Sunday, 10 January 2010

Embracing the Cold

We just got home from a delayed Christmas party and I couldn't help standing on the lane way and staring up at a sky full of icy pinpoint stars. The snow crunched most satisfyingly under my snowbooted feet and the wind sighed in the bare trees, stopped, sighed again. It was beautiful.., until my nice new rimless glasses fogged over.

Winter in eastern Ontario is a big presence. We had an ice storm on Boxing Day and day after day of snowfall to follow it. Although some of the ice came off the deciduous trees one sunny morning, the evergreens are still loaded, the piles of snow on each branch held in place by the ice base. Even fairly high wind has not shifted it. This means that travel along the trails through the bush involves snow down the neck, whippy branches in the face and a lot of dodging. But it is worth all the nuisance to see the woods draped in their winter d├ęcor, puffed with snow, looped over by ice, each small tree and bush a serrated pile of glistening snow. It is cold, sometimes windy, but wonderful.

This afternoon we drove the Kabota snow tracked vehicle through the bush roads to the marsh that runs along the back of our property. We did this because JG and the YD went snowmobiling the day before Christmas and broke through the ice on the marsh. Although her dad was leading and made it out okay, the YD hit the open patch he had made and sunk the back end of my (MY) snowmobile into about a foot of slush and open water. And there it froze hard. JG and I are now building a scaffold to hold the machine up while he cuts around it and frees it from the ice. We are taking discretion as the better part of valour and walking from the edge of the bush out to where the machine is stuck, on snowshoes and pulling our equipment on Little Stuff's toboggan, about half a kilometre. We got the scaffold up this afternoon, with a lot of pulling, tugging and chipping of ice, and attached the front and back of the snowmobile to it. Progress.

To work outside in this weather, you need to be dressed for it. I wear three layers, from long underwear up to a fine pair of snowboarding pants (loose and comfortable) that I bought many years ago. Wool socks and mukluks, a quilted vest under the coat, a coat with a funnel neck that you can zip up to your nose, quilted gloves, these are a few of the favourite clothes that make winter walking fun. I can do anything but bend over. I also have a fine pair of high tech snowshoes that weigh almost nothing. Walking makes the walker very warm, while standing around on the icy snow in the middle of an open marsh holding boards makes the worker very cold. Good boots are very necessary and they need to be kept waterproofed. Not that anything helps when you have to wade out of the marsh, breaking through in several places, and go home to tell your mother you sunk her snowmobile.

I have to confess, I love winter. Not the dirty, slushy city winter with arctic blasts funnelling between badly designed office towers, but the clean and lovely winter of the Canadian bush. I love the way the shadows fall blue and long through the trees and the way the eastern sky flushes lavender at sunset. I love seeing the tracks that the tiny mice and voles make skittering from safety to safety across a trail we have made. I love the gnome-like baby evergreens, piled with snow and the pattern iced birch branches make against a sullen sky. I love the clear, uncompromising light, the sparkle of ice crystals, the geometric designs of wind-whipped snowbanks. I even love a snowstorm, a time to shut down and curl up inside with a book while great dollops of the white stuff cut you off from the world.

I like it to be really cold most of the time, with the occasional warmer day to pack the snow down so that it will freeze into a walkable crust. Once that has come to pass, you can go anywhere with snowshoes, into the marshes and down the stream beds that would be a humming hell of mosquitoes in summer, following the track of a deer or beaver, camera thumping on your chest, warm and happy.

At least until my glasses fog up.


  1. Yikes on the snow mobile sinkage. There was a story just this Saturday, a boy of 16 died when his snowmobile went into a barbwire fence, and this was on a Snowmobile trail? Even out there in the marked off trails it can be dangerous. For me it's the sliding that I enjoy the most, the speeding down the hills on thin plastics and the rush of wind and adrenaline and your heart in your throat as you wonder if you can keep going in a straight line. As I Get older though I don't like the COLD parts.

  2. Heh... you could almost make me like winter with that description.


    But nope.

  3. I like winter too' I do wish it was a little shorter, however. It needs to end when February ends.

  4. Ditto on the yikes for the snowmobile accident. Thank goodness no one when under with it! And you're right. It was quite beautiful with the ice and snow on all the trees after Christmas. But, you know, we've had the snow and some nice bitterly cold days. We've been skiing and skating and toboganning and snow-shoeing, so I reckon that's enough of winter for now.

  5. loved this post Mary--your description of the Canadian Bush was wonderful. I'm glad the YD got out with no harm to her and good luck on freeing up the snow-mobile.

  6. Your description winter in the Canadian bush was so beautiful.

    I love winter, too. At least usually. I think I will like it better when both kids are old enough to really play outside in the snow.

    I'm intrigued by your snowshoes. I love the idea of walking on top of the snow. Snowshoes would probably not be too useful here, as we tend to have days of melting between our snowfalls, and it's rare that we get much accumulation.

  7. I'd like it a whole lot more if my winter looked like your winter.