Actually, I am not really snowbound, but it sounds more exciting to say that. I have been house sitting for my sister and her husband while they escape to warm Mexico. Here I am, a few miles from the nearest store and unable to use the car because I do not have a drivers license. It makes me think about a lot of things related to being in the snow. In fact, because I have been away from it so long, I look at it with different eyes than I would if I had lived my whole life in it.
It has been most of 40 years since I have lived in the snow belt. I grew up in snow but I grew unused to it. In my many years in Oregon, snow was unusual, as we usually had rain. In Istanbul, if the snow happened to hit the ground and stick, we knew it would be gone in a day or two. Here in the snow belt, we know it will be gone in a matter of months.
The other day I watched a couple of kids in the park. The boy was 10 or 12 years old and his little sister was about three. He would lie down in the snow and she would climb on him. Then he would pull her along in the snow. I remembered lying in the snow when I was a child, but then I was wearing snow pants and had a high tolerance for it. When I was a child, we were always told not to build snow tunnels because of the possibility of the tunnel collapsing and suffocating us. However, that did not prevent us from doing it. As I recall, our snow tunnels were fairly shallow and were more likely to fall in because of the thinness of the top, with little chance of suffocating us. We did get covered in cold snow, which at the time was exhilarating. We would also go skating almost every evening after dinner up at the park, just a few houses away. We girls would dazzle each other and later the boys with our gliding arabesques and little jumps. Sometimes we had to fight with the boys to make room on the ice for us as they were intent on taking over the rink to play hockey. I haven’t like hockey since… I remember the feel of ice skating, but it has been many many years since I last put on skates and I am unlikely to do it again.
The conventional wisdom when I was a baby and toddler was that it was good for the infant to wrap her up well and put her in her pram outside the door for her nap. That way she would get fresh air. Now it would be considered negligence and the parents would be afraid that someone would steal the baby. I do see mothers and fathers taking their small children for walks on sleds or in strollers. Of course they are well bundled up and they are definitely getting fresh air.
I also remember going various places to go tobogganing or sledding. We did not like sleds so much because their narrow ridges would get caught in the snow and we would not go down the hill very well. Toboggans and then inner tubes were the way to go. As a kid, any hill would do. I was reminded of this as I watched kids of 6 to 8 years old shrieking with excitement as they slid down the hill in the park across the way. To an adult, the hill is not very high but to kids it is just right. They can slide down on their plastic toboggans without losing control, though I am sure it feels like they are going like the wind.
Ontario is not mountainous, but there are some places with high hills that over the years have been developed for skiing. However, that is one sport I never took up, though I tried a few times. It is too fast for me to go downhill and the first time I tried cross-country skiing I sprained my elbow, so that was off the list very quickly.
A few weeks ago my neighbours were outside shovelling the driveway just outside my livingroom window. They had just about finished when all of a sudden I heard a whoosh and realized that the snow from the roof of my building had let go of the roof and dumped onto the driveway, barely missing the 81 year old woman who had been working on the driveway with the younger neighbours. This was a mini avalanche, very common here. The neighbours all have cars, so they all have to prepare the cars well before they want to use them. They scrape the snow and ice off the windshield and turn the car on to warm up. Sometimes they scrape the windshield and make sure the wipers are turned up so they will function when they need them at the next use. Until recently I had forgotten that the defroster has to work very hard and often it is necessary to have a cloth to wipe off the inside of the windows.
This is the longest I have ever stayed in such a quiet space. There are no people around for most of the time. I did see one neighbour who had snowshoed to the island across the river. I can’t even see the homes of the other neighbours who live nearby. I hear the birds who are going after the sunflower seeds, the squirrels who sometimes chatter, and the river still running with icy shores. I also hear the highway traffic and trains, as well as the occasional small plane. But other than that, it is me and the cats– who have the good sense to mostly stay in.
At my sister’s, when I walked out to get the mail, I realized how much snow has fallen or been blown onto the driveway since I got here. I also emptied the wood stove of ashes, dumped the kitchen compost, and took out the garbage and the recycling. These chores made me realize how much there is to do when there are more people here to create garbage and ashes. The path to the compost is precarious, so I stepped in the footprints that were already there. When I shovelled the snow off the deck and the front step, I discovered that there was ice under the snow, which was another warning to be careful where I step.
Today it is not snowing, but the wind blows the powdery snow from the trees, so sometimes it looks like there is a light blizzard. On snowy days there have been light fluffy snowflakes to hard driven snow. And it all piles up. When there is an accumulation of snow, sounds are muted. The snow seems to absorb sound. At the same time, when it is really cold, the sounds are different. As I walk, my footsteps squeak from the cold. Of course I can also hear the snow as it hits the branches of the trees, particularly when it is icy snow.
The other day I walked into the village. It is not very far, perhaps a mile or two. I had not walked it in the snow and was wondering how it would be. Just fine, though as I walked I was reminded of the brain freeze one gets from eating ice cream too fast. There was a bit of brain freeze when the wind blew right at me. The snow was cold enough to crunch and squeak, so I had that to keep me company. An occasional car would go by, with the driver often lifting a hand to wave at a neighbour.
As I walked, I thought about the far flung little pockets of homes that have existed here since Europeans first came. A few miles away there is a little dip in the road called Coopers Falls, where the Coopers built a mill and are still in the construction business. I have been through there a few times and have tried to imagine what it was like in the 1850s, when that little piece of home was started. The roads would have been difficult, corduroy roads of logs to cross the many parts of marshy wetland, to stony pieces crowning the bare Canadian Shield granite. In order to get supplies such as sugar and flour, the family would have had to take the wagon over these roads, assuming they were passable in those early times. The roads would have improved over time, but still it would have taken many hours to get as far as Orillia, for example, to stock up. Probably the trip was not made very often due to its difficulty. At the same time, the women would have canned, dried, and stored food for the winter. Now the roads are well maintained asphalt, but still these tiny settlements feel remote.
This month has been quite cold; as a result, there are many warnings to bundle up appropriately in order to avoid frostbite. Often when the weather is so cold, there are power outages, which, knock wood, I have not experienced. However, I look around here and see what I would do if that were to occur. There is a wood stove, though I would have to huddle near it to be warmed, as the fan that sends the heat into the living room works with electricity. The living room catches a good amount of sun, which warms up the room. Of course that sun is also bouncing off the vast expanses of white snow. There are a few candles around. If an outage were to occur at night, I have a comforter and a quilt on my bed, but I would probably grab as many quilts as I could find (and there are lots– my sister is a quilter) to huddle under. At night there would be no reading in bed and no television.
For now, I am lucky that I can sit in this lovely warm room, looking out at the beautiful river sparkling in the sun. Snow is beautiful, but I would rather contemplate it from inside.