Updated: Nov 21, 2019
Winter is well established here in the north.
It's early this year. Today is Remembrance Day and traditionally the service ends and the parade has returned to the Legion hall just as the first snowflakes of the season begin to fall from the sky. This year winter descended on Halloween, and has stayed. We now have a good half foot covering the good green earth everywhere. The lakes too have followed suit. Ice is forming on the shores and open water is steaming where it meets the -17 Celsius air temperature. It's really quite beautiful.
To really enjoy the north, you have to be a winter outdoors person. There are several ways to enjoy the outdoors—some more environmentally acceptable than others. Whatever the mode of transportation, the entrance into the forest in winter is akin to being admitted to a great cathedral.
My earliest experience with the otherworldly setting of a winter forest was when I was a very small child of four. My parents had two younger children at the time, and I was considered old enough to follow along behind them on the well packed trail which dissected the forest between our property and that of my grandparents. It was a mile-long walk. The trail was clear beneath the spruce boughs laden with fresh snow.
But there were other trails throughout the forest. Small trails of many sizes twisted and turned among the smaller stems and bushes, wandering to some unknown place. “I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date,” I could almost hear the little creatures muttering. My child's mind wondered about the small characters that were going about their own lives along these busy throughways.
Time drifted on, and the years passed. Christmas season was one of the major markers of each of the years. My brother, next down on the list of children in our family, (I being the firstborn) was responsible for the annual selection, dispatch and delivery of the Christmas tree. This was a major and important undertaking from the viewpoint of all members of the family, and well before Christmas arrived, a party of five interested siblings would embark out into the forest to decide upon a likely candidate.
The forest in the winter is a magical place. Its little creatures don't expect humans in their midst though, no matter how small we were. When we entered along the trail, which had by then been travelled by three generations of people, we were greeted by absolute silence. The gentle fall of a mound of snow from a hanging branch could be heard clearly in the deep quiet. Spruce, birch, and poplar towered into the clear blue sky. The chickadees and other small birds had flitted deeper into the forest to avoid the humans, and only a distant raven had the nerve to draw attention to itself with its brazen call. The finding and finally the delivery of the Christmas tree was truly the first gift of the Christmas season, delivered by the forest to the children, who took it with gratitude and care.
When Christmas day arrived, it always included new mittens, hats, scarves, boots and coats, as well as toboggans and the much enjoyed flying saucer. Our youngest brother, the baby of the family, was the main passenger on this whirling devil of a winter plaything. Fortunately, he was born with steely courage and a high sense of adventure. He would readily jump on board, hanging on tightly as he prepared for the windup. The older of the two boys would gleefully take his position with the attached rope in hand and begin the maneuvre at the far side of the frozen field to ensure the flying saucer entered orbit with as much velocity as his young muscles could deliver.
From the top of the high bank on the side of the long driveway, the way was wide open and when the older boy let go, the flying saucer skittered about three-hundred feet while a little boy of no more than four could be heard laughing and laughing all the way across the glistening expanse of snow until the ride was over. The children who had been observers of this daredevil flight would then protectively head off across the field to retrieve their youngest sibling, and the game would begin again.
These are only some of the many moments of fun that winter brings. We only need do one thing to ensure we enjoy this beautiful season. Go outside.