Ice Sage (from 1996)


Ice Sage
Tritown goes into the deep freeze

by Sally Cragin

Hollis has to dig out his truck again, so Delia walks over to the
Mountain Lair to provide moral support. “In the summer, I try to
imagine what it was like here 10,000 years ago,” he huffs,
shovelling snow onto a heap bigger than a Saxon burial mound.
“God, I hope I don’t have a heart attack doing this,” he huffs.
“This has been the winter of the snow-shovelling heart seizure
and the Ethan Frome-style sledding accident.” Delia walks around the
back of his truck and kick ice from the wheel well. “That’s good,
I always forget about that,” says Hollis, “Well, as I was saying,
I stand in the back woods and look up, and try to imagine the top
of the Wisconsinian ice sheet that would be a mile above my
head. And after a month like January, continental glaciation
doesn’t seem unlikely or exotic.”

To date, we’ve had nearly enough snow to bury a basketball hoop,
and there’s plenty of winter to go. So the residents of Tritown
muddle through another snow season comforted by small and humble
fantasies: a warm coat, a reliable plowman, and squirrel-free
birdfeeders. Once the Christmas wreath comes down, the only
decoration on the porch is a stack of snow shovels, and the whine
of a snow-blower haunts our dreams.

After the first storm, Hollis considered buying a snowplow
attachment for his truck. “Of course, they were wicked cheap in
the WantAdvertiser last summer,” he explains, “but who’s going to
buy a plow in July? I’m checking out the prices now, and once
again, it’s out of reach.” Already, I can tell the winter will be
long and difficult because after the 15-inch storm, Hollis bought
himself a pair of ital[new] insulated gloves. (Townies buy new
clothes if they’ve won a pool, or if the weather is
serious). He’s still debating about the snowplow. “If I get
it, I’ve got to be realistic about going into business with it,
which means being ital[out there] in all weather. Plus, I’ll have
to get “fogcutters” for the top of the truck, and be willing to
answer my phone.” Chances are, he won’t buy the snowplow. Hollis
has a terrible time accepting money for services rendered, and
usually does business by barter.

“I’ve already got some elderly relatives I shovel out when I can,
and if I had a plow, my obligations would increase ten-fold,” he
says. “Maybe I should just get a new jacket.” Hollis likes down,
the bigger and loftier the better, though his current coat is
worn nearly flat and patched with silver duck tape. Every time he
puts it on, clouds of silky feathers squirt from every frayed
seam. But he’s been pricing down jackets, “and they’re asking two
bills, and I [know Salvation Army will have some good ones,”
he says. “But not til June.”

Unlike Hollis, Delia Ellis Bell the 13.5-generation Yankee cannot
abide down in any wearable form. “A comforter’s one thing, but I
really loathe the look of a ‘mummy bag’ coat.” To combat the
cold, Delia adds layers faster than did the Carboniferous Era.
Silk and cotton undergarments, two turtlenecks, a thin wool
sweater, a bulky, Irish-knit sweater, a hunter’s reversible vest,
and finally a wool duffel-coat, and assorted wool wrappings. She
swears by the hunter’s vest.

“I found it up in the attic,” she says. “It must have belonged to
one of the ancestors, since we don’t hunt. This odd vest has a
red side for deer-hunting, and a green side for duck-hunting. The
pocket has a strip of elastic webbing sewn in segments so there
are slots for shotgun shells. Interestingly, the slots are the
perfect size for lipstick, lipbalm, and a perfume atomizer.” She
laughs, “I can still be dressed to kill without having to carry a

Felix the Urban Naturalist doesn’t mind down, but knows it isn’t
always enough even for the birds. In cold weather, he puts extra
sunflower seeds out for the chickadees, and adds water to the
bird bath. “With all the precipitation, you’d think the birds can
get enough water, but when the weather is below-freezing for
several days, they’re in tough shape,” he says.

Back in the woods, Hollis the Mountain Man seldom remembers the
water, but at long last, he has the edge on the squirrels. If you
visit the Mountain Lair, you’ll notice the trees festooned with
genuine squirrel-proof feeders: a two-liter pop-bottle with a
seedbell hanging beneath it. “They’re easy to make,” he gloats.
“I saved up my two-liter 7-Up bottles, took an awl, and put two
holes in the bottom of each bottle. Then, you push the ends of a
30-inch piece of twine down each hole, so the ends come out the
neck, then tie a washer around them, so the twine doesn’t
disappear back into the bottle. The seedbell clips onto the twine
on the bottom of the bottle, and the washer is hung on a nail
from a tree.

“The trick is hanging the bottle so that squirrels can’t possibly
leap to it from any part of the tree, nor from the ground,” he
says. “I use the 7-Up bottles because they’re green, and kind of
pretty once you take the labels off.” Hollis has half-a-dozen
bottles hanging from his trees, and the effect is either charming
or hideous, depending on your aesthetic. (Hollis isn’t entirely
anti-squirrel, despite this wood-shed engineering. A delta of
flung bread-crusts, pizza rinds and stale cereal surround the
front stoop.) “Winter’s hard on everyone,” he says
philosophically. “And this ‘un’s a long ‘un.”

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