The first snow

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I spent the afternoon working around my cottage preparing for winter, putting away anything that was unprotected from the ice and snow. Then I stored anything that could freeze and sheltered anything that could be moved. I cleared a lot of brush and piled everything into a bonfire that kept me warm as I worked.

In the afternoon, rain started to fall but it was it was more like ice pellets. The thermometer was just hovering around the freezing mark and the clouds couldn’t decide whether to drop rain, sleet or snow. I kept working and as the day progressed, rain passed to sleet and sleet turned to snow. I did not really notice the cold until I stopped moving. The changing precipitation had soaked my jacket and pants. Now that I was wet I could easily feel the chilling wind pass through my layers of damp clothes and over my skin.

This wet, cold feeling is all too familiar. I had felt this same sensation many times up north on the James Bay coast. In the fall, my father Marius and my mother Susan would take us out on James Bay. When the weather became too cold to ride in our freighter canoe, they would still take us for a walk into the woods for a campfire. Mom and dad taught us that the weather shouldn’t stop anyone from wandering into the wilderness as long as they had the skills to survive.

I recall many times being with family around a fire among the bushes and thick shrubs close to a forest of pine. Tall, yellowed wild grass was tramped down and we quickly established sitting areas, a meal preparation area and space to serve food. The women cooked bannock on a skewer and a goose was brought out to roast over the flames. A large steel pot of tea was heated over the fire and served with generous amounts of sugar and canned milk.

Our parents and Elders often placed a blanket, jacket or a piece of cardboard on the ground to sit on by the fire. Sheltered by the bushes and the bodies of several adults, we children were happy as we listened to everyone share stories in our familiar Cree language.

There were times when the weather turned very nasty and dangerous during our outings on the land. Most of the time we were fast to make some shelter and stay warm and dry. The Elders always had an idea when to travel and if it looked like there would be danger a trip would be postponed.

Dad never shied away from the cold weather or rain or sleet or snow. When I think about it now, it was normal for him, as he had lived through so much of this. He would smile as he shouted out orders to us from the back of a noisy freighter canoe. He would have his cap turned back so it would not catch the wind as he squinted his eyes from the icy cold ocean spray. On cold autumn days, he stayed out for hours in cold wet weather under layers of warm clothes and a rain suit to get some job done and make a living to care for us.

So, being a little wet and cold doesn’t stop me from heading outside. That experience is almost a part of my DNA. I have learned from the best nomadic Cree traditional people how to survive in all kinds of situations. These days I realize how important it is for me to stop and give thanks to my parents for passing on their knowledge.




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