March is snow month

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Once, some years ago, a friend called for me on a sunny March morning, inviting me to come along with him on a trip across the Mealy Mountains. He planned to drive his snowmobile to where his mother and father were camped and he didn't want to go alone.

It was cold, but we dressed against it. The trail was well used, so we drove fast up the valleys and through the forest, making it to camp in a little over 12 hours. Then it started to snow.

Once, some years ago, a friend called for me on a sunny March morning, inviting me to come along with him on a trip across the Mealy Mountains. He planned to drive his snowmobile to where his mother and father were camped and he didn't want to go alone.



It was cold, but we dressed against it. The trail was well used, so we drove fast up the valleys and through the forest, making it to camp in a little over 12 hours. Then it started to snow.



It didn't stop for a long, long time. The soft new layer was more than a metre thick and it wiped out all trace of a trail, reducing movement to a crawl, causing my friend and me, along with his family and other friends, to take more than five days to get back to Sheshatshiu.



We ran out of food, fuel and tobacco all along the way.



When it starts to snow the first few flakes are always very pretty. Day or night, when those intricate frozen constructs, those famously unique natural creations, begin drifting down out of the sky the quiet beauty of the scene can invoke smiles and calm troubled spirits.



Whether you like winter or not, it's difficult to resist the appeal of those tiny wonders when they waft gently onto upturned faces.



However, a few billion of these one-of-a-kind things later and they start to lose their shine.



When 68.2 centimetres of them fall in a space of three days - with more on the way - nobody loves them anymore, except of course for the local schoolchildren who are hoping for more days off.



Snow is one of the prices of living in Labrador and some days it seems a mite too high.



Most times it's not a price at all, but one of the benefits of the region, since for most of the winter the snow falls just steadily enough to keep the ground layer in fine shape for travelling across. For most of the winter snow opens the landscape, making movement possible across otherwise impassible bog, river and forest floor.



But in March the weather changes.



The promise of spring that's in the air is what exacts the price. It's the frigid cold of January and February that keeps the precipitation away. When it gets warm it's like the floodgates open.



When 68.2 centimetres of snow (and counting) falls in the space of a few days it does a number of things.



First, it closes schools - to the traditional delight of all Canadian schoolchildren everywhere.



Next, it closes the airport, especially if there's any kind of breeze. The wide plateau that made Uncle Bob's berry patch such a good place for a military airfield also leaves it bare to the winds. The same drifting also closes roads all over the region.



Off-road travel gets restricted, too, and this week, two famous walkers (Michel Andrew, who is on his way to Natuashish, and Elizabeth Penashue, who was about to begin her annual trek into the wilderness) had to wait out the storm.



Finally, what 68.2 centimetres of snow does is give people lots of time to wonder about the sanity of scraping a driveway down to the ground over and over - hardly finishing before there's a need to do it again. Even those who possess working snowblowers aren't immune to the aches and pains that come from manually shifting the dreaded stuff.



As if falls on driveways it also falls on rooftops, giving them picturesque, but dangerous white caps that must be removed before it gets even warmer, for fear of whole buildings collapsing.



Unfortunately, it's difficult to drag a snowblower onto a roof. When that much snow falls I hear it calling, telling me I must put down the pen and come outside. There's work to be done.



March is snow month. I am no longer my own master and I hate my shovel.



Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Mealy Mountains, Labrador

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