Living in the church in winter

 

First up, I’m not a winter whiner.  I like all the seasons.  I dress for the weather, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than  being out for a walk on a crisp, sunny winter’s day.  I even enjoy a bit of snow shoveling when the snow is not too wet and heavy. I’ve got one of those scoop buckets that you run across the surface and then dump, thus not having to lift the snow and throw it.  My shoulders are messed up.  I can’t do that anymore. I take my time. I rest when I’m tired, and I get it done.  My doctor friend Barclay tells me to be careful of the old ticker.  He’s seen lots of guys go that way.  I tell him that I figure if I don’t overdo it, it’s good for me.  He looks at me dubiously.

I like the feel of being in a nice warm house, with all provisions on hand, and looking out at a big snow storm, knowing I don’t have to leave the house for a couple of days if necessary.  I like to hunker down.

Right now, I am at my desk, looking out the window at a bright blue sky with big fluffy white clouds, and just a little spot of open water far out on the otherwise frozen bay.  It’s been open water until just a couple of days ago when the week or so of extreme cold took it’s tole and when I looked out one morning, it was a frozen lake almost as far as the eye can see.  Today it is sunny and gorgeous to look out at, but it’s minus 20C and there is no one out walking around.  I’ve got a proper parka and long-john’s and the rest but minus 20 is my limit for wanting to be outdoors.  I cut my walk short this morning.  They are forecasting that we have another week of this “true Canadian winter” and then it will be going back up to around zero and staying there for the foreseeable future. Suits me fine.

We live in a double brick Victorian with storm windows and a boiler and rads for heat, and we’re toasty warm.  I love rads.  No blowing hot, dusty, dry air around constantly with all the noise that suggests.   We’ve got an outdoor sensor on the thermostat so we set the temperature once fourteen years ago when we got here and we haven’t touched it since.  We have an enclosed sun porch on the south wall and it heats up like a greenhouse in the afternoon. After lunch,  I like to lay on the couch in there soaking up the sun and reading stretched out on the old sofa under a thick wool blanket.  Typically I read about twenty minutes then fall asleep for another twenty minutes.  Then I’m ready for the rest of my afternoon.  It’s something I always look forward to.

It wasn’t like this when we lived in the old church.  I’ve spoken of it  before, but to encapsulate we bought an old Methodist church in Wycombe Ontario in 1981 after reading a small ad in the London Free Press.  We bought it for nothing but it was in rough shape, with much investment needed, but we were young, and strong, and foolish enough to buy it, and figure we could do all the work on it ourselves.  That’s more or less what happened, but like the settlers that arrived here from Europe all those years ago in the fall, we had a rough time getting through that first winter.

The old coot that owned the place had built a Styrofoam wall halfway across the ground level interior and had an old forced air gas furnace  which (sort of) heated that half.  The other side was as cold as outdoors and so that first winter instead of a refrigerator we just kept perishables on a table on the cold side of the dividing wall.  When the wind blew it would ruffle the curtains.  Because there was no basement and just  a crawl space under the floor boards, with the furnace blowing in from above, the cold would come up through the floor and your legs would be numb from the knees down.  We took to wearing legwarmers and layers of under-cloths and sweaters.  In the evenings we would have to gather our legs up onto the couch, and cover ourselves to be warm.   That winter of 81 was bitter cold, and we suffered.  The one thing that saved us was that one of the first things we did was insulate the bathroom wall which faced the rear entrance. There was no window and with the addition of a big electric wall heater we were able to keep this room toasty warm.  If you were cold, and just couldn’t get warm you could go in there, have a hot bath and luxuriate in the tropical air.  Before the second winter hit we replaced the old furnace with efficient, through the wall type gas heaters. We reconfigured the space to use the entire floor, insulating outer walls and repairing the windows, so it was much more hospitable.

A couple of years later we bought some out buildings, so I had a big insulated workshop with a powerful wood stove which allowed me to get the space warm enough for the refinishing chemicals to work, and the finishes to cure.  We kept in warm in there.  You could work in your shirt sleeves.  At night I would fill it with wood and there would still be enough hot embers in there in the morning that I just had to throw in a bit of small stuff and a couple of logs and it would come right back.  One of my favourite times was first thing in the morning, sitting with the door of the stove open.  Sipping on my coffee and staring into the fire. My front and face almost hot, my back still cool.  Another fine winter day.

I believe that to enjoy winter, you must embrace it.  Put on the proper cloths and get out there for a walk on the days when it is sunny and the wind is not blowing.   At the church we could cross the road, take the path through the woods and continue along fields and through more woods, eventually passing three irrigation ponds and then more woods and fields before returning home.  We called it the three pond walk, and it took about 45 minutes on a good day.  It was also possible to take a detour and pass by two more ponds, but that five pond walk took over an hour and was generally too much to consider in the winter.  I remember the second pond was spring fed and there was a little patch of open water there where it flowed year round. There was a nice big log by the spring and I would always pause there and take it in for a while before moving on.

I have fond memories of winter at the church, but I can’t overstate the joy I felt when moving into the house here and having the bottom ten inches of my legs not feel cold.   There’s no going back.

Advertisements

Frozen hard boiled eggs – Recollections of Quebec in the winter

nice day for a buggy ride in old Quebec

nice day for a buggy ride in old Quebec

It is December 1st and we are still enjoying mild temperatures and no snow here in Port Dover on the “south coast” of Ontario, which is how they promote the region around here.  In actuality, it is not a coast at all but rather the north shore of Lake Erie.  You need an ocean to have a coast, and I bring this up because I am not about supporting the deterioration of the language. In any case, the forecast is for temperatures to drop at the weekend to normal values and then if we believe what we are told we are in for a rough winter.  I was looking at the old Bell line van pictured at the top of every blog and thinking about how cold I used to get traveling in that van to Quebec in the winter.winter1

I did my best to fit trips in between snow events, but it goes to say that when you are back and forth every couple of weeks you are going to get caught.  I can remember white outs on the four lane #20 highway when looking out the windshield was like looking into a snow globe. Everything is white snow swirling and dancing in the headlights; everything is hypnotic and there is no hint of an edge to the road, or white line to guide you.  You are lost, and afraid to stop for fear that a transport will run straight over you, but also afraid to pull over because you have no idea where the highway ends and the ditch begins. A total white knuckle scenario which lasts for minutes that feels like hours.

You know those “bridge freezes over before highway” signs you sometimes see on northern bridges.  Well I can attest to that being true.  Late one December night I headed through Montreal, and on to the south shore with the temperature dropping steadily, and the rain starting to glaze up and turn to snow. By the time I reach the Drummondville bridge it was cold enough that indeed the road before the bridge was fine, but the second I hit the bridge that big old truck thought itself a figure skater and decided to pirouette the entire length of the bridge, spinning gracefully all the way across until it hit the dry pavement on the far end, and miraculously I had completed a turn and  the wheels were aligned so I just stabilized and kept going as if nothing had happened.  Good thing I bring a change of underwear.winter6

Another time when I picked up Jeanine at Mirabelle airport after her spending a few weeks in France, we were so happy to see each other and getting caught up that we hardly noticed the ever increasing magnitude of the snow storm which was coming in.  It just kept getting heavier and heavier but we continued to crawl along in the tracks of the transport ahead of us. We made it like this as far as the Ontario boarder before the front bumper of the van was literally plowing snow and that’s when we decided to call it a night.

The old Bell line van held a lot of gear and you could rely on the 350 Chevy engine to start and get you there and back, but the body wasn’t built for traveling for a long time in sub- zero weather, with it’s non insulated sliding side doors. It was meant to be a delivery van after all   I would wrap up in long johns, two pairs of pants, a pair of insulated cover-alls, and a blanket over my legs but even with the heater blasting full it could get damn cold.  I remember one -30 degree morning when surprisingly the engine fired up after turning over so slowly you would think it was being hand cranked.  After leaving it to heat up for 15 minutes I set off to get on with my day of visiting the picker’s barns with my lunch box on the engine cover.  I got hungry about an hour later and decided to have a hard- boiled egg, only to find that it was frozen as hard as a rock.  It’s amazing what you will put up with when you are young and have lots of blood flowing through your veins.  I could not believe the feeling of absolute luxury when the old van finally died and I started traveling in a pick-up truck.  What was I thinking?winter5

Of course the flip side to this potential discomfort and hardship is just how wonderful and special it is to be in Quebec on a , crisp sunny morning with the snow piled as high as the rooftops. Quebec city in particular is absolutely magical in the winter. To look out your hotel window and see the people below hustling along narrow paths between buildings, with every other inch of space being covered with deep,deep snow is unforgettable, and quintessentially Canadian. “”Mon pays, c’est l’hiver” or “My country. It is winter” is more than a popular Quebec expression. It’s a concept to understand and cherish.

I leave you with one last recollection. That of the Northern lights dancing magnificently overhead as I drive the lonely distance between Quebec city and Trois Riviere late at night listening to the CBC, and thinking about what my loved ones were doing at home.  Loving what I was experiencing with the light show and all, but also thinking about my family and bed and wishing I was home.  winter4