By David Sherman
We’re not in the wilds of the Yukon, living on an ice floe, hunting polar bears for food and fat for candles.
We’re in the Laurentians, less than a kilometre from a good grocer, shelves overflowing with imported beer, local lamb, homemade wool socks, a hundred brands of potato chips and pretty good pizza. Between us and their cash are new hockey and skating rinks, with night lights, an old ski hill now used for mountain biking, snow shoeing, skiing, sliding and turning cheeks pink. An aerobic corridor for hiking, walking and skiing, along which the steam engines used to haul people.
We live on a road with neighbours. This is not hardship. Just a normal rural Canadian village.
First winter here, it snowed for three days. More than 100 cms. Power was out for six days. Electric lines fell across the driveway. Plough wouldn’t come near. We couldn’t get out. Old timers said it was worse than the infamous ice storm.
I melted snow for water to fill the toilets, cooked on the wood stove and in the fireplace, which we sat staring at when we weren’t hauling snow to melt, feeding the stove and fireplace and calling Hydro on a cell phone charged by running the car hemmed in by live power lines.
It was exotic and not unpleasant but not really worthy of repetition.
Everyone needs a car here, except the cat. That translates into eight snow tires, two winter tune-ups, snow brushes, cases of window washer, two dozen bags of salt and sand for driveway and stairs. And a lot of gas. Cars often spend more time warming than driving. Sitting out all night, the cars turn into freezers sitting on rock-hard tires and frozen suspension.
It needs to get in the mood. Warming them up is foreplay.
Of course, you need CAA or the equivalent. Everyone inevitably ends up in a snowbank or has a recalcitrant battery that needs a zap.
There’s getting the ugly Tempo up so we can find the cars after a snowstorm. The white plastic shelter soon disappears behind walls of snow on three sides so it’s not a barrier to beauty. Snow comes almost daily and the landscape stays white all season, say October to April, give or take, hence the ever-present glowing night sky from ski hill lights.
Grant is paid annually to drive his blue snowblower to our place and others to disinter the driveway after every snowfall.
For the stairs we have a set of shovels, plastic for the lady, steel for me, large scoop, an steel ice cracker, a thingy to whack the snow off the Tempo and Marc's hand-made cedar storage containers to hide it all.
A smiling teenage neighbour comes to shovel stairs and walkway when it’s more than our backs want to deal with.
And, once or twice a season, a guy shovels the roof. Everyone who shovels roofs inevitably falls off a roof or two with a variety of consequences but, once healed, still they shovel. Once in a while a roof caves in from snow load so lots of guys fall off roofs in winter. It’s almost a spectator sport.
For walking, you have your hiking boots, waterproof, for when the snow is packed and relatively smooth. For those suckers, you need pull-on metal crampons, transforms your boots to studded tires, prevents finding yourself lying on your back in the middle of a parking lot or a street wondering what happened and how long it’ll take to recover.
Salt is frowned upon up here – it leeches into wells and lakes – so walking on snow and ice is a season-long activity, as is avoiding broken bones from heel and sole slippage.
And, you have your WINTER BOOTS for when the snow is fresh and five to ten centimetres high.
Then you need your WINTER WINTER BOOTS for when you slog through a foot of snow or more to get to the bird feeder, check the propane tank and the car. These are insulated boots, almost as high as those worn by fly fishermen. Curiously, at winter's end, they walk away and hide and are impossible to find six months later.
Propane tanks hold the juice for the gas fireplace installed when hunting, buying, carrying and paying for wood of variable quality and benefit wears you out. As does picking bits of bark out of your ears, shirt pockets and morning coffee. As does chronic shoulder and back miseries.
Gas fireplaces get brilliantly hot at the press of a button and there are no worries about bad wood, chimney fires or walking around with soot on your face like a Navy SEAL.
Then you got you fur hat or toque and a permanent case of hat hair, if you have hair.
But, don’t forget the gloves. Need a presentable pair for those nights we used to have when you put on nice clothes and ate at a restaurant that wasn’t a drive thru.
You need multilayered nylon gloves for walks and work and skating or skiing. And, you need those serious mitts snowmobilers favour for first class wind chill on nights you want to walk and say, “To hell with the mercury. It’s dropped so low I can’t see it.”
That’s part of the wool sock/long underwear ensemble, the latter necessitating a drive to, gasp! Walmart!
Yes, you can go to Sports Experts or the like and get underwear made from material used for spacesuits, guaranteed to keep you warm through a nuclear winter, but the price resembles that of a moon shot, so Walmart it is.
I hate Walmart. If I was Catholic I’d have to go to confession.
We can segue to the recreational side of the season. You can imagine. Cross-country skis or downhill or both, snowshoes, skates for the new rinks they built, a hockey stick and puck to rattle off the boards as you go sliding on your ass across the ice, dreaming of scotch to come.
It’s a winter paradise. There is beauty everywhere to enjoy.
If you have money left over to eat.