A Winter Storm

Aunt Katy's observations made many years ago

Climb to rescue the Princess on the Glass Hill, mush on with Amundsen to the Pole, or, with the trusty Husky, Yukon King, be Sergeant Preston pursuing a criminal fleeing justice in the land of the midnight sun. Such daydreams are bred by winter storms that encrust the snowy world around us with sparkling ice.

Surprised delight gleams on children's faces as they glide down glazed inclines, slowly the first time but later with greater speed as daring and skill increase. They stomp heavily to enjoy the thud of boots breaking through the crust and gasp for breath when balance is lost and they sprawl full-length on the frosted ground.

Sunlight dances on the polished surface, slipping and sliding merrily as a skater on a pond. Small bushes writhe through the crust while stately trees pierce it like spears. Branches and twigs, encased in gem-like crystal, moan and clatter in the wind.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses can be imagined walking through the grove on the hill, for the trees might well be made of glass. Squirrels, which only yesterday scrabbled nervously in the snowy hedgerow's weeds searching for a snack, today sleep cosily in their nests. One brave grey bushytail sits on the crest of a snowbank chewing his nails for surely he has not found a nut in this arctic wasteland.

All of yesterday's activity is frozen in its tracks. Here children romped with their dog. There a cat's gingerly footprints lead under the barn to the "Cat's Hotel", long established and presently flourishing under the management of MrTom.

Pre-dawn hours are disturbed by the clank and rattle of salt trucks making roads passable. Later the thud of shovels and swish of hand-spread salt pellets signal sidewalks being cleared. Chunks of ice, torn loose by persistent shovels, slide over the encrusted lawns like hockey pucks pursued by a frenitic dog named King.

At least King is out, not quite comprehending what has caused his doggy kingdom's scarcely navigable condition. MrTom, from his vantage-point on the radiator, watches amusedly through the window the dog's mad scrambles and ignominious flops into snowbanks. Eventually King gains the sanctuary of an ice-free doormat and spends the rest of the morning on his porch.

In the woods sharp cracks ring out when ice-laden branches break under their own weight. A tiny rivulet mutters darkly beneath its frosty shell, crystalized weeds bent and frozen in intricate designs along its brink. Tall pines fold their branches like discarded green unbrellas, gelid needles chiming gently in the wind.

Ordinarily winter storms no longer provide the intended resting time. Modern advances make business as usual possible with very few exceptions. Occasionally Mother Nature's fury at her human children's wilfulness becomes so great that they must give way to her. Snow can pile up faster than the giant plows can cope with it; howling winds and biting cold drive men, like the animals they are, into their warm lairs.

Yet the beauty of winter is still with us. Snow, wind-blown over the open fields, looks like swirls of smoke billowing, rippling, erupting in a whirlpool at the winds whim. Ribbons of snow snake over the lawn and pour insidiously over the road in ever growing drifts. A sudden gust whips a streaming veil of white from the roof-top and drops it with a splash on the lawn.

Brilliant sunlight stabs intermittently through the clouds, striking rainbows from every diamond tree. Hoary icicles have grown from the eaves, some as thick as a man's arm. How can they withstand the battering of the snow-laiden wind?

Wild things hole up snugly in their thickets and burrows. Birds seek shelter to sleep away the storm. When all is calm they will emerge to forage. We throw out seed, stale bread, and cereal, toss a handful of carrots and apples under the hedge, thinking there is little food to be found after the storm.

Behind our thermal panes we have felt none of the bone-chilling cold. The furnace's muted roar is our only reminder of the outside temperature unless we are thermometer watchers. Our dinner will be pungent saurkraut with spareribs and baked potatos bursting their shells and dripping butter. The storm has reached us only with its fascination and beauty.

Despite the cold wind, Main Street seems warm and strangers smile as they meet clambering over snowpiles. Two passers-by put their shoulders to a car's radiator as, under the constable's direction, they wrest it from an icy parking place. Grocers are busy as housewives lay in an extra supply of provisions in case the calm proves to be only the eye of the storm and worse is yet to come.

Beneath the snow the earth sleeps calm, unheeding, secure. When the time is right, warm sun and gentle rain will awaken her to fresh, new beauty. Restored by her long sleep, she'll don her flower-decked green dress and white apple-blossom apron to begin her summers work of preparing food for her creatures for the next long, cold winter.