Snow scatters in the wind like grain to a scythe. White tendrils whisk across the road, accumulating at times into pure whiteouts. It’s hard to tell the difference between snow falling and snow drifting. Evergreens line the road with sagging snow-laden branches and pavement hides beneath the frozen mat. We live where snow-tires are a must. Anyone who tries to fudge that requirement finds out how much it costs for a tow from a ditch or snowbank. Already the city of Hancock is removing snow to the fairgrounds. It is December 12, 2019, and we’ve had 62 inches of snowfall.
Welcome to the lee side of Lake Superior, where her snow globe is in full swing.
It might be time to break into song, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful…” But it’s not all that bad. We adjust here in the Keweenaw. I had an appointment a few days ago, drove through. swirling snow, and stomped my boots as I entered the building. The receptionist said, “That time a year, eh?”
Yes, it’s that boot-stomping, snow-blowing, globe-living time of year again, and I’m settling right into the rhythm. Driving 12 miles to the Hub’s ortho appointments is a breeze compared to the 200 miles we had to drive the past two winters. What has changed? The VA is working with local providers for those of us who live far away from urban VA hospitals. It continues to be a major battle with every approval comes a VA retraction. Medical records don’t get sent.
But our orthopedics center in Larium is fighting for us. After driving through snow dervishes, the nurse greeted us with a growl that she had a battle with Iron Mountain (the Hub’s primary VA. hospital) but finally found the right person to get the right records, and now she had that phone number. We are so grateful for their dedication because they don’t have to deal with the VA. They could refuse to work with veterans like many centers do. So, we appreciate the good care, the willingness to deal with a difficult system, and the close proximity to home.
Before driving through the blowing snow tunnel again, we took full advantage of stopping in at Cafe Rosetta. It’s a small Finnish coffee shop with scratch-made soups, sandwiches, and lavender-honey coffee. They even tolerate my BLT alteration — bacon, sprouts, guacamole, and pepper jack cheese, toasted on whole wheat with a smear of mayo. It’s a divine place to watch the snow howl down Main Street.
And, it’s where I encountered the gnomes.
Bearded fellas with tall woolen and pointy hats (not ears), the Joulutonttu is the Finnish Christmas elf. Cafe Rosetta was overrun with the stuffed figures, in caps gray or dull red. While associated with winter solstice and Christmas, the gnomes protect the house. There’s even a Joulutonttu Sauna — a sauna gnome! His job is to make sure everyone behaves in the sauna. That makes me giggle because I then think up all kinds of ways to misbehave.
If you aren’t familiar, the Fins sauna instead of bathe or shower. Today, I imagine they do both, but it’s still regarded as a weekly activity. We have a cedar sauna built into our house on the lower level and can dive into the snow afterward. I’m not kidding. It’s a thing! We sit in a wooden box with heated rocks that we pour a dipper of water over and then sweat in the steam, followed by a cold plunge outside and a warm dinner. Many people on the Keweenaw sauna. The heat penetrates all the way to your bones. It’s considered fortifying and helps if you have a winter cold. If the idea of the snow plunge unsettles you, opt for a shower.
I think I need to find a sauna gnome made of stone. I like the idea of a Joulutonttu living in the small cedar room off the back of our house.
Finals are quickly approaching. I’m finishing up three novels for required reading and several books. This week and next, one of my courses is focusing on the contemporary fiction genre. I found out that I’m in the minority with my MFA. Most of my cohort are writing speculative novels. With much thought and class discussion, it finally occurred to me what I love most about writing — exploration. And that’s what contemporary fiction does. Themes, styles, and elements can vary, but contemporary fiction explores who and why within a setting of realism.
I’m finally starting to see how I can construct my novel, too. We’ve been deepening our understanding of story arcs, and the complexity of multiple sub-plots added to drive the tension forward. One article I read this week challenged the notion of novels being plot or character-driven; they are all tension-driven. It can be external (plot) or internal (character), but it’s tension that turns the page for readers. Conflict can often come in the form of clashing values, no villain required.
I’ve also added a step before using my W-storyboard that has me plotting to be a better plantser. First step is to plot an arc; second is to draft scenes; third is to map the scenes with the help of the W layout shows both internal and external tension and mimics a hero’s (protagonist’s) journey. A-ha! And I have an expanded idea in the hero’s journey arena, too. An element of contemporary fiction is that the narrative generally focuses on a character’s journey and emotional experience. The call sets up a promise, and the elixir follows through with a satisfying outcome, which does not have to be a happy or expected ending.
In the novel Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, every time her protagonist experienced growth as a character, there was a consequence. Each time, the stakes got higher to the point that her life was in jeopardy. So, her final act in the novel is courageous and seems to satisfy the reader as a conclusion, but actually ends before we witness the consequence we know must follow. I won’t spoil what that means specifically, but the ending ties back to the opening, and it’s a brilliant conclusion, though not it leaves us wondering how much more suffering continued.
For me, it’s back to snow and books.
December 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a garden gnome, a Christmas Joulutonttu, or a sauna protector. You can write magical realism, or feature contemporary gnome-like product. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by December 17, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
House Protector by Charli Mills
The Russian soldier came on baking day. The Finnish women kept their kerchiefed heads bowed. He dismounted, kicked the oafish-looking gnome statue, and grabbed the youngest girl by the waist.
“You smell pretty today.” He smiled coldly.
Macy tried to withdraw and relaxed when she saw Joulutonttu upright himself. “It’s the bread,” she said, distracting him.
She led the soldier to the communal kitchen where the massive beehive hearth burned. She showed him loaves, opened the large oven door —
They later told their men that Joulutonttu protected them. But it was Macy who shoved the Russian in the oven.