Laine: The mid-winter thaw

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(HOST) The chill in  the air and the economy has commentator Kristen Laine thinking about how things freeze – from water to credit – and eventually how they always thaw.

(LAINE) We’ve been having a good winter at Orange Pond, the kind of winter that feels usable. Cold set in early, froze the pond before the holidays, and gave us several days of skating on black ice. When snow came, it arrived light and in quantity, and didn’t turn to rain. For weeks now, my two children have tunneled in it, built forts in it, even eaten it, and all of us have puttered about the pond on cross-country skis.
We didn’t even notice when January passed without the traditional thaw, so we were surprised to come downstairs the other morning and see that the temperature had edged above freezing before breakfast. It was pleasant to step onto the front porch without a hat, to hear the steady drip, drip of melting snow, and to feel a hint of warmth in the breeze coming across the pond. I noticed plump new buds on the magnolia tree and for the first time this year thought of it in bloom.
That first hint of spring, oddly enough, finally got us to dig out our downhill ski equipment. Normally we’d have been out several times already. This winter, though, we’ve been reluctant to spend money for downhill tickets, especially when the economy – frozen solid, we’re told – is going downhill even faster.
But on this warm afternoon, Jim lugged a bin of ski boots over from the barn, and I grabbed skis from a storage bin behind the tractor. We were hoping for easy pairings of hand-me-downs. Miraculously, we got two matches: my daughter Ursula’s boots from two years ago and skis from last year fit my son Virgil perfectly, and boots that had survived three cousins and skis from friends did the same for Ursula. In waning light, Ursula scrambled to the top of the snow banks to take run after run after run.
We didn’t want the day to end. So we decided to fire up the sauna by the pond. Ursula walked over in her ski boots. Virgil, already in his pajamas, poled over on his skis. Inside, Jim and I took the high benches, Ursula and Virgil the lowest. They dipped wooden ladles into a wooden bucket, drank the cold water, dumped some over their heads, and some onto the heated rocks. As the steam rose inside, outside a full moon rose over the frozen pond.

It was a short sauna – it always is, with children. The moon lit our way back to the house.
The kids went straight to bed. The wind picked up, rattled the windows. I knew that when we woke the next morning, a school day, the temperature would once again hover in the single digits.

But the day had reminded us that the freeze wouldn’t last forever. Even as the temperature fell, our spirits stayed high. And the thaw lingered.

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