A small girl kneels at the hearth, plastic shovel in hand. Between her and the firebox sit two large stockpots. One is full of freshly-gathered, newly-fallen snow. The other is half-full of water, warm from the heat of the stove. With squeals of glee, she scoops up the snow in her shovel and drops it into the second pot. Each time, she pauses, a bit awe-struck, to watch it melt. This is serious silliness. This is elemental play. We are making snow soup.
Ricita is two-and-a-half. It is a long way from her tropical birthplace to this land of wearying winters, but she embraces each extreme as completely as her Northern parents first embraced her. She is a happy traveler.
It is a good thing. Unease would be easy on a day like this, when downed trees and wild winds have hushed the usual household hums. Between last night’s nightfall and this morning’s dawn, sixteen inches of heavy, wet snow blanketed our town. The power went out sometime around one in the morning, reducing all of our neighbors to the same sort of basic frustrations that we have lived with for several weeks. Thousands of other folks find themselves forced to reflect on the sources of light and water, the perilous chain of events set in motion--or not--with the flick of a switch or the push of a toilet’s handle.
At Ricita’s house, her mother has been fussing with iceboxes—the new-fashioned kind—and wringing her hands over the mountain of laundry and dishes she intended to tackle today. She rants for a few minutes, then catches herself—“Sorry, I know you’re USED to all this, at your house, but I’m just a worried mother who’s about to leave her child in a house with no power…” She smiles apologetically, grabs her bags and heads out the door. She is on her way to a town where the lights still blaze, to a class full of bright screens and power-points.
Ricita wakes up from her nap soon after mama leaves, and toddles blithely out towards the warmth and light. We play by the woodstove and watch the wind hurling snow against the trees outside. “It’s windy.” She says. I agree. Bright-eyed, with an elfin smile and a matter-of-fact little voice, she expands on the concept: “It’s windy. We’re warm. Our house is safe.”
Once satisfied with my mollification regarding this bit of wisdom, she is ready to play. We enter the transformative space where a baby doll becomes her grandmother and a stuffed frog becomes her child. She scribbles runes on scraps of paper to make “train tickets.” We ride easy-chair trains to visit our grandmothers several times over, stopping now and then to make more snow soup.
When night falls, though her parents are not yet home, there is no fear. I light a few candles and we continue playing. At supper time, we lift the stockpot down from the woodstove and wash our hands. Ricita is filled with delight at this: that her many little scoops of snow turn into this wonderful pot-full of liquid warmth. Although there is food on the stove as well—reheated and waiting—she shows no hunger. It is enough to marvel at the Snow Soup, to bathe her hands in its soothing warmth, and return to her playing. I tell her we must eat soon, and I set a time limit, but for the next ten minutes we are free to dance in the encroaching darkness and ride our upholstered trains.
Later, I creep down the road in my all-too-real and not-so-plush car, headed back to an even quieter, darker house. We do not mind the darkness. We have our own runes, our own scribbled tickets, our own ways to play at transformation and escape. Some days, we survive on snow soup.
I type as quickly as I can while savouring my recollections. (This laptop battery won’t last long, and the wait for restored power could last days.) I bank up the fire in our own woodstove and bask in the glow of the little one’s words. May we all be so blessed, to gaze out at the tempest and say, with such certainty, “It’s windy. We’re warm. Our house is safe.”