Winter in Hope Ness is a challenge. No doubt it always has been. What the pioneers had to do to get ready for winter, and then what they had to endure to see it through to spring is hardly imaginable for people today, most of whom were born and raised in an urban environment with modern conveniences.
I am lacking some of those conveniences this winter in this old farmhouse at the end of Cathedral Drive, and that adds to my winter challenge level. But I have electricity – or, “Hydro” as we call it in Ontario, Canada. That allows me to have a furnace for heat that comes on automatically as required to maintain a reasonable comfort level in the rooms I’ve designated for living.
True, the downstairs rooms are warmer than upstairs, and much of the time I wear a toque to cover my almost-bald head, and thus keep in some precious personal heat; but I am much better off heat-wise than the people who lived here 100 years ago and had to spend a lot of time and effort before the age of chain saws to cut a winter supply of, say, 30 face-cords of wood to keep the woodstoves burning good and hot – but not too hot -all winter; and they included a cook stove. That meant constant attention to such things as ensuring the network of pipes through the house was not getting overheated, removing ashes from the fireboxes in the morning, and then the careful starting of fires. Woe to those newcomers who had failed to cut and split a sufficient amount of cedar kindling and hardwood fuel-wood, or didn’t give the safety aspect of heating and cooking with wood its due. They and their families didn’t last long in this country.
Those who survived a pioneer winter were strong and determined, and blessed with a practical intelligence that helped them focus their minds on the essential demands of the pre-winter and mid-winter moments. And that was on top of the routine work of the winter farm, especially in regards to what had to be done as well in and around the barn to ensure the livestock – cattle, horses, pigs, chickens – were well and properly taken care of. So much – the life and well-being of the family – depended on a never-fail attention to seeing the work was done. To fall short in that regard was to risk disaster, the worst being sickness and death in the family. One simply, literally, had to rise to the occasion and be the best you could be, because everything depended on it.
So, here and now in the midst of winter finally arrived, I tell myself I’ve got it relatively easy compared to them, even at my age: I’ve got a working tractor and a snowblower, food in the frig, no livestock calling my name from the barn, just my good Lab-friend Aussie to feed and take care of, in exchange for his good company and companionship. The moments calling out for me to rise to them are not that demanding really, including this one. They’re not even “chores” if later you can look back on your day and feel good about what you have done, for yourself and others. Then you can rest in contentment. And that too is a moment to enjoy.