I went out for a walk today with a friend of mine and got my first blast of freezing winter weather. We were both prepared for the weather and were bundled up in warm winter ackets, an extra layer of clothes, toques, mitts and heavy Boots. It has always been natural for me to prepare for the cold and sometimes it seems that I get carried away. When I first came to live in the south, my friends found it strange that in addition to winter, in the spring and fall I wore an extra pair of socks and long underwear.
I developed this need to stay warm from living in extreme cold weather up north in my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast. Winter is a big deal in my remote home community. The snow and ice bring a new found freedom to travel and move about more freely. In the summer it is harder to travel over lakes, rivers and through muskeg.
My experience of winter in Attawapiskat had to do with dressing from head to foot in an armor of clothes. During the coldest months we wore many layers of clothes to keep ourselves warm. Most people in the community had big families and that meant that we shared a lot of hand me downs. Still it wasn’t easy for our parents to keep us in clothes and boots because we were all growing so fast.
In our home, my mother also spent a lot of time making winter clothing for our big family. Mom used the skin :f caribou or moose and lined it with fox, beaver or mink fur to make hats for everyone, mitts for the younger children and lingered gloves for dad and ihe older children.
Dad and other trappers like him must have had to deal with a lot of cold weather over their lives. He stockpiled large amounts of firewood in the fall and made sure that in the winter our house always had a full log bin for the wood stove. The wood stove was our primary source of heat. Early every morning he stoked the remaining coals to build a new fire. By sunrise the house was unbearably hot and everyone was motivated to get out of bed. When we traveled in the early spring over the snow for goose nor ting we stayed in canvas prospector tents in cold weather. Dad heated the tent the same way every morning and in the evenings with a small tin wood stove. I remember that little stove taking the chill out of the tent and at times glowing red hot.
Winter weather in the far north has been enjoyable for me but at the same time I was well aware of the danger in the cold. I learned at an early age never to lose my respect for the cold. I remember my father telling me when I first started riding a skidoo that a ten-minute ride on a snowmobile was comparable to an hour crawl back to safety if my machine had a problem. I was also warned not to travel alone in very cold temperatures.
I still love winter and I even enjoy shoveling snow from the driveway. I guess I am a creature of the cold and I feel best when I feel the cold, clean air in my lungs and I can look up into the clear winter sky and see thousands of stars.