Photo by Jeremy Bronson
Reflection by Jim Crissman

In a couple of months it will be spring, all warm and wet and squishy, but right now it isn’t. Jill and I are just back from a long March weekend north of the border. Don’t worry, Homeland Security checked us methodically when we returned. I’m sure the cross-country skis, duffle bags, and wind-burned cheeks are a ruse the customs agents see all the time from those pesky frost-backs trying to weasel their way into the land of the free—those poor chilly people dying to live someplace with more guns and less health insurance. So they checked under our hood and opened the back of our station wagon, just in case everything they could see through all the windows was an optical delusion. 

But back to winter. On our last morning, the third in a string of brilliant blue over sparkling white days, it was minus twenty-seven Celsius before the sun started its work. Clouds of water vapor rose over the St. Mary’s river below our window at dawn, while a U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker worked the locks on the other side. And huddled on the ice directly below us, and swimming out into the big river that drains Lake Superior, were ducks, dozens of them, resting or diving for food. So what is it with these birds? Tens of thousands of their buddies flew south months ago, and they said, what? “I think I’ll stay, it’s really nice here?” We went out for pancakes and hot coffee and waited for the earth to turn us toward the sun, while they hung out on the edge ice and swam out in the heavy current to dive for breakfast. Either way, no problem; we all ate.

Our bellies full and finally striding the Hiawatha ski trails just north of Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, trails groomed and tracked by a big diesel machine made just for the task, the temperature was now up into the toasty single-digit Fahren-heights. As I approached a small hole in the middle of the track, a dark brown rodent popped out. He ducked below when he saw the large cheerful human sliding toward him on rails, but for a moment, there we were: warm-bodied signs of life facing-off, not retreating from the frozen silence.

In the park, back at the Hiawatha trailhead, a man used the big groomer to pack the four feet of snow across an entire playing field. They put traffic cones on the snow for goals, and little kids on spring break played soccer in their snow suits. I entertained myself by terrorizing the munchkins with the two-inch-long snotcicles hanging from my moustache.

Back in the car too soon, nasal ice melted and travel mugs filled with hot chocolate, we listened to the CBC and stories of the great snow storm just ending at the southern edge of the very cold Canadian air mass we were happily sharing with the ducks, the rodents, and the kids. One Oshawa caller described the huge piles of snow shoveled from her family’s roof, snow so deep it blocked all their windows. Her husband burrowed through it; he dug tunnels through the snow to each window. She placed candles in the tunnels that night.

It has been a hard and charming winter. A Canadian woman buried in snow has set fire to the light at the end of the tunnel. There will be mud.

© James W. Crissman, 2011