Sunday, January 6, 2013

Walking In The Snow: One Canadian's Route to Culture.

Winter sun on a clear day.
The winter sun is shy this morning prefering to stretch out and yawn its way into the day. It makes shadows of the tree limbs before rising slowly to peek over the tips of tree tops. The rays fan out and the world begins to sparkle. Icicles dangle precipitiously from my rooftop and my yard shines brilliantly with millions of crystals that make up the snow. Yes. Snow has finally fallen and I must now face the prospect of walking in it.
Snow drifts reach the windows of a nearby school.

What is a Canadian winter without alternative methods of propelling ourselves forward? In the north they make regular use of sled dogs and snowmobiles. In the woods snowshoes are needed in order to pass over deep snow. I once used skates to get from point A to point B on a frozen Winnipeg street.
This week saw me meet winter head on, face first and butt down. I spent the week strapping my feet into four alternative methods of movement over the snow.

Adventure #1: Sleds and snowboards.

My first attempt at snowboarding.
The hill was small but the snow was packed in layers over the slumbering grasses. People of all ages were settling onto sleds and pushing away from the top of the hill in order to speed down.
There were whoops of joy and tears of pain as the sleds tossed bodies this way and that. The hill had lumps and bumps that bruised our bums but laughter and smiles soothed away the smarts.
My son and his friend were breaking in a new snowboard. The more I watched them the more I wanted to try. I grew up downhill skiing but had never tried snowboarding. My son grudgingly passed me his bright red Burton and watched with a wary eye my attempts to strap in. I managed, only falling over a couple of times. My husband was on call to help me up then I was on my way, staggering sideways along the hill rather than swooping gracefully in twists and turns. I was thrilled though. The wind was with me whipping fluries in circles around me as I fell and fell again until I finally reached the bottom of the hill. Hardly discouraged I laughed at myself and at the looks on my son and his friends faces, especially when I asked them to help me up.
Strapping two feet to a single board and flying down (or in my case down, then across, then down) the hillside was an adventure but I was ready for a rest. I gave myself a day then headed for the ski slopes.

Back on skiis after only fifteen years!

Adventure #2: Downhill Skiing

Getting back on skiis after fifteen years is easy; it is truly like riding a bike...downhill...on snow...with poles....ok, so it isn't anything like riding a bike, but it does come back to you pretty quickly!
We went to Calabogie Peaks located near Renfrew Ontario. This is the hill I grew up on. I took skiing lessons here from an early age and spent many weekends here on school ski trips and with family and friends.
 Again, I struggled with the equipment. Much has changed since I last skiied and I was using rentals this day. Ski boots are very different than snow boots. They are thick solid masses of plastic and metal designed to keep you strapped on to two skinny sticks that propel you down mountains. Downhill skiing can get you from one place to another quickly but the thrill is in flying past trees and around bends that threaten to end abrubtly until you turn the corner and realize that the path continues until you approach the homestretch at which point you let it all go and glide without hesitation to the grounds circling the lodges and ski lifts.
Unlike the snowboard I was able to make use of both legs but skiing is nothing like walking so my next adventure was to try snowshoes.

Adventure #3: Snowshoes

Couple Snowshoeing in Canada 1907. Picture is from the Government of Ontario Archives and is public domain.

A couple of days later I awoke to a sky that was an ominous grey colour.The drab clouds hung discordant against the backdrop of yellow and olive greens nestled into the makeup of the trees along the horizon.

Sallow colours of a swamp against the gray winter sky.
A chickadee peeks at me from his perch in a pine tree.
It took me a moment to figure out how to strap the oval shaped titanium framed shoes on to my boots but once I was past the wooden steps and out the door I was filled with the spirit of adventure. The frame of the shoe is shaped so as to distribute the weight of the walker so they do no sink into deep snow. The snowshoe facilitates walking in the winter so it is no wonder that once I hit the trail I fell in love! The day remained overcast and mild but precipitation held off. I walked with a friend. We tried walking fast, slow, on the path, off the path and into the woods. We took turns leading and following. I took my friend through a deep area of snow and up an embankment. We noted how our muscles felt and decided that snowshoeing was a great workout. It was also a pleasant walk in the woods. The trees were filled with chickadees who followed us along the trail. We stopped to look out at a pond and watched cattails bend with the wind. Snowshoes are efficient but slower paced and I relished the opportunity to once more be walking among the flora and fauna that nature shares with us.
Walking with snowshoes.

Adventure #4: Cross-Country Skiing.

A lesson in cross-country skiing saw me slide my feet into softer bootie like gear and prepare for gliding on sleek skiis over the countryside, which in this case was the trails at the Little Cataraqui Conservation Area.
Cross country skiing requires a completely different kind of boot.

Well, I was preparing but my adventure turned into something quite different than expected.
I was so excited to be wearing comfortable equipment. The sport has a graceful quality about it which makes it look easy to do but during my lesson at the end of my adventurous week I was to learn that I had left the most difficult experience for last.
I had joined a group of wide-eyed outdoor enthusiasts who all had experience downhill skiing, hiking and skating. We were ready to hit the trails thinking that it would only be a matter of getting a feel for the equipment. We were wrong.
We were led into a large warehouse of a garage where we were then directed to take off our outdoor clothes and to sit on the scattering of office chairs held together with duct tape and dust.
Our instructor was a kind, optimistic woman who immediately informed us that we would have a lot to learn before getting comfortable on the skiis. We went through quick lessons on the proper clothing (wear acrylic and no hat), how to fall (to the side), how to get up (roll to your front), how to hold the ski pole (hand up and inside the strap) and finally the parts of the equipment. I admit I started to get bored until I realized that every skill I was learning could come in handy on my walks. Maybe I should invest in a headband and goodness knows when I hit the hills of the Camino I will need to know how to best use my walking stick.
We finally got to test our knowledge outside in the snow. Sure enough I fell. Backwards. On my butt. Mistake number one. The next few times I fell I did so to the side and felt my pride redeemed. Somewhat.
We practiced double poleing, diagonal strides and the snowplow. We worked on form and technique until our hour and a half was up. Today my muscles ache and I am bruised despite not having even touched a tip to the trails! I will return however. I did start to get a feel for it and it is a graceful sport once you get going.

This week I was reminded that there are no obstacles, only opportunities.

At any point this week I could have quit. I could have used the snow as an excuse to stay indoors wrapped up in my Bay blanket drinking my Timmy's and wearing my woolen Roots pyjamas and socks and reading my Robert Service poems but instead I made the choice to put myself out there and embrace the Canadian winter and all of the opportunities it offers. I walked/travelled many paths but the best path of all led to the heart of my Canadian culture. Like the Canadians who came before me I felt this week to be of hearty stock. I will keep walking this winter, no matter how high or deep the snow gets.

What do you learn from your winter traditions and culture?

1 comment:

  1. Here Here! The only way to survive Canadian winters is to enjoy them by getting out there in the snow. You should come visit and we can trek in the Gatineau Hills. That would make for a good blog post! (BTW - we watched "The Way" last night...very inspiring).