Robert’s column

Robert Barron: Winter can be hard, but it brings back good memories

I would carefully poke the handle of the shovel through the snow until it bumped into a solid object

I’m really lucky to be living on Vancouver Island.

Watching winter make a brief visit to the area earlier this week really drove that point home for me.

The temperatures dropped and snow, which I usually only see in ski resort commercials these days, came down from the mountain tops and made life miserable for most Islanders for a few days.

It was cold and uncomfortable for awhile, but it pales in comparison to what I and my neighbours had to contend with when I lived on the other side of the country.

Winter in Newfoundland often runs from late October through to late May, and those months can be very brutal.

I lived in a small community in the northern part of Canada’s most easterly province many years ago in my first posting as a reporter for a small weekly paper.

I recall that it would snow every day for months, and the temperatures never got above freezing so the snow would just accumulate until you could stand on the snowbanks on the side of the road and touch the telephone and hydro wires (while the authorities constantly warned us never to do that).

During a typical work day, the first priority was to take my snow shovel and head to the road in an effort to find my car that I had parked there the night before.

With the car completely covered and hidden in a fresh snowbank, I would have to carefully poke the handle end of the shovel through the snow until it bumped into a solid object that (sometimes) would be my car.

It would then take about 45 minutes, depending on the amount of snow there was each day, to dig the car out enough to get it mobile and head to work.

The whole exercise would have to be repeated in the paper’s parking lot at the end of each workday during the winter.

Motorists were in the habit of attaching small flags to the front of their cars that would be about 15 feet or more in the air so that when they came to intersections, those around the corner could see the flag above the snow bank and know there was a vehicle waiting there to proceed.

Then there was the ongoing daily grind of trying to keep the walkways and driveway at your home clear of snow.

It was typical to spend up to two hours a day at this gruelling endeavour, on top of having to clear the snow from your car.

If there was any plus side to those cold and stormy days, it was that I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in just trying to survive in those conditions.

I honestly don’t know how those communities manage to carry on with business as usual during those long and dark months, but I guess humans have proven that we can pretty much adapt to anything.

Besides, there are many pleasant memories as well.

Most nights after all the shovelling was done, neighbours would often congregate in each other’s kitchens to play music, sing songs and tell stories that often go back generations.

Winters were bonding experiences, and you couldn’t help but know every aspect of your neighbours’ lives after spending just a few of them in these communities.

It’s a hard life, but I’m glad I experienced it.

Those memories always put a smile on my face the few times I have to shovel out my car on Vancouver Island.

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