Wild Winter

Part III


Bartholomew was amused by the snowball fight and found it gratifying how the animals joined together to finally win one against the weasels. It was all in good fun.

He looked up at the sky. Since Grenby was hibernating, he found he was observing the weather more than usual. Frequently, after a snow, it turned clear and colder. That didn’t happen this time. It had remained cloudy, and the temperature seemed slightly warmer (or less cold). Hmmm.

The following morning it began to sleet. The sleet rat-tat-tatted off of the cottage windows. After a couple hours of the noise, the sleet changed to a cold light rain. Since the temperature was still below freezing, the rain froze, and a slippery, shiny glaze quickly covered everything.

The chipmunk kids thought it looked like fun and went outside to play, but it was too slippery, and that idea was soon given up. Slowly they managed to crawl back indoors. A little later, Petunia Porcupine needed some water for baking. Without thinking about the ice, she walked out to the water pump. She immediately slipped, and before she knew it, she slid all of the way down to the pond. She wasn’t hurt, but it took a while for her to crawl back in her cottage, without any water.

The light freezing rain continued throughout the day, and the layer of ice covering Ballymore grew thicker. Tree branches began to bend under the added weight.

As darkness fell, the rain stopped, and all was quiet. The clouds cleared, and a crescent moon rose. Bartholomew gazed out his window at a magical, sparkling wonderland. Every branch, on every tree, glistened as though lighted from within. Long icicles hung from cottage eves. Ice crystals even created a halo around the moon. He wished he had a painting of this incredible scene. Across the pond, Farley Frog was also looking out his window and appreciating the view. He had the same idea as Bartholomew and was making sketches that would one day result in an exquisite painting.

Overnight, the temperature rose, and the magic melted away. By morning there was little left. It was almost as if it had been an illusion or dream. Many stuck a nose or paw out their door and were pleasantly surprised by the temperature. The weather wasn’t warm, but compared to frigid, the change was very welcome.

Bartholomew, quickly, made it clear that no one should venture out onto the pond anymore. The ice could not be trusted. The warmer weather stayed for the next few days, and the snow melted. The ground unfroze and became soggy.

On Thursday, in the middle of the night, Sam Snapping Turtle was awakened by a loud noise. It was obviously coming from outside. He got up and looked out his front window towards the pond but saw nothing. It was a quiet, starlit night, but every couple of minutes, the silence was shattered by a loud cracking sound. He went outside and walked down to the pond. The noise was, in fact, coming from the pond. The ice was breaking up!

Large chunks of ice were breaking off and trying to float down the creek. However, the creek wasn’t wide enough, and they were getting stuck. Worse than that, they were forming a dam that was blocking the water flow. Sam realised that this was serious. If the water couldn’t flow down the creek, Ballymore would be flooded.

Even though it was 3 bongs in the morning, he felt he had to tell Bartholomew. He immediately left for the owl’s home. As he walked along the edge of the pond, he saw that jagged cracks had appeared everywhere in the ice. The water level had already risen a bit. He reached Bartholomew’s and climbed the steps to the treehouse.

Knock! Knock! Knock!

In all of the years that Bartholomew had watched over the Ballymore community, no one had ever banged on his door in the middle of the night. He was awakened from a sound sleep and immediately became concerned.

He rushed to the door and opened it. Sam was out of breath as he walked in.

“Sam, what is it?”

“The ice is cracking, and the pond water is rising! We’ll be flooded!” said the turtle breathlessly.

“Now, calm down,” instructed Bartholomew. “Here, sit down, and I will make some tea.”

Sam told Bartholomew everything he saw and heard. It didn’t take long. Bartholomew agreed that it appeared to be a serious matter and thanked Sam for coming so soon. After the quick tea they hurried back to the creek.

Bartholomew saw that the ice was, indeed, piling up, and there was little water getting by. This was a problem that needed action, but it needed thinking first.

“Well, there is nothing to do tonight, and we do have some time. Let’s both go back to bed and deal with this in the morning,” said Bartholomew.

Sam agreed, said goodnight, and returned to his cottage. Bartholomew flew home. Before going inside, he pushed a tall stick into the mud at the edge of the pond. He marked the water height on the stick and noted that the time was just now 5 bongs. That would give him the information he needed to calculate how fast the water was rising.

When he finally got back to bed, he couldn’t sleep. He was trying to think of ways to break up the ice jam. He wondered how much time they had until the first cottage was flooded. That cottage would be the frogs’ or Grenby’s, he guessed.

At 8 bongs, the daily knock on the door came from Branna Bluebird. He briefly told Branna about the new problem and asked her to inform everyone that there would be a meeting at the creek at 11 bongs.

Branna and her family spread the word quickly. Of course, the animals saw the ice breaking up, and they saw the dangerous ice jam when they arrived at the creek later that morning.

When Bartholomew got there, he found many worried looks. There was good reason. The situation was the same as last night, if not worse. Giant pieces of ice continued to fight with each other to try to fit into the small entrance to the creek. They were very slowly shifting, crunching, and piling up on each other. Almost no water was flowing as the ice blocked up everything. The creek looked very strange empty of water. You could walk across it without getting wet.

Bartholomew spoke to the group.

“As you can see we have a problem, but it is a problem that we will solve. I have taken some measurements and calculate that we have about two days before the rising water threatens the first cottage — Grenby’s. After this meeting I will have to wake him and give him the news. We have to figure out a way to safely break up this ice and let the water flow into the creek.”

The frogs were safe, at least for a while. He had remembered that they could close a cover at the bottom of their pool. That kept additional water from coming in.

He continued, “I have one idea, but do any of you have any thoughts?”

Finn jumped up.

“Yes, Finn?”

“There is warm water coming into the pond west of the island. If we could get that water here, it would melt the ice.”

Bartholomew had a quick reply. “Yes, there is. However, it would be very difficult to get that water here, and it would take too long.”

Branna was next. “We could build a fire on each side of the creek and melt the ice.”

“Yes, I thought of that, also. It could work, and we will try it. Thank you, Branna.”

No one else spoke. So, for the moment, there was only one plan.

Bartholomew said, “Let’s build two fires and hope for the best. I would like Burton to help supervise. We should start immediately. I am going to talk to Grenby now. I’ll be back soon.”

Burton came forward and began assigning jobs to everyone.

Bartholomew flew to Grenby’s hut. He knew there would be no point knocking on the door. Grenby was fast asleep. So, he entered the hut and walked to the lower level. There, he found Grenby curled up in a ball in his bed, under a heavy quilt.

He began to shake him gently.

“I’m sorry, but I have to wake you.”

Grenby grumbled but didn’t wake. Bartholomew shook him again. Grenby rolled over and looked at the owl through one eye.

“I hope you have a good reason for ruining my sleep.”

“Yes, unfortunately, I do,” answered Bartholomew. “The pond water is rising, and you might be sleeping underwater in two days.”

Grenby sat up slowly.

“What are you talking about?”

Bartholomew explained everything to him. He wasn’t happy, but he understood.

“How can I help?” he yawned.

“We are building fires at the creek. You can help with that if you would like.”

“Let me get dressed, and I’ll be there directly,” said Grenby as he yawned again.

“Thank you. I am going back there now. See you soon.”

Grenby crawled out of his warm bed and began to dress.

When Bartholomew returned to the creek, the animals were bringing fuel from the woods. The moles, frogs, and chipmunks were gathering twigs and small kindling. The beavers, rabbits, and squirrels were carrying larger pieces. The swans and ducks were assembling two piles of wood, one on each side of the creek. The remaining animals had built a campfire and were bringing and preparing food. It appeared that they all would be there for a long time.

The building of the bonfire pile continued. After three hours Burton decided the piles were large enough and set them on fire. The flames climbed ten feet into the air as everyone watched and hoped the ice would melt. However, before long, they saw that the wind wasn’t helping. It was coming directly from the south. The heat from the fires wasn’t reaching the ice jam. That was disheartening after all of their efforts. Grenby looked at the sky and said that the wind direction was not going to change soon. More bad news!

They needed another plan to melt the ice. It was going to become dark soon, which would make the task even more difficult. Bartholomew called everyone together. With large ice chunks continuing to shift and crack behind him, he spoke.

“We have no choice but to build a fire on the ice in the center. Since it is too dangerous to go on the ice, the ducks and swans will have to pick up sticks and branches and drop them in the center as best they can. Everybody else should continue finding wood and bringing it here. We will work all night if we have to.”

Wilde raised his paw to speak.

“Yes, Wilde?” responded Bartholomew.

“Someone has to be out on the ice to arrange the wood into a proper pile. It won’t happen otherwise. Wilder and I will do it.”

Bartholomew looked at Wilde and knew he was right.

He shook his head and said, “Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. We do need a proper pile, and it will require tending. It is very dangerous out there. Please don’t take any unnecessary chances.”

“We won’t. The ice is shifting only slowly, and we can move pretty quickly if we have to.”

Wilde was not as confident as he sounded. However, he and Wilder were always ready to help, and they always took the most dangerous jobs. They would take this one, also.

There was plenty of old wood in the forest, but it took time to locate and bring it to the creek. Most became involved with that task. The ducks and swans began picking up the kindling that had been found. They dropped the pieces on the ice near the middle of the ice jam.

Wilde and Wilder crept out onto the ice, carefully climbing over the jagged pieces. Luckily, they had to go only about fifteen feet from shore. Every once in a while, the ice cracked, and they jumped nervously. When they reached the middle, they began to arrange the wood, which was already there. The birds kept dropping more. It was a slow process, and it was now dark. Torches were lighted on both sides of the creek to help. Everyone worked through the night with occasional short breaks.

By morning, a large pyramid shaped pile of sticks, branches, leaves, and other debris from the forest sat on the ice.

A bleary eyed Bartholomew said, “ I think that’s good enough. Let’s light it.”

Wilde lighted the pile. They stood back and watched as the flames grew high. They could feel the heat building, which meant the ice could, also. More wood was needed to keep the fire going. It was too dangerous for the birds to drop the wood from directly above because of the flames and heat. They dropped it on the ice where the weasels could reach it. The ice was becoming even more slippery as the warmth spread. While balancing on the uneven ice, the weasels continued to throw wood into the flames.

After about an hour the cracking and crunching sounds from the ice became louder and more frequent. The heat was having an effect.

Bartholomew yelled out to the weasels, “I think you better come back to shore. Something is going to happen.”

Wilde yelled back, “Yes, we hear it and feel it, but we can’t stop now because the heat has begun to work. This is our only chance. We have to keep feeding the fire for as long as we can.”

He threw another piece of wood on the burning pile.

About fifteen minutes later, the end came suddenly. The ice jam exploded!


The Ice Dam

Flaming coals of wood and pieces of ice flew in all directions. They were mixed in with a gusher of freezing water. The animals were showered with this dangerous mess. The weasels were hurled backward, further out onto the pond ice. Luckily, it appeared that no one was injured.

Then, ice chunks and water began to move noisily into the creek like a tidal wave. The ice dam had broken. That was fantastic, but the weasels still had to get to safety.

They picked themselves up and began to step carefully over the shattered, moving ice. Each step was slippery and uneven, but they were getting closer to shore. Then, two pieces of ice separated as Wilde was trying to cross them. He immediately fell into the frigid pond. Wilder ran to him and tried to pull him out. He couldn’t get a good grip on his brother, and now, the ice that had separated was closing back together. Wilde would be trapped.

Then, Finn hopped out onto the ice to help. He also reached out to Wilde. Together, Wilder and Finn were able to pull Wilde out of the water before the ice hole closed. Holding on to each other, the three cold and wet buddies made it safely to shore. A cheer went up, and they were immediately surrounded. Someone brought warm blankets, and each was soon wrapped up. Cups of hot tea followed quickly.

The tidal wave of ice and water continued to rush down the creek. It rapidly filled to its normal level. The danger was passed. Ballymore would not be flooded!

Everyone was exhausted, and they sat down by the campfire. The new year had just begun, and Ballymore had almost been flooded. Apparently, 1892 was not going to be boring either.

Once again, the animal residents had come together to accomplish something that none of them could have done alone.