Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Appreciation of Bygone Eras

Although it isn't officially wintertime yet, being a week and a half away from the solstice, the sub-zero temperatures and generous snowfalls have created quite the glittering wonderland around our home. We've had the opportunity to plough/shovel snow several times now, and it's fun to see the tracks that different creatures have left through the powdery stuff. Deer have been visiting the feeder up on the hill, and we've discovered fox, rabbit, squirrel, and raven tracks around the property. Our bird feeders have been little social hubs as well: it's not uncommon to see an entire flock of chickadees fighting for space around them, with raucous blue jays waiting on the patio beneath, waiting for seeds to tumble down to them.

There is such a glorious magic to this place; one that I don't think I truly appreciated last year when we were living by the lake. Granted, there was a fierce beauty to behold there—especially after the water froze, capturing luminous green waves in mid-fall—but spending a winter in the forest is an entirely different experience. The stillness here is nearly mind-boggling, and although we head into town once a week or so to check the post and buy a few groceries, we often go for days without seeing or speaking to any other human beings. I can imagine that many people find that isolating, but I find it more serene and soothing to the soul than I could ever express.

I actually prefer this type of isolation, but recent experiences have really made me consider what Nathaniel's ancestors must have experienced, living out here in the wild. His family settled here over four hundred years ago, and both sides of his family has several generations' worth of folks who have lived upon and loved this land. Even with all of our modern tools and equipment, it isn't "easy" living here in wintertime: wood has to be cut and stacked, fingers freeze and shiver if kindling won't catch quickly enough, and fierce storms can knock the power out.

When it comes to acquiring food, that's another story entirely. Sure, we have a months' worth of canned tomatoes, beets, and carrots, but we didn't get to can as much as I'd have liked last summer, and the few herbs and leafy greens that I've managed to sprout in the pallid light that seeps in through the window are anaemic at best. On our walk to the grocery store today, we discussed the possibility of MacGuyvering a hydroponic bay in the basement so we can have fresh produce in wintertime.

Speaking of grocery shopping, that's the hilarious topic that brought to mind the idea of bygone eras and ancestral hardships. Having grown up in Toronto, I often had groceries delivered to the door as soon as ice appeared on the roads, or else I'd take a quick walk to the corner store run by a lovely Vietnamese lady to buy any number of fresh vegetables for next to nothing. Out here, a head of broccoli can run as high as five dollars in wintertime, and don't even think about a luxury item like an avocado or an orange. The cost of food is unbelievable, and the only supermarket in town is two kilometres from our house. Walking (or biking) that distance is certainly keeping us in shape, but since the dirt road leading to our home is barely ploughed during this season, we get to walk through the snow to get to our destination.

Much like N's ancestors would have done.

I've read stories about the people who settled this wild land, and the journeys they would take to pick up essential supplies from the closest town. Some would snowshoe for ten km or more just to pick up a bit of tea, sugar, flour, and such, or families would band together and take a horse-drawn sleigh to town for their shopping. A village such as ours would likely have had a general store and a counter (or even a small shop) where people could receive their orders from the Hudson's Bay Company, but every outing to the town centre would have been quite the undertaking.

It was -8C (-2C in the sunshine) when we headed out today, bundled as we were in multiple layers of clothing. I had tights under yoga pants, topped with waterproof ski pants, and 3 shirts (cotton, cotton/silk, and wool) beneath my coat, while Sir N had thermal longjohns under his ski pants. Since the road nearby is basically a treacherous ice slick covered with powdery fluff, we chose to take a path through the woods instead... and what an adventure that turned out to be. As we trudged through knee-high snow, flanked by spruce, cedar, and bare-limbed birch trees, I think I mentioned to Nathaniel that it was like walking through Narnia; I half-expected a little scarved faun to peek around the corner and offer me some crumpets, but then again, this is Quebec—he'd probably swear at me in Joual good-naturedly and then offer me a sip of his bière.

The woods were quite silent as we walked, and the journey had a nearly meditative quality: we both tend to get inspired while walking, and all manner of thoughts and ideas percolated in our minds as we stomped and slid our way to the store. There's something so invigorating about marching through snowdrifts, and at some points we followed deer tracks en route to our destination. We picked up just enough that we could carry comfortably, and headed back the way we came, stepping in our own tracks for ease of walking.

I must say, one develops a startling appreciation for the little things when one has to battle the elements to attain them. The cup of coffee I'm sipping right now is absolute ambrosia, and I'm certainly looking forward to nibbling overpriced lettuce for supper tonight. Our ancestors wouldn't have been able to enjoy fresh vegetables until the first fiddleheads and sorrel leaves appeared in April/May; they would have subsisted mostly on root vegetable soups/stews, hard biscuits, and a bit of cured meat/pickled items they'd have put by in the autumn. I'm so immensely grateful for these small luxuries, which I haven't truly appreciated until now—it's incredible what we'll take for granted until they're not immediately available, and the horrendously unladylike manner in which I slid down the hill and crawled across my porch today ensures that I'll never take any morsel for granted ever again.

Here's to respecting our ancestors' resilience and strength, and to woodland adventures. I may have to cook something on the wood stove soon in honour of those who have come before, and made homes/lives for themselves in this gorgeous, untamed land.


Unknown December 10, 2013 at 7:17 PM  

This sent all kinds of life coursing through me.