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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Winter is coming

BY Sonny Orr Oct 25, 2019

The weather forecasts are ever-important to life in Canada. I did not fail to notice the mid-October, 50-centimetre snowsquall in Winnipeg, the geographic centre of North America. For us, the land of the bison and the western Cree is just a hop, skip and a snowmobile ride away. As the crow flies, it’s just on the other side of Hudson Bay (polar bear lands) then south to Winnipeg, where all this havoc occurred.

But heck, eh? We’re Canadian and an early snowmageddon like that is something to be proud of. Who else eats ice-cream cones in winter? Laplanders? Mongolians maybe? The Alaskans, for sure. But there is an ice cream sandwich named for the Yukon. So, our grandchildren will be raised as snow removers for time immemorial.

As for me, this advance warning got me off the lazy-boy and off to harvest some tea and berries. After I settled on a choice spot for both items, I picked for the next two hours. On occasion, the Twin Otter, our modern-day winged workhorse, flew low over my head and then droned out of sight to someone’s campsite with a level piece of land long enough for a private runway. Yep, just about everyone has their own runway up here.

My berry-picking gathered pace as they were tightly packed together and it was easy to fill up your hand every 10 seconds. The empty plunking sound of the berry container was soon muted as hundreds of berries made their way in. Another aircraft took off and headed southeast this time. Soon the first craft zoomed back for another load.

Back in the day, our plane was a sturdy craft with struts and fixed floats, wheels or skis. The Norseman was one of the earlier planes that sputtered around the North. Stories of how they could take a beating and the manoeuvres that they had to make would add lots of white hair to today’s sky jockeys. Fuel depots were very important and sometimes you had to fly under the weather, double pun intended.

My mother told me of a time when the Norseman landed quite a distance upriver because of a nasty storm. Then it taxied the rest of the way up the narrowing stream, the sides just missing the wings. This plane had skis and was built to take hard landings with big loads. On arrival they were greeted by wide-mouthed and wide-eyed villagers. Such was the time when only your wits and skills would keep you safe in the air and on the land.

Recently I drove past an old Canso, which was originally designed to be a U-boat hunter. It had big observation bubbles on each side and was amphibious, as it could land on both land and water. It was purposed to hunt down and destroy submarines. This one I was looking at had problems due to a propeller set at the wrong pitch. It couldn’t reach its climb speed and crashed into the sandy hills across the river. It was later cannibalized by its owner and left there as a reminder that there are such things as plane crashes. Thankfully, we have rules and regulations and laws and insurance policies and waivers and strict maintenance protocols, on and on… and the occasional lousy weather patterns to top it off.

I turned my attention to the Labrador tea leaves and quickly snipped off handfuls and dumped into my recyclable shopping bag. The wind picked up as the third hour passed and my stomach began rumbling with displeasure.

Ahh, I thought, I’ll go home and get some rest and Facebook or something. Maybe someone is doing the same thing as I am. Around 10 planes today, I wonder who’s left in town. I wonder how those poor Winnipeggers are doing. I think I have to go back to the land again and get some more tea and berries before they get buried in Old Man Winter’s fury, which is just around the bend. Can’t wait, I think with a shudder.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.