Time In Prism
In the part of the heartland where I grew up, there was a wintertime saying: “Ain’t nothin’ between here an’ the North Pole but one bob-wire fence…an’ it’s down.” It got cold and it stayed cold. It was not the bone-numbing chill of North Dakota, but it was cold enough that many a complicated snow fort built in early December was still an effective battlement two months later. Christmas was always white and the lake ice thick enough to support tractors. Then, one wonderful January, the town’s water tower froze.
The big people said that it was an exceptionally cold winter. To my third-grade cronies and me, winter was winter. In those days before Thinsulate and Gor-tex, little kids were cold all winter long. It was the price we gladly paid for snow. But that particular winter, the lake ice reached nearly 30 inches, and the water tower froze. It caused a big flap among the adults. Such an event had never happened before! Our small town had only one tower in the entire water system, and melting snow for drinking water is slow work with little return. Everyone assumed the heater in the tank atop the 80-foot tower had given up the ghost. Something had to be done! A disaster like this should never have happened and must never happen again! But to us, a fairy tale had grown from the snow in our little city park.
When the water froze, a portion of the tank’s top was displaced and un-frozen water cascaded slowly down all sides of the tower, freezing to the legs and support columns as it went. An 80-foot stalagmite of crystal-clear ice was formed, tapering upward from a forty-foot base to the tank high overhead and we kids, squeezing through fissures, could get inside into a room-sized interior.
The ice walls were three to four feet thick, refracting light as a prism does…blues, pinks, greens, sparkling with distortions, dazzling to view the sun through, amazing to watch the colors splash on friend’s faces as we stood inside a frozen crystal. It was a wonderful experience, etheric, nearly profound in some ways. There was no kidhood horseplay there, no pushing, no shouting, no shoving. Wrapped in those crystal walls, such behavior was beyond us. None of us would have cursed in church. Inside our frozen cathedral we barely even spoke. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude couldn’t compare to what we had. We would slip quietly inside, sit on the now, and look at it.
Every view was different. Each moment changed the angle of the sun and the colors mutated and shifted with its passing, ever and never the same. Those of us that spent time there were changed during the hours we were inside. Everything was so simple, so calming, so lovely. I believe our kid egos were pushed aside by the experience, and many of us reached a state of meditation. Anything that can keep a gang of eight to ten-year-olds silent and still for hours at a time, must reach something deep inside those children.
On the second day of the event, before the city employees ran us off and destroyed all that beauty, the Methodist minister came walking by and asked if he could join us. We made room and he sat in silence with our group for some time. As he finally rose to leave, one of the girls asked him if this was what heaven looked like. His face was gentle and serious when he spoke to her.
“My God, I hope so,” he said.
To this day, I believe his reply was totally honest. It is said that we need to come to the truth as a small child, and as children we came to the tower. It may not have been a religious experience, but it certainly was spiritual. It wasn’t heaven, but it was close enough for a group of small children sitting on the snow, inside the ice.