Storms of Snow

Stop signs and street signs are written in Cree, English and French

Stop signs and street signs are written in Cree, English and French

I look outside through the window at the snow falling in wavering sheets. I desperately want to go for a walk.

“Wear a red scarf or something so people can see you,” Andy warned. “The speed limit here is 30 km, but those snowmobiles can whip around and have no speed limit. Even the little kids have mini snow machines and speed around like bullets.”

“In this blazing blizzard, how can anyone even SEE a red scarf?” I ask.

Neck warmer pulled over my nose, worsted wool hat pulled down over my eyebrows, double thermal socks, shearling-lined boots, turtle neck, under polar fleece, topped with a down parka with fur-lined periscope hood, water/windproof pants pulled over jeans and the gortex mitts that the shop girl guaranteed would keep me warm, I emerged into a swirling typhoon of snow.

I attempt a photo at the stop sign at the edge of the street. Immediately my glasses fog up and freeze over, so I need to remove them to actually be able to see.

The weather did not deter the dogs, though. They were everywhere, not friendly, but wary, keeping a respectable distance. One large black lab and a little white foxy dog followed me, the lab allowing me to pet him. He instantly construed this as friendship and followed me home up the steps to the house. I showed Andy my new friend, but he said that these were outdoor dogs and not to let them in.

“But they’re cold!” I tell him.

Next time, I make a note to add liner mitts and wear thermal underwear under my warm up pants. It took me at least 10 minutes to dress.  Must work on that.

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The Northern Lights, so I thought …

Northern Lights near Chibougamau (Pierre Bureau)

Northern Lights near Chibougamau (Pierre Bureau)

We turned left onto a secondary road from Rte. 167, straight north of Chibougamau. I had hoped to arrive in daylight, but weather had its way, and it was now early evening. The sky was the deep purple of eggplant skin. With the waning moon, I was able to make out the tarnished silver expanse of the lake, which I knew from Google Maps was to my left.

“Oh,” I gasped, “The northern lights!”  The sky was aglow with streaks of pink and yellow, a haze, seemingly emanating from the ground straight ahead.

Andy laughed. “That’s the town, that’s Mistissini!”

Along the lake, I noticed the dark silhouettes of small cabins, windows glowing amber.

“People live here, in these little huts?” I asked Andy.

“Aw, no,” he said. “People build these places to get away from town, you know.”

As we drew closer, the town appeared lit up like a Christmas tree, the streets pure white, and the windows glowing. Andy explained that the town’s people keep their lights on, and at all times, the streets are as bright as noon.

As we turned on to our street, a large Bernese mountain dog stood in the middle of the road, alert to something in the distance, not visible to us.

“Watch out for the dog,” I said.

“Don’t worry, he’ll move.”

He did not move, we had to inch around him. I could almost feel his fur brushing against the car. Still, he did not move.

It was late. I was tired and looked forward to slipping  under my down duvet. I hadn’t realized how tense I was from the drive up, the large weaving trucks, and driving through every sort of precipitation.

Rte. 167 from the Saguenay to Chibougamau was closed off to trucks, and we were detained for over an hour as a jack-knifed truck was being cleared. We had not beaten the freezing rain and sleet. I was relieved to see snow plows dispensing salt, and service vehicles never more than 10 minutes apart. My plans of arriving in daylight were not realized, but I am glad to have seen the glow of the town in the dark of the night.

Tomorrow I will start to unpack.

Should we Stay or Should we Go?

The "Andies" on New Year's Eve 2013

The “Andies” on New Year’s Eve 2013

A neighbouring friend has offered us accommodations before our drive up North.

Andy is very ill with a residual cold that started on New Year’s Day. A morning visit to the doctor confirmed a chest infection, and a heavy dose of antibiotics was prescribed. Should we stay an extra day to allow for some rest? Or should we try to outrun the predicted sleet and freezing rain all the way up to Chibougamau? I am learning that weather is everything in the north.

Canada Dry and Away We Go!

We heard them before we saw them. The trucks lumbered up Cartier Avenue; one gigantic semi to transport our effects into storage, and a smaller one to move our personal items to Mistissini. I feel a tightening in my chest.  This is it. This is REALLY it. Piece, by piece our lives are being disassembled, to be reassembled at another place and time.

The packers showed up the day before, filling our house with the shrill, piercing sound of ripping tape, transforming flat cartons into squares, and the loud, rumpling and crumbling of brown paper wrapping our glassware.

The movers trudged in and out, lugging furniture, heavy boxes and tools. Did we ever not realize how much we had stored in the cellar and garden shed? The movers where unflappable, doing what had to be done. After several runs to Tim Horton’s for energizing large cartons of coffee and boxes of donuts, they just kept on going!

I was packing up our liquor cabinet; a couple of bottles wine (for cooking, of course), a bottle of rum (for medicinal purposes) and brandy (to baste my fruit cakes) to be sent to Mistissini, when one of the movers pointed at my box.

“Nous ne pouvons pas transporter cela,” he said. “Tu as besoin de le cacher.”

Andy and I had discussed living in a “dry” community; and had considered going dry for about four minutes. We were told that being a dry community meant that liquor could not be sold in the town. It was also suggested that we not drink a beer on our patio or leave empty bottles in our recycling as it could cause problems.

No, Andy wasn’t ready to give up our beer and samosa nights on Fridays, and I do so like my glass of red wine …

Here Kitty, kitty

Spit Fire Hell  CatSweet SchatziI was able to foster out and find adoptive homes for all my plants. The movers assured us that the plants would not survive the trip. That left us with the cats. We had discussed bringing them; however, the roving dogs, trips back and forth between Montreal and Mistissini would prove to be problematic, especially for our outdoor cat.

Sami (aka “Spit” as in spit fire hell cat) would be fostered to adopt by the two girls next door. Spit has spent many of her afternoons with the girls, helping them with their homework and lying flat out on the piano for her lessons. Spit is a hunter and very territorial, so this arrangement was ideal.

Sweet little Schatzi has found a warm, loving home with my mother. My mom has always had dogs, so it’s been an adjustment process.  They are developing a companionable co-existence, in spite of my mother’s complaints that Schatzi “talks too much” and insists on sleeping on her bed.

Stuff, Stuff and more STUFF!

Frank from Martel Express came to take an inventory of our move requirements. We were permitted 228 kilos each to Mistissini. The rest of our worldly goods would be stored at Trois Rivières.

I asked if this was an unusual amount that would go into storage.

“Yes,” he said. “Most people keep their homes, rent them out or have family members stay in them.”

Family and friends offer to help packing.

“It’s not the packing that will be the problem,” I explained to the well-intentioned offers of time. “The packing will be taken care of the movers. It’s the sorting … what goes to Mistissini, what to put into storage, and what to recycle, donate and discard. Only I can do that.”

How much stuff do two people need?  We had held onto much too much, thinking that eventually our children would like sets of dishes, pots, cutlery, bedding. But the latest generation, moving out on their own, prefer things fresh out of a box, IKEA, if possible.

I find myself sorting piles and moving things from room to room, not making a decision. 228 kilos – our computers, favourite books, clothing, would pretty much fill up that quota.

It is amazing what we tuck away in the corners and crevices of our lives. Boxes of photos, school reports, mementos of trips, piles of scrapbooking material, waiting to be pasted and sorted, clothes and shoes that should have found their way to Renaissance by now. It’s a cleansing experience, but oops … I may need my favourite wooden spoon up there.  And there’s that book I want to reread … one day.

St. Hubert’s Hot Greasy Gravy

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My last day of work and the two longest weeks of my working career.

I will miss the many special people who have touched my life, however, fleetingly, in my many years in the CA industry. I will especially miss my lovely office space, shared with my colleague at MNP, overlooking Mount Royal.

I overheard my colleague planning my going away lunch with another co-worker. “We should go to Rueben’s”, she whispered into the phone. “There’s lots of space.”

With the new found bravery of someone not known to be demanding, I boldly interrupted with “How about St. Hubert BBQ ’s down by Windsor Station?”

“You want to go THERE?”

How long would it be before I can soak my soggy fries into that salty brew of gravy and eat the white, sterile meat of chicken breast.  And the sugar pie?  No contest!