Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Guest Blog--The Frozen Thames

Last summer I read several novels by Canadian author Helen Humphreys. When I read The Lost Garden, I had a new insight into what it must have been like for a Canadian serviceman waiting to go into battle during World War II.

Canadians entered the war at the same time that Britain did in 1939. There was one difference for those men from North America serving overseas. The British could go on leave to visit their families. The Canadians were isolated on an island far from their families with no idea when the war would end or when, if ever, they would see their families again. My own father did not return from England where he served in the RCAF until April 1946 almost a year after the war in Europe ended.

In Leaving Earth, I learned about a whole new world that I had never contemplated. The story is of two women who fly in a circle around Toronto trying to set a new record for the longest time in the air. The bond these two women form as they are isolated in the clouds and drenched in the rain in a small frame airplane becomes real under Humphreys’ pen.

The Frozen Thames is a very different type of book. Humphreys says that she wrote it in response to feelings of concern about the edges of our polar caps slowly melting into the oceans. In this tiny book with a wide variety of illustrations, she takes on the description of ice in one particular area of our world, the Thames River in England. (A paperback version is going to be available Oct. 7, 2008).

Humphreys says that the Thames froze over 40 times in recorded history, and she has used several sources for her accounts. The book has a tiny chapter that highlights some of the events or consequences of each year when the river froze solid.

When I picked up the book, I immediately thought of my memories of frozen ponds. I remember one time taking our small children to a frozen pond in upstate New York. Despite not having ice skates, we had a wonderful time running on the smooth surface and sliding. The Thames, however, was not a smooth surface. It is a river with tides and bridges. As the ice would form the tide would change and the ice would break up into clumps only to refreeze with jagged edges and small cliffs in the surface.

The book begins with the freezing of the river in 1142 when Queen Matilda is under siege in a castle. She and a few loyal knights manage to escape under the cover of night across the frozen river. Many of the tales are told in the first person.

Most of the characters are imaginary people living at the time when the river froze. She takes us into the world where people who make their living by ferrying people across the river or fishing in it are starving because the river is frozen over. We catch a glimpse of a world so cold that everyone in the household is sleeping next to the fireplace fed by scraps of wood because coal cannot be transported on barges down the river. Birds freeze while sitting on the fence or while flying in the sky. And there are frequent frost fairs on the Thames when the river becomes frozen so solid that even lighting a fire on its surface cannot melt the ice.

The last time the Thames froze in London was 1895. Why hasn’t the Thames frozen during my life time? You will have to see if you can find this small treasure with reproductions of works of art in it and find out for yourself.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

Send me an email because I have to know why the Thames isn't freezing. Global warming?