Back on our farm in Maine, there was a little brook that ran beside our house. In fact, I now learn that it has a name: Daggett Brook. It can be seen here on Google Maps, and there also is my childhood home and my father’s farm. After his death the 2000+ acre farm was sold to Maine Farmland Trust to be preserved as farmland. My mother could have made a lot more money if she’d developed the land, but as a family we are grateful she made that decision based on deeper values. Back to Daggett Brook… It was shallow and fun to play in when we were little. In the summer we fished for minnows, caught frogs and crayfish, skipped stones, and played Poohsticks on the bridge for hours and hours. During a drought one summer my brother and I spent an entire day hauling buckets of minnows to safety before the puddles they were flopping around in could dry up.
As entertaining as it was in the summer, in the winter the brook transformed into something enchanted, wonder-inducing, and treacherous. My mother would bundle us up in our snowsuits and send us out the door with our sleds, but somehow we always made our guilty way down to the brook, sometimes tunneling through snow, sometimes rolling down the banks to get there. Though the nearby Piscataquis River was off-limits to us in the winter, the brook technically wasn’t. But I think my brother and I knew that if our mother had known how dangerous the brook was, she wouldn’t have let us go there either.
In the winter the brook froze at the banks and over the top, but always had water running underneath the ice. Where the brook ran more steeply downhill and over rocks from our house to the river, there were openings in the ice where you could see and hear the water running. These openings formed magnificent, if miniature, ice caverns lined with weird and breathtakingly beautiful ice formations. It was like something straight out of Middle Earth. We could easily imagine an ice fairy kingdom in these little caverns. But it didn’t stop there. As beautiful as the caverns were to look at, they were even more beautiful to hear. The sound of the water running beneath was otherworldly. At first it would sound like the brook, only sharper and somehow higher and deeper at the same time. But as you got closer, the sound would change. You could hear people talking. Not people, I imagined, but ice fairies talking in their language.
And there was the danger. The ice fairies were little sirens, luring my brother and I closer and closer to the ice caverns. We would inch over the ice holding on to the overhanging branches of trees. Or we would wriggle over the ice on our snow-suited bellies, always trying to get closer for a better view or better acoustics. The winter music of the brook filled my entire body and I was possessed.
On one of these occasions my brother slipped on the ice and fell into the brook. He was pulled under the surface of the ice by the current and he thought he was going to drown. He got caught in the next opening and I pulled him out. He remembers more details of this event than I do, which makes sense since he nearly died. What neither of us can explain is how I had the strength to pull him out. His winter clothing drenched, he must have weighed a ton. Maybe the ice fairies weren’t so wicked after all and lent a hand.