It was the 24th of May weekend when we first laid eyes on Sweetree, as we came to call our property at the end of Dogtown Lane, just north of Harriston. The day was beautiful. We had been looking to escape the hustle and bustle and committees of Guelph. As soon as we pulled up the driveway we knew we were home. The board and batten house was tucked peacefully into a 12 acre maple bush facing six acres of cleared fields. A small barn and a wooden cabin placed around the circle driveway completed the country-life picture. Moving day was the third weekend in June. I told myself that lots of people commuted over longer distances to jobs in Toronto and my drive to Waterloo followed a beautiful route with fields and cows lining the view on either side of the road. It only took about an hour to get to my school and I could always listen to audio books on my drive to and fro. No problem.
September came and every day I was thrilled by the changing of the seasons. I watched the fields ripen and crops being harvested and every evening as I drove up our long laneway and was greeted by the beauty of my new home I knew it was worth the drive. Mid-October came and the maple trees around our house dropped their glorious red, orange and golden leaves and the world looked just a little ominous, a little naked, a little cold. One morning as I left the house at 6:45 a.m. I noticed a nip in the air. As I drove the kilometer and a half out to the highway I looked over the open fields on either side of the road and pictured them covered with snow and high drifts. How would I ever get to school by eight o’clock when the snows came?
A few days later the grader came by to prepare our road. I ran down the driveway and stopped the driver, “ What time does the plow come by in the wintertime. I am a teacher in Waterloo and I have to get to school by 7:45. I know we are the only house on this road, but I am a teacher and that road -” pointing to the road that connected us to the paved road.
He threw his head back and laughed – loudly – and said, “Lady, see how the road is kind of higher than the fields on either side? Well if that road is blown in you wouldn’t be going anywhere anyhow.”
And it turns out he was right. The snow just blew right over that road and the only time I didn’t make it to school was when the highways were closed.
Our laneway was very long, more than a quarter of a kilometer and the snow kept coming that first winter. We didn’t have a snow thrower. The previous owner had a local farmer come and blow out the lane, but it snowed so often and I had to leave so early that we decided we would leave the car at the end of our lane and just shovel out the first ten feet or so then walk to the house. The snow plow driver happened to be the same guy who drove the grader and we noticed that if our car wasn’t there when he came by he would drop the plow and scrap our drive for about twenty or thirty feet. At first we thought he was just a really nice guy, but then realized he did this so that even if we were parked there he still had room to turn around. Whatever his reason we were so thankful that we gave him a Christmas present.
At one point early in the winter, maybe around Christmas time when we were expecting visitors, John decided, since he was home, he would shovel the drive and get some exercise at the same time. It took him three days. We only got to park our car up by the house one night because the next afternoon a killer snowstorm blew in and filled in the drive, obliterating the shoveled trench.
As the winter progressed so did the depth of the snow. Very quickly it was even with the top of the poles of the split-rail fence.
Picture this: the alarm goes off at 6:00a.m. I leap from bed, shower and dress for school, gobble some porridge, bundle up in my black calf -length down-filled coat with the grey fur trimmed hood, yank on the big beaded moose hide mittens I bought when I taught up north, pull on my Sorrels, grab my big book-bag of marking and head out the door into the dark day. It is 6:45a.m. My snowshoes wait right by the front door where I left them the night before, I pile my lunch, purse and book-bag into a blue plastic children’s toboggan, strap on the snowshoes and head down the long drive to my waiting, ice cold car. I start the car, and then scrap the windows. As I back out the drive my headlights flash on the toboggan and snowshoes stuck in the snow bank waiting for my return and I am off on my morning drive to Waterloo. Only once did my students beat me into the classroom that first year and they were quietly standing as the National Anthem played over the P.A. when I finally breezed through the door.
More than once as the winter waned and the sun warmed the path during the day and the cold of the night turned it to ice I found myself up to my bellybutton in the snow. Sometimes John was along to laugh and cheer and give me a hand up, but many times I just floundered around like a beached whale before I hauled myself up onto the path and continued on my journey to school, to the house, to the store, to where ever.
That first spring, as the snow in the fields adjacent to the driveway melted, our winter path stuck up like an ice sculpture and had to be chiseled out with the thingy that people use to chip away ice on stairs, before we were once more able to drive the car up to the house..
We had survived our first winter. We even learned how to keep the wood stove burning over night, but that is another story.
The next year we didn’t get our first real snow fall until just before Christmas. John’s father, who had had a stroke the previous year, was coming to spend the holidays with us. We realized that we need to be able to get Steve out if need be and anyhow we couldn’t see him trucking up the snow path. We did have a roll-around-on-the-floor laugh at the image of him, in snowshoes falling off the path. When we pulled ourselves together we drove to Canadian Tire in Mount Forest and bought a snow thrower. Didn’t we feel like country folk! And John got to go out on the full-moon lite night and blow out the driveway for the first time to prepare for Steve’s arrival the next day. When he finished, I bundled up and together we wandered down our drive, marveling at the beauty of it all and our good fortune. We drove our car up to park it right at the house. Over night the rains rolled in and there was no snow left on the ground by morning. There was no snow for the whole of the Christmas holiday. As a matter of fact, there was little snow the rest of that winter. In the spring our almost new snow thrower got tucked away in the back of our little barn, right behind our brand new lawn tractor.
Our third winter proved to be one where John got lots of exercise and so did the snow thrower. I stopped worrying about winter.