Canadian winters, especially Newfoundland winters are cold, harsh and above all else they seem endlessly long. In past years, our Newfoundland winters sometimes began in October with my children trick or treating in snowsuits on Hallowe’en (is she the Little Mermaid or the Michelin man) and ending with a snowstorm on Victoria Day weekend where brave campers had to shovel their way out of their tents, only to find their beer turned into Molson slushies.
Last year, winter seemed to last forever and every time I scraped the snow and ice from the car to drive home from work or re-shoveled the driveway after the snow plow had yet again piled meteor sized ice boulders in front of my VW Golf, I waved my fist in the air and cursed poor Ryan Snodden (our beloved CBC meteorologist), St. John’s City Council and the God-blessed elements themselves. Actually, I don’t swear so I probably said “shoot” or “darn” or even “Oh, my gosh”, but with an unmistakable emphatic twist in it’s delivery. In fact, sometimes I cried, but my tears were soon frozen to my cheek or lost amidst the freezing drips of snow-turned-to rain (typical Avalon Peninsula winter fare). My body, mind and soul protested – ENOUGH ALREADY!
Like many Canadians who escape the cold months (fondly known as Snowbirds), I longed to be travelling south to a warmer climate for 6 months or the arrival of spring on the Avalon Peninsula – whichever came first.
This year I have pretty much escaped the Atlantic winter, except when I was at home in late December and we did have a lovely snowfall – the light feathery kind that renders the world clean and still and oh so Christmassy.
Early in January we returned to Dordogne (FR) just long enough to finish a few little jobs and pack up our belongings – a week of 2 degree Celsius temperatures where it hardly stopped raining long enough to run from the cottage to the car without getting soaked to the skin. Our last day there dawned bright and warm and we were off to catch the ferry from Caen (FR) to Portsmouth (UK). I was spending the winter in England.
Now it is more than half way through February and here in the UK winter seems pretty much over – if it has even been here at all. According to the locals (conversations usually taking place at the local pub), it has been strangely warm this year – but dismal with lots of rain, and a terrific wind that seems to blow day after day, rattling windows, doors and ones teeth when facing into it. Still, these blustery damp days in North Luffenham have been interspersed with the beautiful sunny days and high blue skies that I associate with the approaching spring in Newfoundland – in late April or May. Endless spring!
And this Canadian girl is loving it! I’ve traded in my seal skin boots for the ever present wellingtons or ‘wellies’ (known as rubber boots or simply rubbers in Newfoundland) – and not the expensive designer ones with the fancy knitted thermal socks peeking out over the top. The ordinary kind that keep your feet dry and do not make a fashion statement. My days have been spent filling bird feeders and chasing away squirrels early in the morning…in a fluffy white bathrobe and wellies. I walked across fields, through gates and over stiles…in mud encrusted wellies.
I visited the grand old church of St. John the Baptist in North Luffenham , marveling at the beautiful stonework and intricate stained glass windows, and breathing in the scent of it’s ancient woodwork…in scrupulously cleaned wellies.
I walked for hours with Cathy and other days with Judy (and her dog Sally), breathlessly talking and laughing, sharing stories and even a few tears as the sparks of a new friendship took hold. I trekked the 2 miles or so to Edith Weston to pick up the newspaper and a bag of crisps, passing fields of sheep lined up with their muddy backsides into the wind, as if in military formation.
I borrowed Doug the Labrador retriever (owned by Cathy’s daughter in Stamford), to stroll along the endless shoreline of Rutland Water, watching brave souls in their little sailboats make the most of the stiff breezes. I had that same wind whip my face and eyes, breathlessly reminding of the salty ocean breezes at home – I blamed those tears on the wind, not my thoughts of home. I wandered along winding village roads lined with centuries old thatched roof cottages, stately stone manors, modern glass fronted renovated barns, and raucous barnyards filled with a roaming menagerie of furred and feathered livestock.
I tiptoed through carpets of beautiful snowdrops, being careful not to crush the delicate looking flowers.
After stepping over numerous stiles and through fences, Judy and I stopped in the middle of a field and listened to the beautiful, clear song of a lark flying above us, but try as I might we could not see it.
I followed Sally the dog across fields as she rousted pheasants out from the underbrush and let her pounce on my feet, leaving great muddy paw prints that said to me “come play”.
And all these moments, these memories were made in run of the mill, generic, leg slapping , mud caked, ground scuffing wellies – borrowed from Cathy, the owner of the house we took care of and now, most importantly, my friend.
As you can probably tell, I have not much missed the Canadian winter I have be accustomed to over the last 50 years.
Not that Newfoundland winters aren’t beautiful because some moments are breathtaking. There is nothing like a fresh snowfall to make the world seem somehow renewed, or a walk on a cold , crisp winter afternoon where you hear the snow crunch under your feet and see every breath you exhale mist before you in the icy air.
But I am relishing the winter where I am in the Midlands of the UK, the kind of winter that has allowed me the delight of beautiful landscapes and budding friendships, both of them filled with mud and laughter. I have not complained of the rain or wind, because it is part of the experience of living ion the UK – you know, the ‘typical’ English weather we only read about. Yet the grey days never last: eventually they give way to the glorious sunny moments that burst out of nowhere, allowing us to forget the dismal bits, even if just for a short while.
It’s kind of an apt reflection on life, isn’t it?
I will be forever grateful for humble wellies – borrowed or otherwise. Experiencing and savouring the joys of North Luffenham would not have been the same without them.