The snow came last week. It wasn’t a blatant invasion like some parts of the country experienced, nor was it a thrust into the deep freeze. Instead, it arrived quietly in the night and when the flicker of the firelight showed its presence on the deck, it was like bunting, a sort of showy ribbon hung along the rails and edges. There hasn’t been much. My treks to the wood shed can still be made in running shoes.
There are jays, flickers and nuthatches about. Along with the chickadees they make a fine display as they forage in the front yard. All around us is grey. The sky retains a hardy slate theme, as though it wants to erupt in snow at any moment and the lake is a mute, sullen sort of grey as though impatient for the sheer white to come. The land is well prepared for the onslaught that’s sure to arrive soon.
When I was small, we lived in what’s called the Snowbelt of Southwestern Ontario. That’s an area that stretches from the edge of Lake Huron at Kincardine, north to Cape Croker and Tobermory and then southward through the mixed farm lands of Walkerton, Mount Forest, Clinton and onward to Kitchener-Waterloo. Every year, sometime around the second week of November, people began to hunker in. No matter how fine it appeared to be weather-wise, everyone knew the snow was coming.
Did it ever. That was 40 years ago and I still remember being amazed at the sheer size of the flakes as they twirled down. They were like huge articulated Frisbees. On windless days it was as though the sky were shaking out great pillows and the feathery flakes that made things near white-out conditions were stunning to watch.
Later, the winds picked up and the quality of the snow changed. It became dry pellets that stung the skin and forced your head down. You could hear the whistle of them as they surged passed your ears. This was the kind of snow that drifted and formed dunes of white across the fields. That always amazed me. The way you would wake up one morning and the entire front 40 was a snowy Sahara with snaking dunes every which way across it.
Sometimes, when the wind was right, it snowed sideways. The north wind blew with such force that the snow came at you parallel to the ground. You couldn’t walk anywhere with an accumulation of snow in the creases of your clothing and if you were aimed into the teeth of that wind, you could only discern the outline of things. It snowed like that for days sometimes and the rural buses wouldn’t run. We were glad for that but less enthused about being housebound for the duration of the storm.
Those were winters. There never seemed to be a waiting period then. Maybe it was because the farmers never tried to second guess things. They just went about their seasonal chores and routines, fully expecting the weather they’d come to recognize as ‘normal’ to drift in as predictably as cows for the evening milking.
I remember once, looking out the back window and seeing the biggest jackrabbit I had ever seen bound across the top of a three-metre dune of snow. Backlit by the moon and the grand purple sky, that rabbit was all shadow and when he disappeared suddenly, it struck me that the land is a magic show and I’d best pay strict attention. I never forgot that.
Yes, the winters of my boyhood were real winters. These days, on the cusp of Christmas, there’s little snow about and when I hike up into the back country with the dog, I can still use my summer hikers. Sure, the chill has sent the bears packing and the winter birds are here but that grandiloquent dump of snow that proclaims winter’s arrival seems still a long way off – if it ever makes it at all.
They didn’t make a deal in Copenhagen. They didn’t put their minds together and come up with a pact that had teeth that would see carbon emissions cut drastically right now. They didn’t tell corporations and big business that we’re all responsible for the life of the planet and they need to get in line right now. Instead, there’s a polite and toothless agreement that allows the haves and their cronies to siphon clean air, water and a common healthy future from the have-nots.
Maybe none of them recall winters like they used to be. I’m sure Stephen Harper doesn’t. They were glorious. Cold and glorious. The depth of snow would ensure ground water for crops and the cycle of things was steady. We’ve altered that, we humans. Forever. But we deserved better from our leaders than a name on a useless deal. We needed change now.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new
novel, Ragged Company, is
out from Doubleday.
He can be reached at