The Hollow Land

Great old-marketed-for-a-new-audience-book I discovered (thank you New York Times Book Review—you are becoming a dear friend of mine): The Hollow Landby Jane Gardam.

The short, connected stories in this young adult fiction revolve around two families—the Batemans (a well-known London family with connections and a journalist patriarch) and the Teesdales (longtime native Welsh who know their land, every glade, bell, and legend). The youngest members of both—Harry and Bell—recognize in each other a ken and, over the years, set out on the adventures of boys who lived when boys roamed free without the fear of “stranger danger.” Never you mind the occasional jaunt down an abandoned mine that (not so surprisingly) collapses and traps them until (miracle upon serendipity upon miracle) Bell’s grandfather thinks to look where no one would.

Over Christmas holiday Bell comes looking for Harry to go on an icicle ride. Harry has no idea but follows along, game as he is.

With the sudden changes ’round here—icy rain to freezing cold and snow, icicles I have no idea how they came to be and fall—I wish I could have been along on this particular adventure, to see how a waterfall stops falling, mid-fall.

from “The Icicle Ride,” in The Hollow Land, by Jane Gardam:

IMG_9034-1Harry climbed up the steps of stone in the wall and put his miserable blue hands in the sopped gloves on top of it and dropped down into the scrunching snow—and deeper than Bell, being smaller, nearly to his waist.

And there round a corner to the left where the beck fell sheer, stood high as the sky a chandelier of icicles. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of them down the shale steps of a waterfall. There were long ones and short ones and middling ones and fat ones like an arm and thin ones like a thread. They hung down from up as high as you could see and down to your very wellingtons. And not only water had turned to spears of glass but every living thing about—the grasses, the rushes, the spider webs, the tall great fearless thistles. You could pull the tubes of ice off the long wands of the loose-strife. You could lift them off like hollow needles. You could look right down them like crystal test tubes. You could watch them twist like fairy ear-rings. And as the sun reach them they all turned at once to every color ever known—rose and orange and blue and green and lilac—and Harry and Bell watched them until the sun slipped down a little and left them icicles again.

“It don’t happen often,” Bell said. “Once before I seed it when Grandad brought me years back—your age. It happens when there’s a temperature change—very quick. Snap-snap. It freezes sudden. Turns them all to ice in midflow. All the grasses an all—just as they’re standing or bending.”

“Just like a spell. Like The Snow Queen.

They stood on.

“Can we pick some?”

They began to pick. Not very bravely at first. It seemed a sin to spoil it. “But it’ll all be gone tomorrow,” said Bell. “Grandad says they don’t often last a day.

They took the tips off the rushes and pulled. They broke off the water icicles like peppermint rock or toffee. They took all thicknesses and laid them carefully in the snow. Somewhere they found in a pocket some bits of John Robert twine to bind them and parceled together a heap of the thickest. Then Harry collected some of the very fine threads in to his hands and they slowly climbed over the wall and walked, not feeling the  cold at all back down the road.

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