WHITEFISH – Patti Hirst has been interested in ghosts for years. Not scary ghosts, but snow ghosts, the towering snow-covered trees long admired by skiers in the Flathead.
Under the right conditions, these trees look like large guardian specters, morphing accordingly to each person’s imagination.
“I was always fascinated with snow ghosts,” Hirst, who lives in Whitefish, said. “They look like animals and people and I thought they needed a story.”
So Hirst gave them a story.
In early June, her children’s book “Rocky Mountain Snow Ghosts” hit bookstores around the valley. The book is an imaginative illustrated story of a snow ghost named Blizzard who sets out on an adventure to his grandfather’s house where huckleberry ice cream awaits. Along the way Blizzard encounters a number of friendly animals that help him stay on the right path.
Each animal is brought to life through the illustrations of Abigail Folk, a Whitefish artist. Through the collaboration of Folk and Hirst, an idea that Hirst hatched a decade ago has progressed into an altogether original fantasy tale, unique to the Flathead but appealing to any kid.
“We just had a really good little marriage of our talents on the project,” Folk said. “Hopefully it will really bring some enchantment, some new vision or new perspective into children’s lives who maybe don’t live in a snowy climate – or do.”
Hirst has a doctorate in education and, before retirement, taught special education in places as varied as the Philippines, Beijing and Columbia Falls. She said she often dabbled in writing before “Rocky Mountain Snow Ghosts,” completing a few short stories and publishing various professional articles in journals related to her field. But she always had a particular fondness for picture books, which she says can relate to young kids and high school students alike.
A special dynamic is at play, Hirst said, when illustrations combine with words to create a well-crafted story.
“I always enjoyed that,” Hirst said. “So finally I decided to bite the bullet and do it.”
Blizzard, the story’s hero, is the youngest sibling in a family of alpine and spruce trees. He’s curious and outgoing, an easy character for kids of any age to like. Along his journey he skis on moose antlers, chit chats with grizzly bears and, ultimately, eats a big bowl of huckleberry ice cream.
Hirst juxtaposes educational elements alongside the adventure parts of the story. Kids learn about identifying a grizzly bear by its hump, the stunning capabilities of an eagle’s eyes and the formation of snow ghosts themselves, among other things.
The book is currently available on Amazon.com and at local bookstores in the Flathead, including Books West and the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, Bookworks and Voyageur Booksellers in Whitefish, and Bad Rock Books in Columbia Falls. Hirst said she has spoken with bookstores in Portland, New York and other places as well. It’s also available at the Flathead County Library in Kalispell.
While taking a drawing class last year at Flathead Valley Community College, Hirst’s teacher John Rawlings recommended Folk to help her with her book. So the two met up and Hirst had the final piece to a puzzle she had been working on for 10 years. From then on, they met weekly, discussing Folk’s pictures and seeing how they worked within the context of the story.
They’re both pleased with the result.
“It seemed like a really good opportunity to share the magic of living in a snowy, mountainous area,” Folk said. “I think there’s a place for it in the literary world.”
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