Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter, The Love-Hate Time of Year

It's supposed to get above freezing today. Hooray! Until the next storm hits tonight. Here in the Northwest, I think we can love snow a little bit more than the rest of the country, this year. Or maybe not. We don't get really hard winters as a rule, so when the bad weather hits, we've usually forgotten how to drive in snow and ice.

I admit I hate being cold now, but I remember the time when I really loved it. These days, I love it, but mostly from the warm side of the window. Still, all those memories have to be good for something. That would be writing stories, of course.

We walked to school back then- yes, walked. About a mile. We girls were allowed to wear snow pants, but we had to take them off when we got to school. Yes, girls wore dresses back then.

And we went ice skating on the town reservoir, or on Weber's Lake, in the evenings. Every day we watched the temperatures and gauged the thickness of the ice by whether the temperature got above freezing. We calculated it in terms of days, and every day above freezing, even an hour, took a day off the total count. It took four days minimum below freezing all day and night for enough ice to skate, which meant we allowed at least six days for safety.

Skating was at its best on nights when the moon was full and a bonfire blazed on the shore, where hot chocolate seemed to appear in cups from moms who had dared to join us, and now and then marshmallows were blackened to taste. The ice sometimes grew so thick we could have driven cars on it, but no one ever dared. Our cars were too precious to risk. And sometimes when the lake was getting even colder, giant cracks would echo from one end of the lake to another as we'd skate over it. It was spooky. But we all knew how ice expanded as it froze, and the cracks meant the ice was getting even thicker. We would be safer, not in more danger.

On my 13th birthday, we loaded into cars and drove to a remote creek that was maybe 30 to 50 feet wide and not very deep, but was frozen along its entire course. We skated what seemed like miles up the creek until it narrowed too much and the ice had buckled too badly because it was too shallow. And then we skated back, and were so exhausted we could hardly manage to get into the cars to go home.

Mom had a special treat for us- Because it was also the day before Valentines Day, she had made meringue cups in heart shapes, baked them till they browned, and filled them with strawberry ice cream. I had never been all that fond of strawberry ice cream, but that day it seemed really special.

Ice skating was like flying to me. I wasn't all that good at it, but I rarely fell, and I felt like I soared when I skated. I didn't like Crack the Whip- the guys seemed to think it was funny to put the girls at the end so they'd fall. And we probably looked pretty awkward when we tried to skate with one leg dangling in the air behind us while we spread our arms and pretended to be flying swans.

And there were those who had boyfriends, who snuggled near the fire instead of skating. I didn't, but I don't think I cared, because I loved the skating and I preferred being out on the ice with the boys who loved it too.

I don't have any photos from those skating times. But the memories endured. And the love of soaring over the ice came to the surface again in a book, His Majesty, the Prince of Toads, a story that takes place in the frigid winter of 1816, and my hero finds a way to use Sophie's love of skating to give her a gift to ease her pain in coming to grips with a tragedy she had shut out of her mind many years before. But when he takes her out on the ice that frozen night, he is making a frightening sacrifice, knowing his war injury of shrapnel in his knee is aggravated by such action as skating. The pain is horrendous, and his biggest fear is that he will lose his leg. But for Sophie's need, he takes the risk, doing everything he can to hide his pain from her.

I won't tell you more, in case you haven't read it. I'm hoping and planning on a re-issue of the book soon. But if you get a chance to read it, you'll know, when Sophie skates, she's really me, in a way that isn't often true of my characters. But it's also where Sophie is really Sophie, and where she finds her lost life. And where Lucas finds true heroism. On the ice.


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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.