Tag Archives: Winter
Today’s post is a short story by Margaret Reilly, who still misses the rink…
Margaret E. Reilly
The blue-gray light of a winter afternoon came in through the windows that lined one wall of the 4th grade classroom: windows that started waist high and went up to the ceiling in rectangular panes; windows for displaying the children’s art on; windows to gaze out of with endless longing. Martha looked out at the snow and then at the clock at the front of the room, up high beside the poster of John XXIII. She read the words beside John Kennedy’s portrait again, for the thousandth time, “Ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school.” Ten minutes to go. Three-thirty. Three-thirty-one. She watched the seconds tick by and filled in the blanks in a grammar sheet handed out by the teacher.
The windows were hung with Valentine hearts and cupids made in last Friday’s art period. Art was not treated as a subject like all the others. It was a reward given grudgingly and sporadically. Martha loved art class and would be filled with a hopeless rage when it was swept aside for extra math or some other more “important” subject. Father O’Whalen came in one Friday afternoon when they were painting life-size figures on huge sheets of craft paper, almost the best art project they’d ever done. The children had to stand up beside their desks, abandon their paints, and say, “Good afternoon, Father.” They had to pretend to be glad to see him when they were all thinking, “How could he come now when we’re having so much fun? Why didn’t he come during math class?” Father O’Whalen had a poor sense of timing. He didn’t understand children. When Martha heard the scriptural text “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” she knew it must refer to Father O’Whalen.
Finally the bell rang. Miss Beamish told them to put away their books and get their homework ready. Martha thought this was completely unfair. Once the bell rang she thought they should be dressed and ready to fly out the door. Now the torture really began. They went one row at a time to put on their coats and boots, with the teacher choosing the quietest row to go first. Martha sat so still she barely breathed. Malcolm Edwards, the worst boy in the class, sat at the end of her row. Every day he would fidget and drop things or start some kind of trouble and hers would be the last row to get dressed and leave. It wasn’t fair. How could Miss Beamish judge the whole row by the behaviour of the worst boy in the class? If a kid made up rules like that she wouldn’t have any friends to play with, but adults got away with this stuff all the time.
Martha’s skates were hanging on the peg underneath her coat. She hung them over her shoulder by the laces and hurried out with her book bag tucked under her arm and her coat half done, up. She headed for the skating rink in the park beside the public library. The shadows on the snow had already turned from blue to deep grey and it would soon be too dark for her to be out alone. She put on her skates in the hut and hid her book bag under the seat. Sometimes the big girls would come along and throw her bag in a snowbank, scattering her books and papers all over the field beside the rink. They only did this if they were bored, when there were no boys around to flirt with. It wasn’t anything personal.
Martha glided onto the ice and started her methodical circling. A light snow fell and gathered on her white toque and green plaid coat. She kept her hands in her pockets as she skated round and round, picking up speed on the straight stretches and losing it on each corner. A few boys played hockey, shooting the puck from one end to the other and calling out in the still coldness, but they didn’t interfere with Martha’s steady rounds. With each turn her mind became freer, nothing existed but the circle of ice in front of her and her gliding skates. Her thoughts grew still and came to a stop until there was no Martha – only a sensation of movement and cold and the grey-white ice. This is what Martha came for, although she never could have put it into words. If asked, she would have said, “I skate because it’s fun.” This freedom from self-consciousness was too important to talk about with just anyone. It was pleasurable enough to be a sin. If it was a sin she didn’t want to hear about it. Martha called this secret state the “funny feeling”. She wished she had a best friend to discuss this with, someone she could really trust, someone who wouldn’t laugh or talk behind her back. When spring came and the ice melted Martha could get this feeling on the swings at the park, but it wasn’t as good as skating because swinging made her dizzy after a few minutes. Skating was something Martha could do endlessly, tirelessly.
The street lights came on, Martha’s signal that she had to head for home. The sidewalks were covered with snow so she walked the four blocks on the tops of the snow banks, falling through now and then and filling her boots with crusty snow. From the porch she could smell supper cooking. One of her older sisters, likely Rose, would be getting supper ready since their mother wouldn’t be home from work until at least five-thirty. Every room in the house was lit up. Martha slowly hung her coat on the hall tree and stowed her boots in the cupboard. She savoured the last few moments of anonymity before becoming Martha again: cheerful Martha; good-natured Martha; bookish Martha. She went into the kitchen where Rose was standing at the sink, peeling potatoes.
“Could you grab that pot for me, Martha?” No one ever said hello or good-bye in her family. One just came in and rejoined life in progress.
Bare trees wave at crystalline sunlight
Icy crunch underfoot detritus rots
Unseen birds chirp at clouds open closing
Cold nose coughing hacking sneezing
Hands in pockets freezing
Hawk and owl sightings sporadically pleasing
Darkness falling early, toiling, holiday yearning
Christmas, New Year beckons hope of sun returning
It has been a lean October for birds. Neither hawk nor owl nor woodpecker to be seen, but banded woolly bears are here. Not real bears, mind you. Circumnavigations of the lake provide numerous encounters with slow moving fuzzy caterpillars. A Google image search turned up only that this picture was of an invertebrate.
However, a search on the words “fuzzy brown and black caterpillar” turned up exactly what it was:
|Isabella tiger moth|
|Woolly Bear caterpillar|
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
(JE Smith, 1797)
Pyrrharctia isabella (Isabella tiger moth) can be found in many cold regions, including the Arctic [needs citation]. The banded woolly bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it freezes solid. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws out and emerges to pupate. Once it emerges from its pupa as a moth it has only days to find a mate.
In most temperate climates, caterpillars become moths within months of hatching, but in the Arctic the summer period for vegetative growth – and hence feeding – is so short that the Woolly Bear must feed for several summers, freezing again each winter before finally pupating. Some are known to live through as many as 14 winters.
During the last weeks we’ve had a lot of sunshine here, which makes for good lighting when it comes to photographing birds. I’m trying to be diligent and not venture out into nature sans camera with telephoto lens affixed. My reward has been a few good bird sightings. We made a special trip last week to seek birds in the farmland nearby, but had no luck. So we went down to the beach that faces east to the mainland and were treated to an excellent view of Mt. Baker in Washington.
Back at the lake we watched some ducks slip sliding around on a frozen section. Parts of the ice were so thing the ducks kept falling through, which was hilarious.
We’ve seen plenty of raptors lately, including one Red Tailed Hawk that had just captured its lunch – a rat. I only noticed the rat when I downloaded the pictures.
I was too busy snapping to notice the tail of the rat!
We were treated to a perfect view of a Bald Eagle one day last week, sitting in a tree right beside the path. It’s very rare to get so close to one of these; they usually sit at the top of much taller trees, generally evergreens, too.
A Cooper’s Hawk showed up, too. Sometimes I have a hard time discerning the Cooper’s from the Red Tailed.
More birds here, somewhat easier to identify:
Windstorms rip the sky
Tearing at clouds
Release the deluge
Once living leaves drift silently
When naked branches quiver
A rotting carpet soon to join
Above them bare trees shiver
Fields of flowers
With nectar sweet
Are now asleep
Their peace they keep
The bee retreats
Within the hive
The shivering mass
Will keep alive
Before the blast
The birds are few
In the bush
They hide from view
But on the tree tops
Can be seen
The golden buds
A future green
The Lake in Winter
winter weather is here
the lake has a frozen crust
ducks stand around perplexed by solid water
they peck at the ice as if expecting food
they shuffle about like old people
wearing slipper socks on a slippery floor
but they don’t fall, and if they do
they have not far to go
we stood and watched them,
glowing in the brilliant sunlight
then started to walk away and they scattered suddenly
for no apparent reason but then two eagles cruised by
looking for ducks perhaps, or maybe not
surely it would have been so easy to swoop down and grab one
next a river otter hiding beneath the dock
where there was no ice
came out briefly chewing on something we couldn’t see
before it went back into hiding
now a hawk, a large red tail
harassed by crows it leaves its high perch
leisurely sails away, regal, nonplussed by its pursuers
it soon disappears like the otter, but into the sky
quite frozen we turn towards home now
when we find a skull hung from a branch by the path
a cow we assume, whence it came a mystery
no cows here for decades yet there it hangs
like a relic from the desert
we examine and leave it there
looking up we see the eagle swirling about
riding the updraft or merely the wind
it circles several times then heads away
towards a perch atop a tall tree,
coming to rest seemingly implacable
the master of all beneath its imperious gaze
it hardly bothers to see us as we walk by
no doubt it paid us no heed
though we looked up and admired it with looks that said
we hold you in awe and though we do not scatter when you come
we are grateful you deign not attack us
a natural fact of which we are secretly worried
lest it not be an infallible truth