Winter descends on a frigid landscape

Winter 2009 has come in with a vengeance.  Outside, I hear the whine and growl of snowmobiles, see the snow swept along by the wind or falling like feathers to the ground; I smell wood smoke as it curls from chimneys, feel the chill in my bones as the wind freshens and the mercury spikes and then plummets like a gannet.  The White Hills are laden with snow and trees along the highways are bending under its weight.  Moose stand silent at the perimeter of the woods; snowmobiles snake through trees pulling sleds behind; finishing touches are put on smelting shacks as ponds and bays harden and the promise of ice fishing looms.  Snowploughs roar by, shedding snow along the roadsides in giant arcs.

Just a few evenings ago my daughter and I were out driving.  She begged to be allowed to drive, but I have not had the courage yet to relinquish the wheel on these snow-covered roads.  To be sure, her eyesight is superior, and her enthusiasm out-distances mine by a long shot, but as the Grey Power commercial says, those over 50 have experience, and in my opinion that has to count for something and, sure enough, it did.

Night had fallen and snow lay like a white quilt over roads and ditches as we drove along.  Out of nowhere two white bunnies zigzagged helter-skelter across the road in front of the car, testing my driving skills to the limit. Not once, not twice, but three times I swerved and braked to miss them, but they were determined to die.  Add to that scene a 16 year-old passenger shrieking, “You are going to kill the bunnies!  Stop!” and you have a pretty good idea why she is not driving at night on snow-covered roads.  I do not know how the rabbits managed to avoid the wheels of the car, but they did, and they are still out there waiting to test someone else’s driving skills.  Consider yourself warned.

I grew up in south-western British Columbia, just east of Vancouver.  One winter we moved out to the country and what made that winter so memorable was that it snowed, and we had our first brush with a mountain lion, or cougar.  For anyone born and raised in that area of B.C., snow was as unexpected as a Sasquatch in Newfoundland.  A west-coaster knows very well how to cope with a deluge of rain, but has no frame of reference to deal with snow.  Nor did the province possess any real snow-removal equipment, so when the big snow arrived in the winter of 1968-1969, everything came to a standstill.

We missed a month of school because we lived six kilometers off the main highway and buses could not make it up the steep hills.  My brother Peter set up his telescope in the middle of the road each morning to spy out the bus situation; his reports were more accurate than any radio announcement and far more interesting.  The paper girl delivered the newspaper by horse and sleigh, which was quite a sight.  When the imported snow removal equipment finally came down our road, the snow was well above the height of any vehicle. When the road was finally opened, we lay on top of the snow banks and looked down at the cars and trucks passing on the road beneath us.

That winter, the cougars came.  We were out walking along a back country road, and our mom was explaining that it was a hard year for wildlife because of deep snow.  My Siamese kitten strained ahead on a leash when suddenly she stopped; the hairs on her back and her tail stood straight up.  Mom whispered, “Cougar tracks,” and pointed.  Each paw print was the size of a saucer.  I tell you, nobody needed to tell us to start walking in reverse.  A cougar is a big cat, and you might be interested to know that it is capable of killing a 270 kg (600 lb) moose.  Even the big cats were having a hard winter, prowling around the farms looking for a quick meal.

So, whenever I hear the whine and growl of snow machines here on the Northern Peninsula I consider that, even though we live in a world of light and power and noise, there is another silent world that exists right on the perimeter of our lives.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t really take the city out of the girl.

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