Friday, July 01, 2005

A frightening flight

Hello again, my friends.

Well, our trip yesterday turned into an adventure!

Poor Cupid was not well enough to fly because of his tooth. Oh, he wanted to, and he snorted loudly when I told him he had to stay. But I explained to him his health was important, and that we could fly another time. He accepted that, but he was not happy.

I chose Rudolph’s cousin, Randall, to fly in Cupid’s place.

Now let me explain. Sometimes the reindeer are not well enough to fly at Christmas – I remember the year Dasher had the flu! – so there are several reindeer-in-waiting.

Randall is the newest. He’s actually been in training for several years, but hasn’t had a chance to fly with the number one team. I decided to give him a chance.

Oh, he was so proud when he stood with the team. He looked around to make sure all the elves and non-team reindeer were watching.

I got in the sleigh and called out, ”Dash away all!”

We rose and flew to Finland without any problems.

Finland is one of the places where I have a home.
My main home is the North Pole, but I have several other places around the world I call my homes as well.

Sometimes I use the other homes to find out what is happening in the world. (You never know when I am traveling about in disguise. The chubby bearded man you see at the store buying yogurt might just be me!)

Sometimes I just use them as places to get away for a vacation. One of my favorite places in the Adirondacks of New York where I can get in some fly fishing.

Finland is a special place for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that’s where I get my reindeer.

We landed in Finland after a short flight.

“Hello, Joulupukki,” said the head herdsman, using the name I am known by in Finland. “You have been away too long.”

(Joulopukki is just one of the many names I am known by around the world. The name I had before I became Santa was Nicholas, by the way.)

“Hello, Gustav. Yes, it has been too long.”

He gave me a hug. I am a big man, but I felt like a child in his arms.

“So Gustav,” I said, “I hear you have a few potential candidates.”

“Oh, several I think will most please you.”

He led me to the herds. Most of the reindeer were contentedly eating grass. But when they saw me, they all crowded the fence to greet me.

I had brought along my gift bag filled with carrots. I gave each of the reindeer one.

Then Gustav led me to another field. There were fewer reindeer here, and they were not just eating grass. They were running and jumping. When they saw me, they tried to jump even higher. Some almost took off – but not quite.

I rewarded them all with carrots, too.

We continued to another field. It was surrounded by a huge net that extended 100 feet into the air.

There were just a few reindeer here. Many of them rose up to the net at the top, then drifted down.

“My,” I said, “there are some fine fliers here.”

“Oh,” Gustav replied,” they can go a short distance, but none have flown far enough yet to join the team. That one, though,“ he said, pointing to a reindeer doing a somersault as he glided down, ”I have hopes for him. And that one over there napping. He flew 1,000 feet last week.”

“Impressive,” I said.

Gustav whistled. The reindeer approached the net. I gave them each a carrot.

Gustav then clucked, and told them all to leave except the two he had pointed out.

“Voltan and Walki, you know who this is,” he said, pointing to me.

Both reindeer bowed their heads.

“Do you think maybe you would like to move to the North Pole?”

They both snorted.

I entered the field and worked with the two of them for a while, giving them commands, watching them fly.

I rejoined Gustav. “Yes, they both have potential. I think you are right: it’s time for them to join the flock at the Pole for advanced training.”

At those words, the two reindeer leaped high and circled each other several times, snorting gleefully.

I laughed.

“Send them up next week,” I said.

Then we went back to the house where Frida, Gustav’s lovely wife, had prepared a wonderful meal.

I finally rejoined my team late in the afternoon. We were soon soaring high above
the Arctic Ocean.

Several of the team looked back at me questioningly, expectantly. Oh Rudolph. Oh Prancer. I should have been more cautious with a new reindeer in the team. But I gave in a shook the reins, calling for speed.

Soon we were racing across the sky. Faster and faster. I was laughing as the wind whipped my beard around.

That’s when the problem began.

To fly straight and smooth, the team must remain in stride. But poor Randall, unused to this speed, lost the rhythm. The sleigh began to shake. Before I could slow them down, we began to corkscrew in midair.

Oh my. If I had been carrying gifts, they would have been scattered far and wide. If I didn’t have a seatbelt (thank you my wife for insisting years ago!) I would have flown out of the sleigh.

As it was, that wonderful meal I had just eaten was not sitting well in my stomach!

“WHOA!” I bellowed. “WHOA!”

The sleigh shuddered and shook as we came to a halt. All the members of the team looked back at me with relief and fear in their eyes.

All except Randall.

We started up again and flew back at a slower pace. When we landed, I made sure the stable elves gave the reindeer a good rub down and some extra food.

Then I led Randall back to his stall.

His head hung low.

Occasionally, he shuddered involuntarily.

I began to brush him gently.

“I remember the first time I flew,” I said softly. “I was so full of excitement I started doing loops in the air at full sped. I ended up hanging upside down in a tree. It took Comet and Cupid forever to get me untangled.”

Randall cautiously looked at me.

“You know, for the first time going full-speed, you did a good job,” I said. “Ask Rudolph about the time we almost crashed when he got al the he traces tangled.”

He licked my hand. I smiled and stroked his head.

I went back to the fields this morning. Randall was with the other reindeer. He was fine.

I wonder what adventures I will face today. But I think I’ll wait a couple of days until I take Cupid out for a fly.

At least until after my stomach finally settles.


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