It’s happened! The Polar Vortex lasted too long and the temperatures were in the minus thirties for daytime highs. People hunkered down and only those brave souls who had to leave the house for work, did. The pandemic added to the “hardship” because even though outdoor gatherings were allowed, no one wanted to freeze or die of hypothermia.
Then yesterday, the high was -4 Celsius or 25 F. My friend texted and our outdoor coffee was a go! Even though it was overcast and there was a bit of wind, we were deprived of laughs and conversation for too long. “Our table” at the park was available and when it started to snow big fluffy flakes, we just laughed. Now veterans of the outside meet-up, we had thick towels for the bench seat and just cleared snow away for our thermoses. It was as good as I anticipated. Laughs, stories, and settling world problems. In the bushes behind chickadees, chirped, English song sparrows called and a downy woodpecker went about “pecking”, oblivious to us. An hour and half that went by too quickly but added so much to the day. We are social beings and a little snow didn’t matter. When I got home, my husband asked ‘what the gossip was.’ I honestly drew a blank. That’s not what we do on our visits; the talk is wide ranging.
The other great thing about the break in the weather is that the dog walks are without boots and their “coats” are more to keep their bellies warm. Spring is around the corner and I honestly can’t wait.
That’s not true. But it is cold, old fashioned high pressure, prairie winter cold. The sun is bright and through the window everything looks inviting; blue shadows on the snow, dark conifers against a pale sky, and car exhaust trailing away like escaping phantoms
It looks inviting but the truth of cliche is proven again. Looks are deceiving; step outside and your nose freezes shut, the chill captures your breath as frosted filigree in your eyelashes, and embellishes the fake fur of your hood. Your cheeks tingle and burn. It’s too cold.
Yet outside the window, chickadees flit and feed, a nuthatch sits on the step, and a blue jay balances on the feeder. Once in a while, a bird finds a perch in the sun and tries to catch some of its illusory warmth. A cat skulks by hoping to find shelter.
In the day, the temperature made no difference to my Dad. The chores had to be done, the cattle fed and watered, and the miscellany of other creatures cared for. He’d hitch the team of horses to the rack and load on the feed. Harness jangling, hooves crunching the snow, the horses would pull him out to the waiting herd. The pink nostrils of the cattle leaked steam into the clear air and their bawls welcomed him. There was no missing a day because of weather.
I’m glad to settle in and watch the polar vortex from my window. If I want to hunker down and read a book, snack a bit of comfort food, or even sip a glass of wine, I can. I’m retired. I don’t have to put my nose out of the door so I won’t complain and I’ll enjoy my indoor activity. It’s February and when this cold breaks, spring won’t be far off. There’ll wiener roasts, outdoor visits, and gardening. The cold won’t last.
Cross-country skiing is a fine exercise and can be a lot of fun. At one time, we’d get together with friends for an afternoon of the great outdoors on skies. I confess to buying (and wearing because it was expensive) a blazing yellow outfit. Chances are I would never be lost; like a winter dandelion, I stood out.
Once at the “creek”, we started off with one of the gentlemen in the lead. After a bit of what I considered bossy competition, I decided to venture out on my own. How can you get lost in a small area where the choices of trails are limited? You can’t because you can see into the valley to your destination but there was no route down. Trees, shrubs, and bush blocked my descent. By the time I determined that I was going to have to make my way through this uncharted territory, the other skiers had already gathered by the bonfire.
I pushed off and sank into the snow past my knees. Still it had to be faster to continue on skis. Undergrowth tangled around my feet and interrupted my downward progress. A couple of times I fell but by this time I was committed and climbing back up the steep slope wasn’t an option. I more or less tumbled and stumbled my way back to the others. And I was right about my visibility. Everyone watched my awkward descent and on arrival at the bonfire, I was greeted by unsympathetic laughter.
I paid for my stubbornness but those who followed the leader encountered their own challenges. They skied along the top of the hills before heading into the valley. Then they skimmed along the smooth snow-covered surface of the frozen creek until their route was interrupted by fallen trees. Once they managed to navigate those obstacles, a beaver dam blocked their way. The creek continued 10 feet below the pond created and everyone had to clamour down.
By the time we gathered around the bonfire, the fresh air and exercise had stoked appetites. Anecdotes were exchanged while smokies and wieners cooked over the fire. That simple fare never tasted so good. Winter can be fun.
It’s been too easy for me to denigrate our winter weather, finding fault, complaining, and dreading it. How fickle memory is. Some of our best times have been outdoors in winter. Not every day is good for sledding or skiing but it’s not every summer day that you want to dive into the lake or lie on the beach taking in the rays.
Every Canadian kid can narrate a tale of misadventure sledding, tobogganing, or sliding headlong on some other device to the bottom of a snow-covered slope. Near-death experiences aren’t uncommon but it isn’t every time that a parent witnesses the close call.
Friends used to invite us out to the “creek” to sled and cross-country ski on the hills. The country is quite rugged and the route the kids were to slide down provided a long, fast ride. My son was 8 years old and his vehicle of choice was the “Sno Nut.” It was similar in shape to the tube from a tire but the material it was made from meant it was a racer.
I was standing on my skis, halfway down the hill on a natural plateau before the final run. C—- left from the top and gaining admirable speed hit a bump as he approached me and was airborne. He flew past at eye level and careened down the hill, at an incredible rate. All I could do (all anyone could do) was watch in horror. I thought I was going to see my son race to a horrible end. Just before he hit the willows at the edge of the creek, C—- bailed. The “Sno Nut” carried on into the bushes and my son wasn’t even bruised.
There was no more riding the “Sno Nut” from the crest of the hill. It was the only sled that went so fast so the other sliders were safer. The adults cross-country skied and at the end of the day of winter fun, there was the bonfire. Flames leaped into the darkness as we consumed the food we’d brought. When is was time to go, everyone pitched in. A great winter day.
He made it! Low of -36C , that’s -33F, and the tough little guy appeared around 9:00 this morning. Robbie sat on the edge of the flower pot, feathers puffed out, and looking miserable. But he made it through the night.
As soon as I saw him, I got his food ready. It’s a bit of a production (which I figured out yesterday) and kind of gross. First warm up the cutting board so the worms don’t freeze immediately. Then get the earthworm, that although it’s only a segmented worm, doesn’t enjoy being sliced into segments. Whatever is in their medium, gave the victim actual red blood. Ugh. But I sacrificed him because Robbie, Robbie was hungry.
I took the worm pieces outside on the pre-heated board but alas, Robbie wasn’t ready to eat. He was just too cold. The worm bits froze solid. My husband said he had to warm up more (this in -30 temperatures with a wicked wind) so we left and so did Robbie, up into the big fir tree.
We went for our morning walk on the indoor track and when we got back, Robbie had been down and tried to eat the earthworm bits but the were frozen solid and stuck to the cutting board.
Gary warmed up himself and by the time he had Robbie’s meal worms and thawed earthworm bits ready, the robin had flown back into the fir tree. When Gary whisteled for Robbie, there was no answer, (Already, my husband thinks they have a special relationship.) And maybe they do because by the time Gary had his coat off, the robin was back. He gobbled a meal worm or two, and then turned to the earthworm pieces. Robbie ate most of them, too. Now he’s back in the fir tree, trying to keep warm.
Admiration for you, Robbie. You’re back and a survivor. We’ll see you though this frigid cold.
It’s -34 or -35 today without considering wind chill. The sun is bright but it’s cold and in our front yard, there’s a robin, in winter, in Alberta. The poor little guy pecked a bit from an ornamental plum, frozen and desiccated, the only available food. Whether it’s climate change or an odd anomaly, he won’t survive without help. Robins like protein- bugs, grubs and more bugs.
We’ve fed wayward robins before. They like hamburger mixed with a little fruit and one winter Robbie and my husband, Gary, became good friends. He’d come to Gary’s whistle and was fairly tame. A female (who was more cautious) also took advantage of the food we’d set out, too.
This new outlier has just eaten 7 meal worms. Who has meal worms on hand, in case of robin emergencies? An ice fisherman. Meal worms last a very long time before pupating when they are kept in refrigeration. Yes, my downstairs beer fridge has harboured various types of legal, live bait. Gary had almost forgotten the meal worms but they were there and alive.
The robin looked at the apple and tiny bits of raw chicken I set out in the sun on my cutting board. He was interested (as were the sparrows) but too suspicious of something new to come down and investigate. Then Gary set out the meal worms that wiggled, catching the robin’s eye. Down he came and you can see him in the picture after eating the first three worms. Gary got four more and they disappeared in very short order. Mr. Robin sat on the cutting board in the sun, full and hopefully warming up.
The real test is later and then tonight. Meal worms will have been a huge change to whatever he’s been eating. We have fingers crossed that the switch isn’t too much of a shock to his digestive system. Even in this short time, we’re kind of attached to Robbie 2.0 and if he survives, we know where to get him live worms.
Hang in there, Alberta Robin. We’ll help you through winter and the temperatures in the minus thirties.