Two Children, One Dog and a Touch of Magic

Me: “It is a lovely day, let’s walk the dog.”

Giovanni: “I don’t want to walk the dog I want to finish my creation.”

Me: “You can finish it when we get back.”

Giovanni: “Can I? Do you promise?”

Me: “I promise, if there is time. But there will not be time if you do not get ready to go, now.”

Giovanni jumped up from the table and started collecting his clothes for outside, ski pants, boots and jacket. No hat or gloves which were always a last minute addition.

Me: “Come on Valentina, time to get ready.”

Valentina: “I don’t want to walk the dog, stupid dog.”

Me: “She is not stupid, she is lovely and she needs to go out to go to the toilet. Put your ski pants and boots on.”

Valentina: “No, you.”

Me: “Come on Valentina, you are six years old now and you can put your own ski pants and boots on.”

Valentina: “No, you.”

Me: “Well at least go and find them for me.”

Valentina: “No, you.”

I sighed. I recognised the tone of voice and knew the next move would be a high pitched scream and then tears, floods of them. Maybe now was not the time to be firm. I started to collect boots, ski pants and ski jacket. As soon as Tabata, their dog, saw these items of clothing in my arms she started to bounce up and down and race around in small circles nearly knocking Valentina to the ground. Valentina retreated and sprawled face down on the floor.

I sighed and gazed out of the window at the stunning Dolomite Mountains towering above us. I could be out there, on my own, skiing down one of the well-groomed slopes winding its way through the trees down to the chic resort of Madonna di Campiglio. Or, I could be enjoying a vine brulèe in a mountain rifugio or a coffee in the main piazza, Piazza Righi. I was on holiday and could do as I chose. Normally I relished the liveliness of the slopes but this afternoon I felt I needed a time of reflection. Unlikely with two children and a dog in tow but I could not resist their faces when they had begged me to take them with me the next time I went for a walk.

The children and the dog were Italian but we all go along fine in a mixture of our mother tongues – even Tabata responded to my English commands, when it suited her.

Meanwhile Giovanni, having collected his outdoor garments together, had become absorbed in something more fascinating that getting ready to go out. I turned away from the window.

Me: “Please Giovanni, get yourself ready.”

Giovanni: “Okay” but no movement followed and he remained slumped on the bench.

Me: “Giovanni, PLEASE!”

Giovanni: “Okay.”

I turned my attention to Valentina who was now lying flat on her back, her legs waving in the air. I dropped her clothes on the floor beside her.

Me: “Come on Valentina, sit up and put your ski pants on please.”

Valentina: “No, you.”

If we were going to get out at all I realised that my surrender must be complete so I picked up the ski pants and started to shove them over her waving feet. That accomplished I pushed the boots on then stood her up to pull up the ski pants, zip them and then fasten the boots. While doing this I was making encouraging noises at Giovanni in the hope he was getting ready although it was very quiet behind me.

Valentina was nearly ready, just the jacket to go.

Valentina: “Not that one.”

Me: “Which one then?”

Valentina: “That one.” She waved her hand at a row of pegs each supporting a small ski jacket which could belong either to her or her brother, two years her senior. I selected one and I was lucky it was the one she wanted.

Giovanni: “That’s mine.” Giovanni had appeared behind me ready to go out, just minus hat and gloves.

Me: “I think it is too small for you now Giovanni, anyway I was sure you would not mind if Valentina wore it just this once.”

Giovanni: “Okay.”

I rummaged through a drawer looking for hats and gloves for both of them and finally found two matching pairs of gloves and a hat each.

At last we could go! Oh no, I was not ready! Hastily I crammed my feet into my outdoor boots, shrugged on my fur hooded jacket and retrieved my gloves from the floor where Giovanni had thrown them after I said he could not wear them as they were mine.

Tabata was still leaping up and down but restrained by the lead that secured her to an armchair. I untangled her lead and released her. Both children kept a safe distance as she raced off through the open door. Finally we were on our way.

Outside the air was crisp and clear, the sun shone in an azure blue sky and the snow-covered mountain peaks glistened above us. Spirits revived after the ‘getting ready battle’ the children raced off down the road ignoring my warning to go carefully as it was slippery. I had not revealed our ultimate destination as I had no idea if we could get there during the winter but I wanted to try and get to a waterfall in the valley below us, an area called Vallesinella. This was my favourite walk when I was in Madonna di Campiglio during the summer, a pretty path through the woods that led to an impressive waterfall, the Cascate Media. Displayed in the little restaurant close to these falls was a picture of the waterfall in the winter when it was frozen solid. This winter the temperature had been consistently below zero so there was a chance the cascading water would be solid ice.

We set off along the road rather than taking the path through the woods and I was hoping when we got near the falls we could somehow make our way down to them. Further down the valley I could see the small white cabins of the Spinale lift climbing slowly up the side of the mountain of the same name. I had skied there early that morning, racing down the challenging red but taking more care on the black run, Spinale Diretissima, particularly on the final stretch, aptly named Mura Schumacher, that plunged straight down into the town. Beyond Spinale but out of sight was the Grosté ski area, a wide expanse of snow above the tree line where easy blue and red runs met at the mid-station of the Grostè cabin lift. I knew that music would be blaring out of the Boch Restaurant.

I had been working regularly in Madonna di Campiglio for the last few years and since I had seen that picture of the frozen waterfall it had haunted me. I had asked the local guides if it was possible to get there during the winter and the response had been amazed laughter that I would even think of trying. Well, today was the day. The temperatures had been consistently below zero and if ever the cascading water was going to be suspended in ice this was the time.

Giovanni: “Are we nearly there? His question disrupted my thoughts.

“Not far now” was my automatic response.

Valentina: “I’m tired, carry me”

“No Valentina, you are too heavy to carry now”. As Valentina slumped down on a wall I noticed some flattened snow heading off the road through the trees. I knew we were not far from the waterfall and suspected that we could get there through the trees from where we were. I decided to risk it and had revived the children’s interest in the ‘adventure’ by speculating as to where it went and who could have carved this flat path out of the deep snow. There were no footprints, just a smooth ribbon of hard packed snow.

We turned into the trees. Tabata bounded along ahead of us. She quickly learnt not to stray from the path where she floundered in the fluffy snow. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the trees. It was so quiet even the children stopped chattering and seemed to truly appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Weak rays of sun filtered through the canopy of trees above us and glinted on the snow around us. Pure white snow encrusted the stark brown branches of the deciduous trees that lined our way.

Much as I was enjoying the experience I began to feel uneasy, we should have reached our destination by now. I could not hear the usual low grumble of the waterfall. The children had discovered that it they threw a snowball Tabata thought it was a ball and would chase it and then scrabble in the snow looking for it after it landed. They were still distracted by this game when we emerged into a clearing. When we saw what was ahead of us man and dog fell silent.

A solid wall of ice, transparent in places, opaque in others glowed in the rays from slanting sun. Beams of light dappled the spiky brown needles of the deciduous pine trees clustered around it. I sand down on a convenient stump of a tree and just gazed in awe. Tabata trotted over to me, put her paws across my lap and leant against me seemingly also in awe of this amazing spectacle. Every drop of water in the falls and the stream below was frozen solid. A miracle of nature that held us in its thrall.

We could linger no longer so I looked for the path that had led us here but I could not see it. In reality there was not enough time to go back the way we had come so we climbed up a short track on to the road above us and marched briskly towards the town. As we emerged from the woods it was already dusk and the darkening sky was punctuated with tiny twinkling stars. The children had gone ahead, stamping through the piles of snow pushed to the edge of the street by the snowplough.

Giovanni raced back to me, his face glowing in the street light “It’s a magic night” he cried with glee and his small hand was slipped into mine as we both stared up at the sky, searching for the moon behind the snow clad fir trees around us. As if to salute us at that very moment a shooting star arced above us. Giovanni was speechless with delight – a rare occurrence.

“Look, look” Valentina was breathing out and watching the resultant mist swirling around her. She laughed and threw her arms around my waist and gave me a big hug.

Tabata was happy too. She trotted her along with her tail upright the amber feathery fronds catching the light from the street lamps when she paused to push her nose into the snow to investigate an interesting smell.

The children raced off again and I wandered along behind them. Giovanni was right, it was a magical night. Mounds of snow glistened in rays of light from street lamps and houses, clumps of snow clung stubbornly to the dark outline of the huge pine trees. We made snowballs and threw them into the tree trying to dislodge the mounds of snow clinging to the branches and make them crash to the ground. The children clambered onto a large mound of snow and slid down to the ground again. This was repeated time after time accompanied by much laughter and shouts of “Look at me”.

We had been out much longer than I had intended, trapped in the magic of the moment. It was nearly time for dinner and we had to clear and set the table when we got back.

Giovanni: “But you promised!”

Me: “I know I did Giovanni but it is very late and time to clear the table and set it for dinner. You could help me.”

Giovanni: “No, I want to finish my creation.”

Me: “Okay, just clear up the pens and pencils then you can go and work on the sofa.”

Giovanni immediately lost interest in creating anything that involved having to tidy up before starting a new project and wandered off. I could hear Valentina playing with her dolls in her room – a trail of outdoor clothes along the hall had alerted me to her presence there. I collected the various articles and put them away. Then I cleared the table of all the creating debris.

Me: “What are you doing Giovanni?”

Giovanni: “Writing in my diary”

Me: “What are you writing?”

Giovanni: “This afternoon was magic.”

Me: “Yes Giovanni, you are right, this afternoon was magic.”

Author: Valery Collins, © 2013