Recently, I woke up early in the morning to shovel out the driveway after a long, drawn-out winter storm that had dropped over a foot of snow on the ground. As soon as I stepped out I could feel the cold seep through my layers of clothes. The frigid air literally took my breath away. I was happy to have a scarf covering most of my face. The temperature had dropped below minus 30 and was reported as being about minus 50 with wind chill taken into account. I am accustomed to this weather as I have worked out in freezing temperatures on a regular basis up in Attawapiskat since I was a kid.
My memories of frostbite encouraged me to pay close attention to my face and extremities. I kept moving to stay warm but not to overexert myself so as to sweat beneath my clothes. Once you start sweating in this temperature you begin to freeze. As 1 worked, my toque and scarf kept moving out of place and I found my cheeks and ears becoming exposed. Just a few moments of exposure left me with a stinging chill on my ear lobes and my face.
This frosty morning reminded me of the days when I was a child and I played in the snow and on the ice with my friends in Attawapiskat. The cold never seemed to affect our hunger for play. As children, we enjoyed the freezing winter weather as it provided a new environment for all of us to discover. On top of that it was a constantly changing scene as snow fell and blew around at the whim of strong winds off the James Bay. Most of the time, we enjoyed skating and playing hockey at the local rink. On days when it went below minus 30 or 40, we exchanged our skates for warm winter boots and we played boot hockey or shinny.
As a young boy I remember seeing my older siblings, cousins and their friends thinking it unfashionable or old fashioned to wear a toque or scarf outside. Every young person seemed to think that warm headgear was out of style. When I was about nine or ten, I became fashion conscious and I parked my fur-lined hat at home when I went out to be with my friends. I thought it normal to walk to school or play hockey with no hat. I also remember paying for this line of thinking with frost-bitten ears every year until I was about 15 years old.
After several years of freezing my ear lobes on a regular basis I had some sort of winter epiphany and somehow grasped that when I did not wear a hat in the freezing cold my ears would freeze. Unfortunately, my troubles with frostbite resurfaced from time to time. Later on I was allowed to take the family snowmobile for a ride. That began my education in wind chill. Now, I found out that it was necessary to wrap myself up from head to toe to make sure I did not get frostbite. On a few occasions during a joy ride out on the land I remember feeling the familiar tingle of cold on my face. I was a little worse off than my friends because I wore metal rimmed glasses. There are few things as painful as the feeling of frigid metal against one’s face. I experimented with headgear until I found the perfect solution. The result left me looking like an Egyptian mummy wildly racing through the white and frozen wilderness on my snowmobile.
After a long day of working in the cold with dad and my brothers it was good to know that a warm fire and a hot meal was waiting for us with mom back home. I always felt a great sense of relief and exhilaration when I came back in from the cold. It felt good to sit down with my feet by a heat register, my snowpants on and my parka piled loosely around me as I sat back on the living room couch. I would take my time taking the rest of my warm clothes off and I just sat back and relaxed while sipping on a cup of hot tea. I savoured this time, as I knew that work would call and I would have to head back out into the frozen world far too soon.