Published on January 03, 2014
That’s me playing in the snow with granddaughter Rory. — Photo by Goldie Smith//Special to The Telegram
Published on January 03, 2014
Break out the snowshoes — the only way to the cabin. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
Published on January 03, 2014
Big snow 2001. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram
“Whoever is praying for snow, please stop.” Somebody posted this on his or her Facebook page a few days ago. I laughed when I read it. That poor soul mustn’t like snow very much.
Not like me. I love snow. But I have stopped praying for it, for the sake of those, including my wife, Goldie, who much rather sunshine and balmy temperatures in the high 20s or even 30s.
This is not shaping up to be a winter that gives any consolation to those who detest Jack Frost. I think Newfoundland sun worshippers are in for a rough ride. Hang in there — spring will break eventually, or if patience fails completely, you could book a flight to Cuba, Florida or Costa Rica.
I’m sitting at my dining room table scribbling away while my granddaughter Rory scampers about the house. She’s been up since 5:30, excited for the snow, I suppose. I had her out playing in it yesterday, sliding, shovelling and playing with plastic hockey sticks.
All kids love snow. Daylight broke about an hour ago and big fluffy flakes are starting to fall. It’s the day before New Year’s Eve and the forecast is calling for another storm. It’s supposed to get wound up to full force around noon.
It looks like Rory will be spending another night with us. I’m not taking any chances on the TCH today, returning the little rascal to her mom and dad in Paradise.
December will end tomorrow and we’ve had more than 100 centimetres of snow. And not a tad of it has melted. Temperatures have been consistently on the minus side for just about the whole month. The woods are perfect for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.
The first snowfall stayed and that’s something you don’t see often. And as a bonus to winter lovers, Jack Frost cast his icy hand over the land before the snow had a chance to lay a blanket of air-pocketed insulation. That means, for those not familiar with forest travel, that the ground is frozen beneath the snow. So you won’t plunge though the snow into a swampy mess of bog and muck. That’s a real downer, when you’re trudging along on your racquets over a lovely endlessly white blanket of snow, and your shoes get clogged up with slush and bog. Your snowshoes instantly double or even triple their weight. Relief comes only from banging them briskly together or individually on a tree, stump or rock.
Older-style wooden snowshoes are the worst wet offenders. Modern metal and synthetic shoes are more forgiving. Anyway, this winter you’ll see little of this. I’ve been on the shoes now for weeks and no soaked shoes.
It’s been more than a decade since a December like this one has graced us. Recent Christmases have been green, wet and warm. It’s dandy for visiting with friends and family but there is really nothing like a frosty white Christmas with multicoloured lights twinkling through snow-laden branches. Bring it on; I love it.
I think 2000-2001 was the last time we had a real winter. I remember shooting a nice 10-point bull moose in late November on a cold clear morning after the very first snow. And you know what? The snow stayed. We had to shovel snow and bridge streams to get that moose in the freezer. It was a full bore winter event.
And the snow kept piling up; storm after storm roared up the eastern coast of North America and dumped snow on Newfoundland. The mercury got comfortable below the zero mark and very little snow melted. Snow banks grew while schools and businesses experienced record closures. We had a storm and closures just about every week.
We Newfoundlanders are a tough and enduring people. We take the weather in stride, for the most part complaining only to make casual conversation. You might not know this — living, playing, working and commuting here while record snows accumulated — but folks were talking about the snow in St. John’s all across North America. I dug up online the proceedings of the 59th Eastern Snow Conference, held in Stowe, Vermont, in winter 2002. The snow falling on St. John’s captivated folks. It was the theme of the conference.
In the winter of 2000-2001, St. John’s experienced the most snow in 130 years, maybe since the last Ice age, because a century or so is the extent of our records. In addition, we broke the record snowfall total for any major Canadian city.
A little snow doesn’t frighten us, not like those city dwellers from upalong, where a few measly centimetres can shut everything down, cause a state of emergency to be declared, and send folks scurrying to Wal-Mart for boots and to the supermarket to stockpile spuds and rice.
I’m joking, of course — partially, anyway — but I think we are the hardiest bunch in Canada. Maybe the guys from northern B.C. place a close second. I have fishing buddies there and they read my column.
In the big winter of 2000-2001, almost 650 cm of snow fell on St. John’s; that’s more than 21 feet of the white stuff. It’s the only winter on record with over 600 cm of snow. The winter of 1881-1882 came close with 598 cm.
But do you realize that, as we celebrate the dawn of 2014, we are on track to surpass our own snow record? Yes sir, this December has been snowier than December 2000.
Who has been doing all that praying? Whoever you are, we know for sure God is listening. Maybe you should tone it down just a bit, for the sake of our kids getting to school, and folks who don’t own snow blowers. Thank the Lord; I have a plow on my ATV.
I’ll clew up with a tale of both humour and caution from that record-setting winter — mid-February 2001, to be as precise, as memory permits.
Robert and I were in the woods rabbit hunting on snowshoes. As you can imagine there was much snow, in fact the most I’ve ever seen. Tops of mature spruce and fir trees poked through the surface of the snow. It was the quintessential winter wonderland.
Both Rob and I knew better than to walk near one of those trees. The snow doesn’t compact well around trees and you can take a sudden ride down to your neck even with snowshoes on. It happened to my dad once while hunting for a Christmas tree.
Anyway, the dogs started a rabbit and Rob and I split up for a shot.
The sin of carelessness sneaks its way into your life under the camouflage of excitement. The bunny was coming in my general direction and I attempted a strategic repositioning. I didn’t notice the bushy top of a black spruce peeping innocently up from the powder. Down I went right to my neck with a big set of wooden bear paw snowshoes attached securely to my feet. I tried to get back up to the surface with absolutely no success. In fact, I sunk deeper, like bloody quicksand. And I couldn’t reach my snowshoe straps. I need more yoga.
I actually got a bit scared, thinking I was going to disappear forever beneath winter’s primal charm, swallowed up by the snow I’d loved all my life; what an irony that would be.
The rabbit bounced by followed by my hounds, neither paying any mind to the top of my colourful wool hat, or associated dilemma.
A few minutes later I heard a shot. Rob had the rabbit, at least, and the dogs went silent, now I could try to call him over. I yelled out but he didn’t hear me, snow muffles sound very efficiently. It’s a good idea to carry a whistle. I didn’t then, but now I do.
You all know the standard woods folk emergency signal, right? It’s three shots in a row, spaced one minute apart.
I had three shells in my pump action Winchester and I fired the signal. Robert came to my rescue with a white rabbit in his hand and three dogs behind him. He laughed for a while before pulling me out of my cavern. Even the beagles looked somewhat amused.
It’s scary, but I’m not at all sure if I could have gotten out on my own. Please beware. You could exhaust yourself and freeze to death in short order.
If the snows continue to pile up and this winter is anything like the record breaker, watch out for treetops lurking ominously beneath the snow. And take your kids and grandkids out in the snow to play, even if you’re not too fussy on winter.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,
fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted