck and Finn were kids. Colder than they are now. I mean the Real Winter, the part that started after New Year’s, when kids had to go back to school. That was when smoke from wood stoves went straight up into the air. That was when it seemed like the sun came up, only to go right back down again. Houses had poor insulation and some had none at all. In the Real Winter it was often possible to see frost on the nails inside of the house. Finn’s cousin, Bob, had a room on the cold north side of his house. Sometimes, during the dregs of January or early February, not only could one see frost on the nails that held the drywall but there would be frost on the wall itself. On super cold days Bob’s blankets would be frozen to the wall. Now, that’s cold. And Bob lived in one of the better houses in the whole district. That was Real Winter for you.
Real Winter was the time of year when little boys got their tongues stuck to things like steel flagpoles and skate runners. One time Finn was playing outside and was really thirsty so he licked some ice frozen to a shovel. The first lick was great, but on the second he licked right up onto the bare steel. His tongue was caught and just would not come loose. Finn was trapped and started to cry. He didn’t want his tongue to be ripped to pieces on the frozen shovel.
Holding up the shovel, stuck tongue and all, he ran into the house. Finn’s Dad saw what had happened and poured warm water on the shovel beside his tongue until the steel warmed and the tongue popped free. He didn’t even get into trouble. His dad must have figured he had been in enough trouble already, glued to the frozen shovel and all.
Up until Christmas holidays, winter was lots of fun for kids. The first cold weather would freeze the little creek that ran below town. Kids could skate for miles on its glassy coat, all the way from the bottom of the hill beside the road leading out of town, around all the corners and straight stretches to the Second Beaver Dam. That was a very long way away, in kid measure. At first, the ice would crack and they would have to skate really fast so as not to fall in. Often they could see the crack as it shot ahead, zig-zagging way faster than they could skate. Flounder might be a better word because their hand-me-down skates always needed sharpening and were usually too big or too small.
Some years the lake outside of town would freeze over before the snow fell. The big kids would skate for miles on it. At night they would build bonfires on shore and then skate off into the darkness. If a person stood really still the sound of their skates would ring Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, as they powered across the mirror smooth surface.
Real Winter could be very busy. Late November or early December would usually bring a nice snowfall, maybe a foot or so deep. That would put an end to skating on the river and the lake but the snowfall meant it was time for the men to go out into the bush and cut firewood. In those days firewood was really important. All the houses were heated by wood. In Real Winter the sap would hide in the roots of the trees, so there would be less of it in the trunks to gum up the chimneys. This soot could build up and then catch on fire right in the chimney. A chimney fire could get so hot that it would catch the roof or ceiling on fire and burn the house down. It happened every year. Wood cut during Real Winter would sit over the summer to dry and be burned the following winter. Most of the firewood came from poplar trees, for there were lots of them and they grew quickly. Good thing, too, because they did not give much heat so it took a big pile of poplar wood to keep a house warm.
Finn’s dad and mom burned wood in the cookstove all day to cook and keep warm. At bedtime his dad would put coal in atop the wood, for it burned slowly and gave good heat to save them from getting cold before morning. Finn’s dad only used Drumheller coal, from Drumheller, Alberta. He said it was the best and it left very few ashes and “clinkers.” Finn wasn’t sure what clinkers were, but he knew they weren’t good.
Before anyone knew about gas-powered chainsaws the men would go out and cut down the poplars with axes. Then they put the logs into neat piles. When enough had been cut they would head out with a team of horses and a sleigh, load the logs and bring them home. The logs had to be sawn up into blocks, about 18 inches long. If the block was too big around to make good stove wood it would later be split in half, or more, until it would go into the stove to keep folks warm.
Sawing up those poplar logs was quite an operation. Farmers would mount a big, round saw onto the front of a tractor where it could be driven by a wide belt attached to a pulley near the engine. Usually a crew of three or four men would do the sawing. If there were four, three of them would work together to lift the log and put it onto a ledge in front of the saw blade. The fourth man would be on the other side of the saw. He and the man nearest to the saw would slide the log into the saw. When the block was sawn free the fourth man would pitch it into a pile. Then the men holding the log would move ahead so that another block could be sawn off. When the log had been all sawn up they would go back, get another log, and start over again. It was pleasant work, not very difficult and if the crew worked together they could cut a lot of wood in a day.
For little kids, like Muck and Finn , it was the time of year to go sliding. There was a nice hill behind Muck’s house where all the town kids got together, bringing sleds, toboggans, sheets of tin, skis or anything that would slide down that hill. It wasn’t a really big hill so it took only a smidgeon of time for the kids to shoot down, hearts in their throats, then climb back up to go again.
In that happy year before Muck had to start school Muck and Finn had the hill to themselves while the other kids were in class. Muck had a really fast sleigh, with steel runners and just enough room for two little boys to sit as they whizzed down the slope.
One sunny but cold day Finn’s mom dressed him up in his warm winter snow clothes and away he went, over to Muck’s house. Muck was all ready to go. Before they got out the door, Muck’s mom said , “You boys be careful, now. Daddy and the men are going to be sawing wood close to the house at the bottom of the hill. I don’t want you to slide into that saw. Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes, we’ll be careful,” they said, nodding like a pair of bobble heads. They could already hear the noise of the tractor and the whine of the saw as it cut through the poplar logs. When they got outside and went around the house they could see the men at work. Muck’s dad had a John Deere tractor that huffed and puffed as it worked away. He was throwing the blocks as the screaming saw chopped them off. They watched for a few minutes until the lure of the hill overtook them, then they raced up to the top to get ready for that first run.
Oh, it was such fun, shooting off, almost out of control, just a little bit scared at how fast they were going. Down the hill, then up again as fast as their little legs could carry them. Sometimes Muck would sit in front and steer, sometimes it would be Finn’s turn. As the morning went on and the sun got warmer the snow was more and more slippery. Each run took them nearer to the house, nearer to the men sawing wood. They were so excited and so happy that they just didn’t notice.
Near noon they figured out that if they held onto the sleigh, ran really hard and then jumped aboard they could go even farther and faster. It took some practice. At first they couldn’t do it together and fell all over the place, rolling down the hill, then getting up and chasing after the runaway sleigh. Soon they got it right, and Muck held onto the front part of the sleigh and Finn leapt on behind.
Down, down, down the hill they went, the wind cutting into their eyes, making them water so much they could hardly see. They had never gone so fast. At the bottom of the hill was a little bump that threw them into the air, screaming for joy. But, they kept on going, faster and faster.
The boys were so excited that they didn’t hear the chugging tractor and screaming saw as they got closer and closer. When they opened their eyes that shining, whining saw was right dead ahead. Its hungry teeth were just about the same level as their little toqued heads.
Muck yelled, “Duck!” and they did, shooting under the saw past the startled faces of the sawing crew.
They came to a stop by bumping into the house and falling off the sleigh. Muck’s dad was there about the same time, and he was not pleased. He said, “You boys! You could have cut your heads off! Leave that sleigh right where it is and get into the house. You’re finished sliding until I say so.”
He was more scared than angry. And, he was right. Heads down, Muck and Finn went into the house and sat down at the kitchen table. Muck’s mom asked, “What have you boys done now?”
Muck stuttered, “Um…we were sliding and we went under the saw and Daddy said for us to go into the house because we can’t go sliding any more.”
Her face went a bit pale at those words. She spoke slowly and softly. “ Oh, my goodness. Finn, you go home and tell your parents what happened and you, Muck, you go up to your bedroom and stay there. You boys can’t play together anymore today.”
Clearly, she was really upset because she didn’t give the boys any milk and cookies like she usually did. When Finn got home and told his mom and dad they were not pleased, either. It was the first time Muck and Finn were ever in “trouble,” that word that terrifies all little kids.
The next day the wood was all sawed, the tractor and crew were off somewhere else and they were allowed to slide down the hill once more.
But never again was it as exciting as that time when they went under the saw!