Driving home from work last evening I noticed the Mahone Bay harbour was covered by a thin blanket of ice. Torn between the beauty of our planet and the realization that winter was really here to stay, my ahhh quickly turned to a moan. The harbour freezing over is always indicative of how cold the nights have become and at -14, the night before last, was a prime example of why I should be a snowbird in Florida. But thankfully that kind of cold won’t last. It never does anymore. A quick freeze is followed by an even quicker thaw and with rain coming this evening that should take it right back to waves lapping the shoreline. We just don’t dip and stay below zero anymore. And that’s a good thing, at least for me. Global warming has its perks I guess, I could do with a little less of a frigid winter. Maybe have the entire season concentrated into one week where we are pummeled with unending snow, cold temperatures and Jack Frost on a rampage. People could haul out their snowmobiles and all the winter toys, do whatever turns them on and experience a Currier & Ives winter painting outside their windows. A week would be just enough to get a bit of wear out of the coat and boots, give us something to talk about, because we Nova Scotians love to talk about the weather, and then roll ahead into a long, glorious spring.
There have been many changes over the years. Cold is no longer the cold of my youth. We seldom get the temperatures of yesteryear, when the harbour froze solid to Strum’s Island and stayed that way until spring. Snow is no longer the threat it used to be either. Years ago snow
came in nothing short of a blizzard, pretty much causing the daily grind to come to a halt. It took days and a heart attack to dig the car out and a path to the street. When the plough made a run by your driveway it built a wall of snow so high you got a nose bleed standing on it. I remember the snow stacked against telephone poles, reaching close to the wires. The stuff lasted the winter without warming temperatures to melt it away. Winter meant snow and ice, a winter wonderland for as far as the eye could see. Today’s winter can mean anything from a bit of snow to mud, sometimes both at once.
I know I was smaller back then, but I remember walking to school in the white powder up to my waist, sometime higher…climbing into the footsteps of the bigger, older kids blazing a trail ahead of us. A slip and a fall and you could have been lost until spring. That really happened to a woman back in the 80’. She was a bit on the tipsy side, fell down on her way home and the plough swept her into a bank of snow and she lay there until the spring thaw. That would never happen today, you might be a human popsicle but they’d find you in the morning.
And school was never cancelled, as long as you could run, walk or crawl you had to be there. But back then, it was fun, and healthy to be out in the fresh air, walking to school, what an unfamiliar concept today, with mom’s taxi service running all day long. Everyday we’d play on the way to and from school, making snow angels and snowmen, and forts with multiple rooms. Snow caked mittens, glowing red cheeks and running noses; that was winter. We’d arrive cold and wet to school and put our mittens on the old, hissing radiators; the smell of damp wool wafting through the air. By recess they would be dry and we’d run screaming to the outdoors for another 15 minutes of glorious winter fun; more snow angels, snowmen, digging tunnels and building forts, more wet mittens and boots. I’m not so sure many kids
today get the full experience winter. I find that sad.
I remember flying down Oxner’s hill on a real wooden toboggan or a piece of cardboard. The hill was so peppered with kids you barely made it down the hill without a crash. Ahhh…..and skating figure eights on the pond behind our house while avoiding pucks as the boys played hockey. Maybe George, the lad you had a secret crush on helped you up when you fell, held your hand for a heart stopping second. That pond hardly freezes solid anymore and now skating is done in an indoor arena, not under a wintery sky.
We skated on the harbour as far as our legs could carry us, the ice groaning and making cracking sounds under our weight, but we had no fear, it was a thick as a concrete slab. We’d stand on the sidelines while cars raced the icy track out to the islands and back. Bonfires on the ice to warm your hands and marshmallow melts, all parts of winter to look forward too, gone and almost forgotten. In later years Ice boats tacked back and forth the shores, but even that no longer exists. Hubby liked extending the sailing season but the iceboat hasn’t been out of the basement for years now. The harbour is no longer the icy playground it used to be.
The late eighties saw the last of the smelt houses. That was always a given, smoke stacks puffing greasy, grey clouds from small wood stoves while fishermen sat around a hole in the ice telling fish tales and sipping from a flask of coffee, tea or maybe something stronger. The last time smelt shacks were on the harbour a quick thaw sent them to the bottom in less than a day. As I watched them sink from my apartment window, one by one, into the sea, I didn’t realize I was watching the end of an era.
One thing for sure. Change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Eventually time carries everything away. As we age we think more of the past and the changes we've gone through. And someday it will be our turn to tell the youngins' the way it was, way back then. We’ll all become that old fogie you listened too as a child.... telling you fanciful stories, putting an extra foot on the fish story. "Yep sonny…I had to walk 10 miles to get to school in snow up to my chest. I didn't have winter boots or a jacket and carried my little brother and book bag on my shoulders…..yep, them was the days all right!"