Enduring Snow Memories

By Jean Kuehn in Community, People

Most people who live in Canada have memories relating to snow, some good, some bad. Young children love to play in the snow, as do young animals, if they’re not stressed by cold or hunger. I don’t remember spending much time building snowmen, just sometimes rolling snow into a
large ball.
I did enjoy riding on the small wooden sleigh that Dad had bought us. It was only large enough for one child at a time. There was a large hill on the farm where I lived the winter I was seven. I would drag the sleigh uphill and then throw myself flat on it and ride down. I liked speed, even then. Late in the season there was an icy spot near the bottom over which the sleigh would gather speed at the end of the run. One day I was speeding down the hill onto the ice and didn’t notice that a small tree branch had become frozen into the path of the sleigh. It jolted to a stop and I slid off, face first.
I was lucky to avoid losing any of my front teeth, but my face was scraped and my nose bleeding. I held my snowy mitts against my face and hurried to the house. I was crying and half choking as the hot coppery-tasting blood ran down the back of my throat. My mother bathed my face and made me sit down on a chair and stay perfectly still. She scolded me for not being more careful as she worked. My face stung even more in the heat from the wood-fired kitchen range.
The bleeding soon stopped and next morning my nose was swollen and I had dark circles under my eyes. Later in life a Doctor asked me when I’d had my nose broken and I immediately recalled that ride. From that day forward I always rode feet first on a downhill run.
I’ve had a couple of memorable walks in snow. The first occurred on the last Friday in Jan. 1965. I worked in the office of Onward Manufacturing on King St. E. in Kitchener. A major snow storm blew in that afternoon. My husband worked for Bell and was out of town. I left the office and started for home, as we did not live far outside of what was then the city limits. Darkness had fallen by the time I left the lights of Kitchener behind. Visibility had been poor when making my way slowly out Glasgow St. and now it was practically nil. My whole universe narrowed down to the whirling flakes in the headlight beams.
I was driving slowly and when my car plowed into a drift it stalled. My attempts to re-start it failed and I realized this was as far as I was driving.
Common sense told me to stay with the vehicle, but I didn’t always listen to common sense. I simply could not sit there, awaiting rescue. I estimated that I was less than a half mile from home. I pushed open the car door and headed out into the storm.
By city standards I was warmly dressed. A woolen skirt and sweater set, high boots, a three-quarter length coat with hood, and warm mittens. You did not wear pants to an office job then and it would be three more years until I owned a snowmobile suit. Clutching my purse and holding my parka tightly closed I struggled ahead. Every few yards I would hit a deeper drift, which I simply waded through. I knew there was a woven wire fence on the left hand side of the road if I wandered too far off track.
As my eyes adjusted to the outdoor light I found that I could see a short distance whenever the wind lessened. When it blew in gusts the whirling snow was disorienting. I was committed now, not even sure that I could find my way back to the car. The cold wet snow packed into my boots and reached beneath my skirt. I was still in my twenties, strong and fit, but soon found that I breathing hard with the exertion. I slowed my pace but still continued to put one foot in front of the other.
Suddenly it felt as though I had stepped into a hole and I fell forward, throwing out my hands and dropping my purse. I raised my head and saw the wire fence and on the other side some cornstalks poking through the snow. They rustled in the wind, forlorn flags of a nearly forgotten summer. I had stumbled into the ditch. Now my mittens were also full of snow and my hands becoming numb. It would have been easy to lie there and rest for a few moments. But a warning at the back of my mind said that way meant death and I wasn’t yet ready to die. Pushing myself to my numb knees I saw my purse. Clutching it again I struggled to my feet.
Regaining the road I again pushed forward, turning my back to the wind every couple of minutes. I wondered if I would recognize my own laneway. Then during a lull in the wind I heard the deep barks of my German shepherd dogs and found my laneway. My numb hands made it difficult to unlock my door but finally I succeeded. Few things in life have felt as good as getting out of my snow-packed boots and half frozen clothing, then stepping into a hot shower. Ice was even frozen on my hair that had escaped my parka. It was a minor miracle that I only suffered mild frost bite to my hands and around my knees, after that experience.
The second walk in the snow I remember was the walk from the Wellesley highway to our farm after spending the night stranded in Waterloo during the terrible storm that shut down Southern Ontario on the last Thurs. of Jan. 1978. The side roads had not yet been plowed. It was not as scary as the walk in 1965, because the sun was shining and I was not alone. An icy crust on the snow made walking difficult. It was strong enough that the children could walk on top of the snow but my husband broke through with every step. I would walk on the crust for about three steps and then plunge through. This was almost worse then breaking through at every step. It was worth that walk when we reached our home and the hungry animals that had survived our unscheduled night away. A pair of newborn twin lambs were doing well in spite of my absence.
Snow is not all bad. It provides all kinds of recreation. I’ve had a lot of fun snowmobiling, like when I won the 50 K ladies run with the Milverton Snowmobile club in 1982. I’m sure skiers feel the same way. I’ve also found out what it feels like to be buried in snow, when my snowmobile flipped and rolled over me during a steep hill climbing competition.
Snow provides insulation to protect the roots of plants and trees from the cold of winter. It spreads a blanket of sparkling white beauty over every object. However, it is hard to see that beauty when you have to dig your vehicle out of a drift, dig a path to the woodshed or keep your vehicle on the road during white-out conditions. Snow is a natural element like fire. Great when you’re in control, but terrible when it overwhelms you.