Monday, November 12, 2012

Ice Will Suffice: Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed

BLACK ICE is water shocked still by the cold before the snow. For black ice, Dad took us in the car a half-hour's ride to Great Pond, where on our summer dock we tied up our winter skates.

We sped to silver speeds at which lungs and legs, clouds and sun, wind and cold, raced together. Our blades spit out silver. Our lungs breathed out silver. Our minds burst with silver while the winter sun danced silver down our bending backs.

Ice is not always nice for most of us. But author Ellen Obed was favored to grow up in a time and place and family in which the coming of ice was the best part of the year. In Maine ice comes early, first a thin skin on top of the water bucket, so fragile that it shatters with a light finger touch. But soon winter’s power begins to promise more:

THE SECOND ICE was thicker. We would pick it out of the pail like panes of glass. We would hold it up in our mittened hands and look through it. Then we would drop it on the hard ground and watch it shatter into a hundred pieces.

Soon the whole pail is frozen, promising the ice they have been waiting for–FIELD ICE.

If the fields are wet and the night is cold enough, the bare fields themselves freeze with a layer of ice, a patch just big enough for the intrepid skater for an impromptu skating rink. And then before the first snow fall, there is STREAM ICE, turning the creeks where they waded and fished in summer into highways through the wood for the skating kids.

But then comes the best ice–GARDEN ICE. The whole family turns out to pack the snow over their empty garden spot, to build up snow berms and plank walls, and at last to [pull the water hose from its warm spot in the cellar to flood their homemade rink–and there it is–Bryan Gardens–the famous ice that provides for months of hockey and figure skating for kids from all over. But there are still two more kinds of ice that make the best memories–THE ICE SHOW for which relatives  and fans pack the snow bank stands and everyone performs, even Dad in his annual clown routine–and the warmest memory of all, the LATE NIGHT SKATE.

After lights were out in neighbors’ houses, my sister and I were alone with our dreams. We would work on our figure eights, ...our jumps and spins. We would put on music and pretend we were skating before crowds in a great stadium, practicing for some distant Olympics.

Ellen Bryan Obed’s memoir of her Maine childhood, Twelve Kinds of Ice (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), is a prose poem to winter’s joys that will make even Sun Belters long to hear the sound of silver blades on silver ice beneath them, skating on and on, never tiring, through the cold days and nights of a winter warmed by memory. Obed’s lyric narrative and Barbara McClintock’s homey and evocative line drawings make this a book that kids in all climes can savor.

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