Whispers of winter
By Jim Poling
Gentle mists caress the lake like a mother’s hand massaging her child’s back, calming her to sleep.
Sleep for the lake is delayed this year. Winter’s approach, usually loud and bullying, is just a whisper so far. It might be well into this month of December, perhaps even early January, before the lake stiffens and accepts the inevitable.
This is the quietest time of year on the lake. The hunters are gone. The last motor boat appears to have been pulled ashore. It is a time for reflection. Time to review months passed and contemplate what might be ahead.
My favourite place to reflect is on the hilltop overlooking the lake. There is perspective here. What often seems so important when I am away from here, is of little importance when I am here.
The stillness in the surrounding forest makes my ears ring. The trees are grey and their limbs have that stiff, arthritic look as they stand stoically waiting for the snow that will clothe them soon. The stillness is broken occasionally by a few remaining dried oak leaves scratching against each other in an almost non-existent breeze.
High on my thought list today is the fate of the big buck whose movements I have followed for the past few years. He has posed many times for my trail cameras, almost always at night. He is a beauty; muscular and healthy, crowned with 10-point rack. I have never seen him in the flesh.
There has been little sign of him in the past month. A few tracks and a scrape but it is impossible to tell whether they were made by him. I worry that perhaps he was shot during the fall deer hunt. I hope not and soothe my concern by telling myself he got to be a 10-pointer by being cautious and cunning.
In past years he has stayed around this hill until the snow deepened, so I might see signs of him yet. I will be sad if he is gone forever, but change is a part of life that we all must face and accept.
From up here I see change as a blessing. The snow and cold that will come any day offer us time to recover from the exertions of spring, summer and fall. With it comes Christmas and New Year’s and relaxed fun with family and friends.
The second part of winter, which can be so harsh, brings the excitement of planning and preparing for spring.
The winter ahead is forecast to be mild because of the return of an El Niño weather pattern created by unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean. This year the El Niño is forecast to be one of the strongest ever.
A milder winter will be appreciated by many, but hopefully it will not be so mild as to curtail our great winter recreations, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. And, of course, fishing through the ice.
The last powerful El Niño brought disaster to Ontario. That was the winter of 1997-98 when what has been tagged The Great Ice Storm caused massive damage to trees and electrical infrastructure, especially in Eastern Ontario. That storm caused 35 deaths and basically shut down Ottawa and Montreal, with power outages lasting days, and sometimes weeks and months.
More than 16,000 Canadian Forces troops were mobilized to help with the crisis created by the storm. It was the largest deployment of Canadian soldiers since the Korean War.
No one knows exactly what El Niño will bring us this winter. The forecasters say that if it continues to strengthen, the deepest part of winter will be mild. There are indications, however, that this strong El Niño will weaken come January and cold air could return along with plenty of lake effect snow.
If the latter occurs, we’ll just put another log on the fire and consider John Steinbeck’s thoughts, written in Travels with Charley:
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”