Kate Flora: Recently someone posted a photo on facebook of kids with backpacks walking through the snow, which started some of us joking about how when we were kids, winter was WINTER. Yes, when we were kids, we sometimes walked home a couple miles through the snow. It wasn’t all uphill or downhill, but a combination of both, but choosing to walk meant we wouldn’t have to ride on the bus for over an hour before it was our turn to be dropped off.
We lived on a hill top, in an 1811 farmhouse. Because we were above Sennebec Pond, someone, probably our mother, dubbed it Sennebec Hill.
There really were more serious winters back then, with snow piles big enough to build igloos, and sometimes the pond would freeze and we could skate for miles. Our mother, always anxious about her children falling through the ice or down a well, wouldn’t let us onto the pond until our father had gone down with his ax and chopped a hole in the ice to make sure it was thick enough. Then we could skate.
If you’ve never skated on a frozen pond, let me say that it is an experience. Later in the day, when the warmth of the day has expanded the ice and the cold is contracting it, there were be huge booming crashes and sudden crack lines running beneath your feet. Scary and exciting. Sometimes we could watch ice boats racing down the pond, and sometimes ice fishermen would drive their trucks right out onto the ice. An anxious child, I always worried that the insanely fast ice boats would crash and those trucks would disappear beneath the ice. I wonder now, looking back, whether my anxiety about all the bad things that could happen was a precursor to my present career. I definitely do make a lot of bad things happen.
At this season, during one of those Maine Decembers, we would be putting the finishing touches on the gifts we would be sending
to friends and relatives in New York and New Jersey. We didn’t have money for gifts, but we could bake and we had a hundred acres of woods. While my father scoured the woods and fields for tiny plants and made terrariums in little glass bowls, we would help bake dozens of cookies of different kinds and pack them in tins. I would go out to the woods, cut balsam branches, then chop them into tiny pieces to stuff the balsam pillows I sewed on our trusty Singer machine.
Sometimes it would rain atop the snow and there would be a fierce crust of ice. That meant we could flatted cardboard boxes into sleds and fly down the slopes to the pond. Of course, getting back up those slippery hills could be a challenge, especially if the ice was so thick we couldn’t kick holes for our feet to climb back up. There were times when our ascent was on hands and knees. Still, there was little as exciting as sliding down those hills, hoping we’d make it to the bottom while also hoping we wouldn’t run into a tree. The stream through the field beside the house was especially challenging, as it froze into a thick, slick river of ice right down into a briar patch and a swamp.
I don’t miss shoveling snow, or that long walk home, but sometime I’d again like to skate on a frozen pond or dig an igloo for the newest generation.