I have a lot of memories of getting wet this time of year. As the warmer weather melts the large quantities of snow our world here up north turns from frozen snow and ice to slush and water.
Before my home community of Attawapiskat developed a proper drainage system for the melting snow in the spring, we had to deal with many problems and inconveniences.
The warm weather created water obstacles everywhere in the community. People who followed familiar paths and trails across town suddenly had to deal with roadside drainage ditches that were covered in a deceivingly solid slushy layer of snow. As they walked over the soft snow, the slush gave way and one’s feet sunk into the water. In some areas, the slowly melting ice inside culverts that covered driveways prevented water from properly draining and created large pools in the community.
To deal with this time of the year my mom, Susan, took out our black, rubber galoshes from the bottom of the closet to dress my brothers and myself in footwear that would keep our feet dry. I am sure many people remember this type of boot that had a sort of an orange trim. Unfortunately, galoshes did not always keep us dry while we played in the lake-sized puddles throughout the community. Usually the large puddles of water hid a layer of slippery ice underneath that caused us to slip and stumble into the icy water. When we arrived home soaked, mom was there to dress us in dry clothes and then she dried our wet boots and clothes over the wood stove inside our home. Remember this was not all that long ago. It took place in the 1 980s. Imagine we still had a wood stove for our primary source of heat and we also did not have indoor plumbing.
When I got a little older and was able to use a snowmobile on my own, mom sometimes gave me the chore of going out to collect snow for drinking water. Collecting snow for drinking water is known as Nah-Tah-Ah-Koo-N-Neh-Oo in Cree. This was a chore I learned from helping other family members each winter as I was growing up. Snow had to be collected away from the community and in areas where snowmobiles had not travelled. There was a method of collecting this pure snow for our drinking water. First a top layer had to be cleared away to expose an underlying layer of brilliant white crystallised and granular type of snow. This was the perfect type of snow that we melted in big pots on the wood stove or if we were on the land over an open fire to provide wonderful drinking water.
I recall the first spring I was able to use a snow mobile on my own. Mom sent me out to collect snow for the last time of the season. We would soon be able to fetch water from the river. The warm weather had melted much of the snow in town and had exposed the gravel roads in the community. To make matters more challenging, the river that I had to cross to get to good snow had become very slushy. I used the excuse that the only snowmobile I would be able to use was my dad’s special Nordic 60, an oversized and powerful machine with an extra wide track, two huge skis and a large yellow cowling. I had been waiting for the right time to ask to use this rare machine which we all simply called the ‘Nordic’. It was the only one of its kind in the community and I had the privilege with this chore to use it. To carry the large bags of snow back I hitched up a very solid and heavy wooden toboggan that was as wide as the Nordic and constructed to haul big loads.
I made my way across town choosing the best route over what snow remained in the community and on to a trail that led to the river. The big Nordic handled the slushy river with ease. Once I reached the far bank of the river I parked in an area of good snow and filled up ten sacks which I placed on the sled. I wanted to really impress mom and dad. A normal load would have been only about four or five of these large sacks.
When I finished, I fired up the Nordic and started to move thinking that my powerful snowmobile would easily bring me home. Surprise, surprise, the load would not budge. I worked at loosening it up for hours rather than concede that I had wanted to pull too heavy a load. Finally, the big Nordic managed to pull my gigantic load of snow home. Mom and dad were happy and quite shocked that I had managed to bring in more than enough snow to hold us over for a long time. I tried not to show it but I was exhausted and miserable, as I was soaked from head to foot. You can imagine how happy I was when the community got indoor plumbing and running water in the early 1990s.