The Big Freeze

That winter the temperature fell to -20oC, and the river froze over. Nobody told me that it had
frozen over. I had been more interested in hiking into icy glens and up into the snowdrifts on the
hills. It was only after I had experienced the magic of both those places, that I went down to the
riverbank and found the river frozen over.
In parts there remained the black gloss of water, out in the middle of the river, but stretching
out from each bank there was ice. Ice thick with snow, and in a few places there were the arrows of
bird’s feet pointing the way out to the water. At first I thought nothing of it. It was cold, freezing
cold, and here was just one more spectacle this winter was spoiling me with. The true wonder was
yet to come.
I set off along the river bank with only the sounds of my boots in the snow breaking the
silence. At the rapids the ice gave way to the rocks and the water they churned up. No chance to
pave over the water there, but beyond them, where the river was usually dark and still under the
chestnut trees, the ice covered the water so that not even a thin band of black water remained at its
I walked to the village, and then through it and onward along this spellbound river. It was
only at the suspension bridge, as I began to notice how the opposite bank now looked closer than it
usually did, that I paused wondering if the cold could magnify the air the way heat could create a
mirage. Then I turned my head and saw the river bank far behind me.
I had wandered out onto the ice, and I was standing over the hidden currents. I walked back
as though the ice were a thin as an eggshell. It must have been quite thick and strong to support me,
but I did not want to stay out there. Now my footprints had joined those of the birds.
Further on, and there was the old railway bridge. Icicles hung from it. The railway that once
used it had long gone, and I stood up there and watched a cormorant, like a little black dragon,
flying along the frozen river beneath me.
By the time I had had enough of the magic, the sun was setting and the snow was blushing.
The river looked as though it was made from gold where the sunlight caught it, and silver where it
did not. I followed my footprints back, as though they had been a trail of breadcrumbs in a folk tale.
And then I was home again, and I went to sleep that night knowing that something
wonderful had happened to the world that day and I had been its only witness, and the only
evidence I had was my memory.
Within a week or so it was over. The ice began to break up and I stood on the bridge in the
town centre and watched an ice floe of tumbling golden ice in the tawny mountain water pour
through the arches of the bridge beneath me. When the water level subsided, the trees on the river
bank had been skinned of their bark.
When I remember that winter, I remember the hushing glen and the dunes of carved snow
high on the hills, but most of all I remember the time I walked on water; that day I saw a dragon and
watched the river turn into solid gold.