Winter “Dawn Patrol” springs into action once again

The small lights are soon covered with heavy mounds of snow, but they still produce a comforting glow.

“For never-resting time leads summer on

To hideous winter and confounds him there,

Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,

Beauty o’er snowed and bareness everywhere.”

— Shakespeare (Sonnet V)

It’s 5 a. m. and I haven’t really slept. It was -31C when I finally went to bed at midnight, and because it’s January, it’s not likely any warmer this morning. I check the thermometer outside the kitchen window and wince. It’s -41C and snow is still falling. The weather forecasters warned us about this, but it doesn’t lessen the shock. The furnace has, of course, been running most of the night, but I hurry to the basement to check the bathroom tap which has been known to freeze at -42. It was all right when I checked it just before I went to bed, but it’s not a day to leave anything to chance. No trouble yet, but I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

The snow started yesterday morning, quickly grew heavy and blew horizontally across the yard all day. I ventured out a couple of times to see if I could still walk to the end of the lane and made a half-hearted attempt to sweep off the front steps, but they were white again almost as quickly as I uncovered them. I watched snow steadily accumulate on the patio, swirling around the table and chairs, finally covering them completely.

I look out the kitchen window at the small spruce tree in the backyard covered with white lights. I leave them on right through March as a reference point, and a sign of hope, and to keep myself from giving up completely in the depths of winter. Snow blows around the tree in whorls and a miniature tornado carves out a bowl at its base. The small lights are soon covered with heavy mounds of snow, but they still produce a comforting glow.

At 5:45 a. m. I am sitting bleary-eyed in front of the TV news trying to get some current weather information, hoping the forecasters were wrong about the severity of the storm. The buses to our son’s school seven miles away have been cancelled, not only because of the appalling road conditions, but also because the wind chills are gusting to -46C at times and are likely lethal. We would just stay home, but we have two good reasons to venture out on such a hideous day: our older son has just started a new job and his brother, who is in Grade 12, has an exam that he cannot miss. The best we can do is provide taxi service and hope to avoid the complications of frozen vehicles and parking spaces that have drifted in completely. I finish my coffee and decide to let the boys sleep until we can determine if anyone is going anywhere.

My husband and I had a plan when we went to bed. If we got up early enough, and if the wind wasn’t too strong, and if the road hadn’t drifted in completely, there might be a way to get both of our sons to their destinations safely and on time. But “The Dawn Patrol” would have to be called into action. By 6 a. m. we are both wearing six layers of clothing including long underwear and extra socks. I do not want to contemplate how I look in a green tuque, purple scarf, orange parka and blue ski pants. We help each other with our boots as we are too padded to bend properly and begin to giggle at our clumsiness and mummy-like appearance. It’s still full dark as we stumble, yawning, into the garage to gas up the snowblower. Our breath forms in white clouds around our faces and we fumble at the choke with heavy mitts. Thankfully the machine has an electric start and though it is stiff, it only grumbles a few times and then springs to life with a loud, reassuring roar.

After a brief consultation, we decide it would be safest to take turns. My husband makes the first swath out to the road and back while I sweep the walk, and then he goes into the house to thaw his freezing fingers while I take over. I begin to imagine how I must look: snow has encrusted my clothes and the strands of hair that have escaped from under my ridiculous tuque, and moist breath has completely iced my scarf and eyelashes. The humour of this image hits me, and I begin humming “I feel pretty, oh so pretty.” As I stumble along in the dark behind the cumbersome machine, my son appears to spell me off and I hurry back to the house to warm up.

Progress is slow, but after several shift changes, we manage to clear a reasonably wide path to the road. The plows haven’t been by yet, but the road hasn’t filled in completely and we are hopeful that with enough time and enough emergency clothing and gear in the trunk, we can make a safe trip.

It’s now 7:30 a. m. and the temperature hovers around -39C. I watch my family pull out of the lane in a cloud of ice fog and say a quick prayer as they disappear into the whirling snow. Fifteen minutes later, my husband calls to say that there is a narrow but passable track down our road and he has made it to the school without incident. The highways are horribly icy, but there is a sanding truck ahead of them, and he thinks he can get our older son to work on time. I breathe a sigh of relief. The Dawn Patrol has accomplished its mission, but tomorrow is another day!

Lois Gordon writes from Sherwood Park, Alberta.

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