Wild Winter

Part I

A New Year

On New Year’s Eve, there was usually a big celebration. At least, that’s what people do now and did also in 1891. However, that wasn’t the tradition in Ballymore. The animal residents certainly acknowledged the new year, but they had just completed two weeks of parties and desired a welcomed rest. New Year’s Eve marked the end of the holiday season and was celebrated quietly with family and friends over a nice dinner. Those living alone usually went to a friend’s cottage for dinner. For example, Sam Snapping Turtle and Morris Muskrat spent the evening with Dr. Brigit and Puff. Most Ballymore residents retired before midnight. When the Waterford church bell announced the new year, few were awake to hear it.

Bartholomew had spent Christmas Day by himself as was his custom. For much of the day, he read his Bible. Later, he enjoyed a big dinner. Christmas Day was not so much a time of celebration as it was a time for reaffirmation of his Christianity. He felt his faith was a very personal matter between himself and God. That is why he rarely spoke of it with others. If someone sought spiritual guidance, he was willing to relate his beliefs.

For New Year’s Eve he invited Jonathan and Oliver to his home. They had a late dinner of vegetable lasagna, hot bread, pumpkin pie, and tea. After dinner the adults listened as Oliver read from one of Bartholomew’s books, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. He read for well over an hour, and everyone enjoyed the stories.

“Did you know that Lewis Carroll is the pen name for an English author named Charles Dodgson?” asked Bartholomew.

“No, I didn’t,” responded Jonathan. “But I love the book. It is so inventive.”

The owls continued to discuss the book for a while and then talked about the plans for the new reading classes, which would begin soon. Everyone hoped they would be well attended. There had already been a number of enquiries.

It was 11 bongs when the lamps were extinguished, and the cottage went dark. The new year arrived as the Owl family slept quietly.

1 January, 1892 was frigid. When the animals awoke, many witnessed frost on the insides of their windows. The bucket that Bartholomew used to raise water from the pond would not budge. December had been a cold month, and it looked like January would be even colder. Over the past two weeks, ice had been forming on the pond. For the first time in many years, there would probably be ‘ice sliding’. Ice sliding was exactly what it sounded like. The animals slid across the ice. They usually got a good start on the hill near Morris Muskrat’s cottage. Sometimes they used a board and sometimes just themselves.

It was Bartholomew’s responsibility to determine when the ice was safe. That would be his first official task of the new year. He had a special saw that he used to cut a small hole in the ice. He went to the pond near the hill and checked the ice depth in several places. The safety standard was three inches and had been set many years ago by someone. The ice was greater than three inches thick everywhere he measured.

Word spread quickly that the ice sliding could begin. Before long, many of the younger animals and a few adults were enjoying the rare opportunity. Bartholomew didn’t join them, but he liked seeing everyone having fun.

It didn’t warm up much that first day of the year. In the afternoon hot chocolate was brought to the pond by Petunia Porcupine. Ice sliding was a good way to begin 1892.

The following morning, Bartholomew awoke and walked out onto his branch to stretch. It was cloudy and cold with a breeze from the east. He was not a weather forecaster but, over the years, his guessing had improved with experience. He sniffed the air and sniffed it again. It smelled like snow, he thought. Perhaps a lot! Soon!

After a quick breakfast he toured the island to alert everyone. The older animals had come to the same conclusion — snow! Snow could be a problem in Ballymore as there was no good way to clear it away. Large storms were rare but had happened. Sometimes, animals were trapped in their cottages when drifting snow piled against their doors. Everyone needed to be prepared.

Later in the morning, Bartholomew was at Morris Muskrat’s cottage when the first few flakes drifted down. They looked up at the grey sky.

Morris said, “Well I guess we’re right. It’s begun.”

The owl responded, “Yes. Everybody is as ready as they can be. I will go home, make some soup and hope for the best. Stay warm my friend.”

“Oh, I will. Goodbye, Bart.”

Bartholomew flew the short distance to his cottage. Before long, he was sitting in his rocker with a nice, hot bowl of onion soup and crackers. He kept a cautious eye on the storm through his side window that overlooked the pond.

The storm developed gradually. The first few flakes became many flakes. The far shore of the pond disappeared from view and then the island, also. By dark the snow was falling at a moderate to heavy rate, and about two inches had already come down. The wind was still from the east, but stronger, and it was swirling the fresh snow. There would be no bedtime flight tonight.

When Bartholomew retired at 11 bongs, there were about six inches on the ground, but some areas had none while others had nine inches or more. Ballymore had turned white, and it was beautiful in a new way. The storm continued with no sign of ending. It was becoming a wild winter and wild new year.

Despite the bad weather, everyone slept peacefully in their cozy homes. They had prepared for winter and weren’t worried. They also knew that no matter how much snow fell, they could count on each other for help.

Bartholomew awoke early. He was eager to see what had happened overnight. When he looked over at his bedroom window, he saw nothing but white. The east wind had plastered the window with snow.

He quickly dressed and went out to his branch. Snow was still falling, but the wind had decreased. It was a quiet, white world. Smoke rose from the chimney of each cottage and drifted to the south as the wind had shifted to the north. Grenby once told him that meant the storm was moving away to the east.

He guessed there was about a foot of snow, and there would probably be a bit more before it ended. It was not yet time to venture out, but it certainly was time for a breakfast of hot oatmeal. He shivered and went inside.

The snow stopped falling by midday, and Bartholomew took a flight around the pond. It had been many years since Ballymore had experienced that much snow. What an incredible sight! However, it also meant that the snow was in some places where it wasn’t wanted. Some animals were already out and clearing a path. He noticed that the cottages on the west had a lot more snow blown up against their doors. Some animals would have trouble getting out.

The swans and ducks were circling the island, and he flew to them. Within minutes he had several volunteers. The group first went to the moles’ front door on the west. Using their wings, they were able to flap away much of the snow. Luckily, it had been light and fluffy. The weasels lived next door. Not surprisingly, they were taking care of their snow themselves. The last cottage that needed some clearing was Petunia Porcupine’s. It took the group about ten minutes to open a path to her door. She was very appreciative and invited them in for tea and cookies.

The next task would be to create a path around the pond. That wouldn’t be so easy, and Bartholomew was considering options. He didn’t know it then, but the problem was already being taken care of by Sam Snapping Turtle.

Sam had gotten up early, also. He was fascinated by the winter scene. He plowed through the snow from his front door to the pond. The six inches covering the ground had no effect upon him. Sam was the largest and strongest animal in Ballymore. He pushed the snow aside and flattened it with ease. When he got to the pond, he immediately saw that a path was needed around the pond. He decided that he would do it himself. He began walking north. Even though it wasn’t difficult for him to move through the snow, it would still take a long time to go around the whole pond.

After Petunia Porcupine’s tea and cookies, Bartholomew flew around again. It didn’t take him long to notice Sam. The big turtle was nearing the bluebirds’ treehouse, and Bartholomew landed in front of him.

“Good morning. You have taken on a very big task. Thank you.”

“Hello, Bartholomew,” said Sam. “Yes, I guess it is, but I love the snow, and I’ve never seen so much.”

“Neither have I and I’m much older than you.”

“I hope I can walk all around the whole pond before it gets dark.”

“I think it is a bit too ambitious to try to finish today. I will arrange for you to stay at Petunia Porcupine’s tonight. What you are doing is fantastic. I’m not sure what we would have done if you weren’t here,” said Bartholomew.

“Thank you.”

“I’ll go talk to Petunia. Don’t rush,” advised the owl.

“I won’t. Goodbye, Bartholomew.”

Bartholomew then flew to the bluebirds’ treehouse and asked them to inform everyone about what Sam was doing. Sam continued his plowing and was warmly greeted by everyone as he passed their cottage. The trek became more difficult as the snow got deeper on the west side, but he made it to Petunia’s by late afternoon. She knew he was coming and had prepared a hot dinner for him. He was pretty tired, so he retired right after dinner.

He continued plowing early the next morning. Again, everyone was waiting to greet him as he passed. Frequently, there was the offer of a hot tea or cookie. The path was finished by early afternoon, and off he went to bed. Ballymore was now reconnected thanks to Sam.