Supposedly we’re in for a cold one. A winter where miniature glaciers form on the inside of window frames and snow squeals in tortured shrieks when you walk on it, when minus 30 feels pleasant and balmy, almost summer-like. At least that’s what they said on the radio.
I wouldn’t mind it, or so I tell myself – easy enough to say as long as winter remains perpetually stuck on the mountains, flinging the odd soggy snowflakes at us only to have them melt as soon as they hit the ground. It’s been wet and grey like living under a dirty old blanket, the chicken run a churned up mess of mud, the sun a dim watery object I can look at with risking as little eye damage as when looking at the moon. I’ll take a decent cold snap with its attendant clear sunny skies over this any day.
We’re trying to get ready for the plunge in temperatures, Sam and I can’t help our half-hearted manner: it’s difficult to feel a sense of urgency about cold weather when it still gets so warm in the cabin during those five minutes that the sun does come out that we have to tear open all the windows. Although our green tomatoes are blushing their way toward ripeness in cardboard boxes inside the cabin now, we’re still picking fresh thyme in our herb garden.
We’ve brought in the tool harvest, the wild smattering of shovels, hammers, rakes and staplers that multiplies like crazy every summer all over our place, planted the garlic in preparation for snow, and put another tarp (slightly less shredded than the other two) over the wood pile. We even got out the winter gloves.
I keep postponing insulating our windows with plastic foil; it seems so final, a sealing out of summer and fall; plus, I fret every year over these flimsy plastic sheets – a greeting from the tar sands, the Gulf of Mexico that lets us enjoy our wilderness view through the transparency of wilderness destroyed. Another disposable petroleum product that we buy nonetheless and use every year. A mind game: by waiting to put the foil up over the windows it feels like I’m still saving something, somewhere.
But I’ve given in to the clamouring of my feet and dug out the moccasins with the felt liners. Now I pad around softly in the cabin where floor temperatures have already begun to sink towards hypothermia and frostbite, in no apparent relationship with the actual outside temperatures. It is a phenomenon that also occurs with the freeze-up of small lakes; even when it hasn’t been all that cold yet, they start to freeze anyway, as if it’s something that they’ve always done around this time of the year and only do it for that reason.
The canoe still lies in the grass and sheds rain. We might as well put it away, one gloomy wet day running into the next one, but can’t quite bring ourselves to believe that the soggy weather will turn white without one brief interlude of sunshine that ought to be spent out on the water, paddling.
We’ve cleaned up around the chicken coop, avoiding close looks at the mud-spattered hens that look even more dishevelled because they’re moulting. We are slightly unkempt ourselves these days. Because of the demise of another pair of gumboots I’m wearing one two sizes too big now; not such a bad thing really because with a felt insole and two pairs of wool socks, they not only fit but are nice and warm. I’ve also attached the hood of an ill-fitting jacket to a new second-hand winter jacket that came without a hood. It works well and is exceptionally warm but looks odd because the colours, materials and cuts are completely different. Not a major concern out here, though: except for our trapper neighbour, we don’t expect to see another soul until later in the new year.
As we use another brief dry spell to climb on the roof and sweep the stove pipes, our preparations begin to feel like a rite, a clumsy dance radiating out from the cabin, that acknowledges late fall and ushers winter in.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.