True Winter Tales: Today's pick

Ice Caves by Kathryn Zdybel

The way I remember it is that mom would tuck me and my sisters into our toques and snowpants and dad would lead us like a troop of ducks down to the lake. I grew up in Bruce County, Ontario; "Land of the Horizontal Snow" dad calls it because of the way the wind whips across the frozen plain of ice that is Lake Huron in a solid wall of snow. We'd stomp down to the lake, our boots breaking through the top layer of crunchy snow that blanketed the beach. We'd marvel at our cocker spaniel who could trot across without busting the crust. Further out, we'd hit ice. Sliding and teetering in our pink winter boots, pretending to be figure skaters with our arms held out daintily. Lying on our bellies to polish clean a window of ice, following dad out and further out still to the ice caves. 

The way I remember it is that they were enormous. Twisting caverns of ice, glinting in the winter sunlight like a snow queen's palace; foreboding on a grey day, the north wind howling like a banshee around the sharp curves. I remember climbing them and feeling like a mountaineer, but they couldn't have been more than seven feet high. Red-cheeked, we'd walk home, thick snowpant legs swishing. Mom would have hot chocolate for us in the brown mugs with mini marshmallows.

I left winter for a while. I went west to Vancouver and what they call winter there I call one long, depressing, rainy day with the sky a stubborn dish-rag grey. Where I grew up, it was not unusual to wake up to the radio broadcaster rattling off a long list of snow day school closures. In Vancouver, there was no cross-country skiing out the back door and through the woods, no ice caves on the lake, and no snow days. What's the point of winter if there are no snow days?

Now I live in the Yukon, in Whitehorse. The town is a scraped out bowl nested in a ridge of ice-crusted mountains. When the sun shines the snow sparkles like mica. Snow isn't white here; it's rose and violet and robin's egg blue, reflecting dawn and dusk in its crystals. The sky isn't grey; it's pearl or moonstone with peach smudges at sunset, or black as ink with a glowing shot of jade that flickers and laps. The snow comes straight down, crystalline. Even the grown-ups here where puffy snow pants and parkas to run their errands. Last weekend I went to an ice-skating party where the kids were on their bellies, polishing windows of ice, looking for frozen fish. I keep a pair of skis by the back door so I can skim into the woods, down into the ice cave of town.


Kathryn Zdybel is from Whitehorse, YT



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