Two weeks ago I was strolling around the garden in a tee-shirt admiring the budding snow drops and the emergent daffodils; boasting about the warm temperatures and the fact that spring was just around the corner.
Since then the weather has taken a drastic turn for the worse; winter is still very much upon us. We do not often experience such extreme winter weather on this part of the west coast and it comes as a bit of a shock! It makes me wonder why on earth I choose to live here, on this remote island in the middle of nowhere. Why do we insist on spending the winter months anchored here, stuck on this rock like frigid limpets, when we could be somewhere much farther south sunning ourselves like iguanas in the sand?
Some time ago I had been thinking about escaping the northern winter with a trip to Mexico, but for reasons beyond my control, I had not made a plan, bought a ticket, or otherwise organized myself. So here I was, half wishing I was away, down south with the rest of the snowbirds who wisely flocked off just before winter showed up.
Last week, when the weather was still mild, we did make plans for a little getaway. It had been a year since we ventured away together farther than the next island. It felt like we were overdue for an outing. We set off in the skiff early last Tuesday morning, heading for the end of the road where we keep our car. We planned to travel down to one of the southern Islands, to spend a few days visiting with family and friends. We looked forward to the early spring outing.
The first couple of days the weather was fine. Cool but with plenty of sunshine. By the third morning of our getaway, we woke to a snow covered landscape! It continued to snow throughout that day. A sense of worry and dread began to set in. What would the roads be like? Was everything alright at home? Was the skiff alright where we had left it at the end of the road?
We decided to carry on with our plans and try not to worry about the weather; our little Honda CRV with its on-demand four-wheel drive is pretty good in the snow, and we had two pairs of tire chains on board, in case things got really bad.
Things got interesting, though not bad, when on the night of that blizzard, the power went off in the cottage where we were staying. Living off the grid as we do, the power is always off at home, or always on, depending on how you look at it. If one system is compromised (no sun is shining for the solar panels) there is always another back up system (the micro-hydro system or the diesel generator). We are off the grid, and yet there is always some sort of electricity available. Touch wood.
That snowy evening, I played Scrabble with my sister by candlelight, augmented by the light of a wind-up dynamo lantern. C. read his book by battery-powered headlamp. All thoughts of watching a movie on the television were dashed. A cozy fire blazed in the little woodstove and we were comfortably warm.
We shoveled a bit of snow, went for walks in the snow and enjoyed our visiting time away from our own rock; but when we heard that more snow was forecast, we decided to head for home. Sunday morning we caught a ferry off that southern Island, and began the drive up the Big Island towards our own little island and home.
The drive up the Island highway went well, though as we drove farther north away from the more populated areas the highway narrowed to a single lane of ploughed roadway.
Another blizzard was in progress by the time we arrived at the town nearest to our home. We stopped to buy a shovel at the hardware store, in case we had to dig ourselves out of a snow bank along the way. Caught the 2:15 ferry to the next island, and made a quick stop at the local store to pick up a few essentials before setting off to drive to the end of the road where our little boat waited, tied to the small community dock.
Road conditions on this island were not good, and only grew worse as we went along. We stopped halfway along to put the chains on; one on each of the four wheels, securely lashed in place with extra lengths of strong cord. Even with four chained wheels and on-demand four wheel drive, there was too much snow on the latter part of the drive for our little car. The old logging road had yet to be ploughed and the snow was already over a foot deep.
We drove on until our car finally threatened to slide into the ditch as it attempted to climb one of the final big hills of the route. That was when we decided to leave the car parked for the time being. Locking most of our belongings in the car, we set off on foot each carrying a backpack loaded with a few necessities; coffee beans, our books, a bottle of whiskey! As the afternoon light began to fade, and for the first time ever since coming to live here decades ago, we hiked the last three kilometers to the end of the road. It was a bit of a slog, uphill for the first half, knee deep in the thick, fresh snow.
At the end of the road, in the last of the light, we brushed the accumulated snow off our skiff, quickly got dressed in our warm, waterproof gear and motored home as more snow began to fall from the dark sky. It was very cold and the sea quite rough with a howling outflow wind blowing down from the Inlet, a half-moon on the rise. At home a thick layer of snow covered the dock, the ramp, the shore and everything else. It lay in thick waves across the yard, the smooth surface stitched here and there with the tracks of squirrels and small birds.
Inside our house the wall thermometer read a mere 3 degrees Celsius. It was freezing! C. got the fire roaring. Huddled around the woodstove in our down jackets and woolly hats, we sipped mugs of hot whiskey, feeding a steady supply of logs into the blaze while we, and the house, warmed up. After two days with a roaring fire, the place would once again be a habitable temperature.
When we called the road maintenance guy the following morning, he told us the road would be ploughed by the end of that day. The morning after that, a helpful neighbour on his way to town, gave us a lift back to our car. We were able to complete the drive to the end of the road, lugging our totes full of groceries down the last part of the steep, snow covered hill to the waiting skiff. Then home again, before the next snow began to fall.
Since then, stormy winter weather has continued to lambaste the entire province. According to the radio news, many thousands of people ended up without power as high winds combined with freezing temperatures brought trees down across power lines. Many others, caught short on several major highways across the province, had to spend a freezing night in their cars, as highways were shut down due to extremely dangerous and icy road conditions.
At home on our island we are still in mid-winter mode. We (and the two cats) have been spending a lot of time indoors next to the fire. The deep snow outside, like thick mashed potato, makes walking and working outdoors difficult, gardening impossible! The chickens, stuck inside their lighted coop, are not interested in crossing the white void in search of better scratching on the low tide beach.
We keep busy shoveling paths through the snow and topping up the bird feeding stations around our yard.
The little boys from next door, along with their mother, rowed over for a visit two days ago, and had a gleeful snowball fight with C. Other than that, indoor projects prevail. C. has been reading steadily from a new bag of books. I have finished off a couple of knitting projects, cleaned out a few cobwebby corners. A big pot of soup simmers on the woodstove. I plan to get the seed catalogues out, to start thinking about what plants I’m going to grow this coming summer.
It was good to get away, to have a change of scenery. I’m also glad we headed home when we did, before the next winter storm was fully upon us. As far as getting away for a sunny break, we are once again snowed in and won’t be going anywhere in the near future.
As for all you snowbirds down south, if I were you, I would just stay put for the time being. No point rushing back. For now it seems best just to hunker down and wait for spring to arrive.