When I was a kid growing up on a prairie farm, winter was magical. My brother and I would wake up on a cold January morning to find the entire world made of spun sugar. The adults called it hoar frost but we kids knew better. The sky was a brilliant clear blue. Ice crystals sparkled in the air. The sun sported a glowing halo and four almost-as-brilliant sundogs. Our breath froze into fog, then vanished. Snow squeaked like old leather underfoot. We were not kids tromping across the drifts through the trees surrounding our farm, we were intrepid explorers crossing the Arctic.
Winter was fun. We played fox-and-goose, made snow angels, dug snow caves and tunnels, built forts, had snowball fights, and argued about what animal had made those tracks through the pasture. When it warmed up, we made snowmen
We watched feathery snowflakes, big as dinner plates, drift lazily down from the sky, then stick out our tongues to catch them. We examined each one to see if every snowflake really was unique – could there truly be an infinite number of forms?
We skated on The Pond (a glorified slough) or on the bumpy ice Dad created in our garden, or walked into town to skate at the rink and play Crack-The-Whip. We watched curling games, and occasionally tried our hand at pushing a rock down the ice (it never went very far). The big boys and men played hockey; we stood on the sidelines stomping our feet to keep them warm. We went tobogganing on the hills about a mile from the farmhouse and came back frozen, soaked, tired, and exhilarated, eager for Mom’s hot chocolate. We watched deer tiptoe through our garden and, much to Mom’s annoyance, munch on the Mountain Ash she was coaxing from bush to tree. Hungarian Partridges burst out of bushes when we walked by. Jackrabbits teased our dogs and then, once tired of the game, hit the accelerator and left them behind in a cloud of snow. Occasionally we saw a snowy owl sitting like a statue on one of our trees.
True, winter wasn’t always benign. Blizzards screamed in across the prairies, obliterating town from view, cancelling school, plugging roads, imprisoning us in the house. Our parents lost patience as our boredom transformed into bickering. We exploded out of the house once the wind and snow stopped, oblivious of the intense cold. We ran madly through the freshly fallen snow, laughing and hollering with the joy of freedom, the dogs yapping at our heels.
When I was little, may four or six, I thought snow was made of diamonds – why else would it sparkle so in the sunlight? But if it were made of diamonds, why did they all disappear in the spring when the snow melted? It was a mystery beyond my comprehension.
That was then.
I’m older now. Winter isn’t quite as magical as when I was a kid, but I still thrill to the sight of a hoar frost-covered world. I still make snowmen and snow angels. Alas, snow is no longer made of diamonds.
Addie, my grandmother, thought she was ready for her first prairie winter back in 1910. She wasn’t. You can read about her first winter in Chapter 9 of “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead.
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