What Happened During the Ice Storm


Heynen, Jim


Short Story


Jim Heynen is a teacher, short story writer, and regular contributor to NPR's All Things Considered. "What Happened During the Ice Storm" tells of an ice storm in a rural place. Most of the animals have found shelter, but not the pheasants, which have been left so helpless that people are going out with clubs to hunt them. A group of boys goes looking for pheasants too and comes across a flock of them—their wings weighted down with ice, their eyes glazed shut. After a brief bout of uncertainty, one boy acts, and the others follow suit in an unexpected response to the pheasants' plight. We often try to define good moral leadership, but is there also a way of following that best encourages thoughtful ethical choices? Should groups strategize to achieve such moments of consensus as the boys experience here, or can these moments only realistically be viewed as gifts?

Full Text*

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The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. Ed. Bly, Hillman, Meade. Harper Collins, New York, 1992. pp. 249-50.




Giving and ReceivingIdentity and CommunityLeadership and ResponsibilityLove and CompassionNature and the EnvironmentOrganizing and ActivismTeaching and Learning

Big Questions

What do people gain or lose from joining a group or a community?How does a person become a leader?How does a person learn compassion?What is my responsibility to animals and the natural world?What does it mean to be an organizer or an activist? What defines this role?Where does the best learning happen – in the classroom or elsewhere?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do we know about the boys in the story?
  2. Why are the boys trying to help the pheasants?
  3. What do you make of the line: “The boys had not brought clubs, or sacks, or anything but themselves”?
  4. How do the boys react to the freezing peasants? How do they come up with a solution for helping them?
  5. Why do the other boys follow the first boy?
  6. Do you find it easier to react in the moment to those in need or to develop a carefully planned response? How do you feel when you must respond in a way that feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar to you?
  7. How and when do you decide to follow a leader? After you can sense that their strategy works? After you know the person and their values? As soon as you are told you should be following that person's lead?
  8. Are moments of consensus similar to the one in the story common in your work and/or service? If so, how are these usually moments reached? If not, why do you think these moments are uncommon?
  9. Is "doing" without being told or taught the best way for children to learn?
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