Winter has arrived early this year. The snow is on the ground and the cold weather has settled in for the season. Everyone up north is excited to see the cold and the snow return again. It is a time of year when there is a lot more freedom to move on the land. During the spring, summer and fall, when the ice and snow are gone, it is a lot more difficult to move along the waterways and over the muskeg on the land. Winter freeze-up provides a hard surface that makes travelling easy for everyone.
Normally, with the coming of winter, the snow and the cold usually happens at the same time. This results in a very rough freeze-up where lakes and rivers ice up in lumps and swells. I prefer a more uncommon form of freeze-up. That happens when the freezing temperatures precede the snow and results in the freezing of the lakes and rivers into smooth solid surfaces. When this happens, it almost seems as if the rivers and lakes turn into gigantic mirrors.
As a young boy, I recall one year our family taking the time to enjoy this rare and beautiful occurrence on the river where our community is located. We decided to go on a Kootwashooshin, or picnic, on what is known as Potato Island on the river just off the shore from where the community is located. It was with great pleasure and excitement that we planned our walking trip to Potato Island over the magical mirror that had been a river only days before freeze up.
We started out in the early afternoon. My dad, Marius, led the way along with my mother, Susan, my brothers and sisters, our grandmother Louise and mom’s aunt, Barbara, whom we all called Bap-bee. We all helped out by carrying something we would need for our Kootwashooshin. We took along necessities such as flour for bannock, tea, a pot and an axe. We met at a place where the river washes along the shore of the community. It was a real thrill to discover that this was a perfect freeze-up. The river was hard, like a mirror.
Dad picked up a tall, heavy log to use for testing the thickness of the ice. He led the way across the frozen water holding his heavy log. Every once in a while, as we progressed a few more feet, he raised the log and slammed it down on to the ice. The blow created fine cracks that ran down to the bottom of the ice. Cracks also appeared a few inches around the centre of where the wood hit the surface. When the bright sunshine fell on the cracks created by the heavy blow of the log, a natural prism shot out beams of light in all the colours of the rainbow.
As kids, we could not enjoy the ice as much as we wanted to. Our parents and our grandmother kept us close at hand with dire warnings of the danger of thin ice. It was safer to follow the trail of white spots created by the repeated hits of the log on the ice. For half an hour our entire family walked very carefully in single file as dad led the way with his log.
When we arrived on the shore we walked up the bank of the island and onto higher ground. We spent the day wandering the island, visiting the potato field and chatting and laughing. We walked the perimeter of the field and visited an old shack that housed all the old rusted iron tillers and other implements used for planting and harvesting potatoes. These items would probably have been in a museum anywhere else in Canada but here they were still valued and used to plant, care for and harvest the potatoes. The potato field and all the implements date back to the missionaries.
Towards the end of the day we built a fire to prepare tea and bannock along the shore of the island and facing the community. We spent time with each other enjoying hot tea and warm bannock. We admired the view of the rows of houses on the high bank of the community and the dominant white Catholic Church in the distance as they reflected off the mirror-like surface of the frozen river. It was like a dream being out there, with the ability to walk on water.