The End of the Blizzard

After we finally had our first winter storm this week, I thought I would post one of my favorite passages from my novel Superior Heritage. This scene takes place after a blizzard keeps John and Chad Vandelaare, in their early teens, home from school for the day. The boys go out into the storm as it is dying down with their dog named Dickens.

From Superior Heritage:

Being cooped up in the house all day made John and Chad anxious to explore the newly created landscape left by the blowing wind and drifting snow. Ellen was hesitant to let them go outside, but after supper, when the visibility had increased until individual snowflakes could be distinguished as they fell, she finally consented. It would not be dark for another hour, so the boys had plenty of time to trudge over the snowbanks and burn off their excess energy.

John and Chad put on their long johns and flannel shirts, then their snow pants and jackets. They wrapped scarves around their necks, pulled hats down over their ears, and slipped on boots and mittens. Before they went out the door, they were already starting to sweat from wearing so many layers, but they would be well protected once outside. John suggested Dickens should join them since he must be equally tired of staying inside. During the day Dickens had only made quick bathroom trips into the driveway, just a few feet from the garage door, but now he could wander free until he complained of cold feet.

Soon the boys and Dickens were outside. They quickly discovered the wind was still strong, so seeking protection, they set Dickens up on the high snowbank, then climbed up themselves. They trudged on top of the snow, at times six feet above the buried grass, until they reached the shelter of the neighboring woods. They found a giant pine tree whose lowest branches, usually eight feet above the ground, were now heavily weighed down with snow, until they curved down three feet to touch the top of the frozen banks. The boys were forced to bend down to enter beneath the tree whose branches were too high for them to reach on summer days. Beneath the tree’s bent limbs, they felt sheltered in their own little lodge house. A small depression around the tree formed snow walls to provide further insulation from the bitter chill wind, while leaving room for John, Chad, and Dickens to sit and watch the dying storm. Exhausted from the heavy trudge into the woods, the boys and Dickens were content to listen to the storm’s fury. The dazzling whiteness of everything was breathtaking—snow was clustered against the brown and gray tree trunks, turning them into giant white poles, while tree branches had glazed over with frozen ice and snow that perched precariously until the morning sun would come to melt it away.

Neither brother was eloquent enough to express his awe over the beauty of the scene, but neither could fail to notice it. Now free from the stifling, still air inside the house, the boys gratefully opened their mouths and breathed in the fresh coolness, enjoying the pleasure of it biting down their throats. They pulled off their gloves to coil their fingers into fists, then replaced their gloves with their fingers curled together to ward off the numbness a short while longer. They took turns petting Dickens with their fisted gloves, while Dickens huddled against them to stay warm.

Serenity filled the moment, yet in this serenity was an exhilaration surpassing yesterday’s anticipation of the storm. As the wind slowly died down with less frequent gusts, the boys felt proud to have survived the storm. Nature’s fury had left behind three feet of snow, broken tree branches, enormous snow drifts, hundreds of hours of snow removal work, and downed power lines, but it had also revived the courage of its witnesses; they were survivors like their pioneer ancestors who had fought similar storms a century before when snowblowers and electricity had not been imagined; the pioneers’ survivor spirit had resurrected itself, making the Vandelaare boys respectful admirers of Nature’s sublime power.

John’s spirits had been especially stirred by the wind, now no longer a screeching banshee voice wreaking havoc, but a simple whisper carrying the last twinkling fall of snowflakes that resembled confetti more than ice bullets. John recalled the Bible story of God’s appearance to the prophet Elijah. There had been a wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God had not been in any of them. God had been found in a gentle whisper. Now John felt he understood that passage. The wind had subsided to a whisper, a promise of peace and renewal as the snow cleansed the earth to create a new landscape. John felt a deepened sense of contentment, as if he had learned a secret about Nature’s incredible power, yet sheltered beneath the pine tree, he felt he would always be safe in the northern wilderness, no matter how fierce the blizzards might blow.

“We better go in,” Chad broke into his brother’s thoughts. “Mom’ll be worried if we’re not in by dark.”

“Yeah,” John reluctantly agreed, “Dickens looks cold.”

The boys and their dog trudged back out of the woods. Where before the storm had caused a blinding greyness, now a tiny pink streak in the Western sky promised a fine day tomorrow.

Ellen had seen her sons heading toward the house, so she had water boiling on the stove for hot chocolate when they came inside. She told them to change their clothes before they thawed out and were wet. Then, with the storm all but forgotten, the family sat down to drink hot chocolate and play Monopoly until bedtime.

But in later years, when John would live in a far away city where fierce Northern winters were unknown, the memory of that storm would come back to him. A strong wind would recall the powerful snowfilled gusts of his childhood, and he would imagine himself once more at home, hearing the wind wailing down the chimney, or sitting beneath a pine tree’s branches to watch Nature’s sublime fury. Then he would realize how impressionable he had been to his native land’s natural rhythms where he had formed a bond with the wind, the trees, the snow, Lake Superior, and the seemingly neverending Hiawatha forest that encompassed his childhood world. Wherever he went, John was branded with the knowledge that he belonged to this place; whatever majestic sights he saw, the serenity of a snowfall surpassed them all.

For more information about Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three, visit www.MarquetteFiction.com

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