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The Ice Age creepeth

It's easy to become downcast in winter, even as mild a winter as this has been thus far, knock on wood, salt over shoulder, sign of the cross. I try to keep an upbeat attitude, but sometimes ... .

One seemingly ordinary day last week, I had a fright. The day started as usual: snow fall in the morning filled in my footprints and cat tracks of the day previous, a shout of afternoon sunshine, a bit of breeze. A good day, a good mild winter's day, a day to bless and fill with murmurings of gratitude if not outright songs of praise. You get the picture.

Sondra Ashton

In my warm and cozy house I had a canvas propped on the easel, paints on my palette and all the tools to paint a still life. At the same time I was immersed in three books, an Icelandic mystery by Indridison, poetry by Mary Oliver, and another book by Richard Hugo. Simultaneously I was tightening a batch of my own poems that I had left to simmer and cook down to their essence. Oh, and I had a pot of soup on the burner. I moved easily from canvas to book to keyboard to book to stir the soup and around again. Yes, a good day, indeed.

When I'm working, I go to my window 17 times a day to look out over the hills across the valley, a view that refreshes me. But what was that? That creepy mysterious thing? That ominous line of luminescent white stuff which pulsed over the top of the hills? I watched, my feet glued in place. It, whatever it was, got bigger. It was whiter than white. It seemed alive. It seemed to glow from within like an intergalactic menace from a 1950s sci-fi creature movie. It looked like a tsunami of ice, edging closer, threatening to carve the hills, grind them down and push them into town. I felt sure there was no stopping the oncoming disaster. Surely the next phase of glaciation was upon us, and with no warning. Global warming, indeed!

But, I hoped, if I hurried, I might flee to safety, somewhere far, far south.

The phone rang, a friend from Pender Island in British Columbia. "I've got the flu," Kathy said. "I think I might die."

"The flu? Is that all," I said back. "I'm at my window watching the next Ice Age creep over the hills and down toward town. It's eerie — a wall of ice, roiling with all the boulders in Canada. It's headed straight for me. I'm going to jump in my van and race south as fast as I can go. In fact, I was headed out to warm up the car when you called. Oh, bother, it's getting closer. Look, if I hadn't answered the phone, I know I could have outrun the glacier. Now it's iffy. But I'm glad you called. We get to say goodbye."

"Ice age, hmmm. Aren't you afraid of saber toothed tigers?"

"Naaa. Alpha cat that I am, saber toothed tigers hold no fear for me. But I do worry about the wooly mammoths. I've always been afraid of wooly mammoths, ever since I was a child and had nightmares about them. To this day I have to cover my hands and feet and ears when I go to bed or I can't sleep. The wooly mammoths might get me."

"I see," she said. "Have you thought about mastodons?"

"I try not to think about mastodons. Aren't they extinct?"

"Does that make any difference?"

"Kathy, the glacier is grinding closer. I'll call you from Denver. Give my love to Richard. Stay warm and drink lots."

What with one thing and another, by the time I shut off the water, turned the furnace down, coaxed the cat from beneath the sofa, grabbed some books, located my passport, snatched my sock of money from beneath the mattress, and threw a change of underwear in my bag, whew, the glacier had gone. I don't know where it went — just — gone.

I felt astounded. Clear horizon, the hills stolid in place, sky cerulean blue, a top hat of wispy cloud. I went back to my books and painting, but kept a weather eye to the north.

That night, I slept uneasy, what with wooly mammoths and hairy mastodons about. When I woke at my usual hour the next morning, there was no light in the room. None. It was dark as inside a stovepipe. I knew it — I just knew it — my house lay buried beneath that sneaky glacier. I should have gone to Denver.

(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little diffeent. Keep in touch with her at

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