When thinking about extreme weather, the kidlit fan naturally turns to The Long Winter. The story of one of the worst winters ever just doesn’t seem to lose its appeal. I know plenty of people that pick it up and reread whenever they’re snowbound. Chapter titles like “We’ll Weather the Blast,” “Cold and Dark,” and “Not Really Hungry,” probably put any current snowstorms in perspective. The imagery of it all–the snow taller than your head, twisting hay for fuel, and storms that seem to come out of nowhere and never end certainly stuck with me. But I can’t understand cold like Wilder describes. Check out this description:
It was terribly cold outside the bedcovers. But the roaring and shrilling of the storm would not let Laura sleep again. The frosted nails in the roof above her were like white teeth. She lay under them only a few minutes before she followed Ma downstairs.
The fire was burning brightly in the cookstove, and in the front room the heater’s side was red-hot, but still the rooms were cold and so dark that it did not seem to be datytime.
Laura broke the ice on the water in the water pail.
Ice! Inside the house! Yikes! But I’m a Texas girl, so the idea of snow over my head and temps of 40 below are just hard for me to really comprehend. It almost doesn’t seem real, though I know it was–and still is.
However, last night, while reading Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright there was a description of summer’s heat that I definitely understood. At the very beginning, the oppressive heat is a presence: “Garnet thought this must be the hottest day that had ever been in the world.” With a temperature of 110, I have felt her pain (unlike the 40 below above). Later, in the same chapter, there is this (another bedroom related scene):
Garnet said good night and tiptoed up the stairs to her room under the eaves. It was so hot there that the candle in its holder had swooned till it was bent double. . . . Garnet blew out the candles and lay down. It was too hot even for a sheet. She lay there, wet with perspiration, feeling the heat like heavy blankets and listening to the soft thunder, the empty thunder, that brought no rain.
This is weather I know. And though I thank God every summer day for the miracle of air conditioning, I have certainly experienced heat like this. One summer, we returned from a glorious vacation in Colorado (where the high had been about 75) to a house with no air conditioning. That was the summer it didn’t dip below 90 at night for a month. It was a very rude return.
There’s a list of questions that we get over and over again at the museum. One of them is “What did they do before air conditioning?” (for some reason, heat is never really a question here in Texas!) When I’m feeling sarcastic, I say “They were hot.” And though that’s true, you see some of the common ways of coping in Thimble Summer. They go swimming, they do as many chores as possible in the morning, they cook less. And when the rain finally comes–they enjoy it and get thoroughly soaked!
A lot of writers gloss over the weather and nature descriptions. And quite frankly, I’m one of those readers that usually skims over such descriptions. But when it comes to weather extremes, sometimes you pause just a minute to shiver with the cold or wipe your brow from the heat. But then, it’s on to the rest of the story.
Any other memorable extreme weather moments in kidlit?