Blowing Snow

snowblower at Wild Bear Lodge

Blowing Snow

I’d never even heard of a snow-blower before I moved to Canada.

A strange-looking beast, it has a large hungry mouth with a plethora of curved metal scoops inside, and a small chute that dispenses the white stuff high into the air and at an angle.

The first time we bought one was during our second year here, many moons ago, as we wintered in Alaska. We strapped it onto the back of a trailer and dragged it 2,400 miles home along the Alcan Highway.

Just to prove my manly maturity the very first thing I did with it was line it up ahead of a nice pile of snow, point the chute at Kristin, pull the lever, and let her have it all over her head and down her neck.

It was only a few seconds later that I realised that had I gone over even a fairly small rock I could have killed my fiancĂ©e – we were to get married later that spring – stone dead.

That blower lasted a couple of seasons and we eventually gave it to our neighbour Sunny.

In its place, we bought a larger orange Husqvarna with a bigger mouth, a larger chute, a meatier engine and solid-looking wheels. Horsepower is what matters, or so the neighbours kept telling us.

Except that our snow is of a particularly contrary consistency. Sometimes it is light as poplar fluff, but other times, like today, it is wet and soggy and about as heavy as concrete.

As soon as I hit the forward lever the beautiful orange Husky, with its large macho wheels and fine looks, dug itself straight downwards into an icy hole and refused to budge. It was like trying to drive a car in really soft sand.

For a few years, Kristin and I took a break from all this winter wilderness malarkey. We rented a small house in Nelson, two hours down the road, as soon as the snow started and hung out with the resident urbanites. For a while it was all lattes and ski gear.

But this year we decided to stay at the lodge deep into the winter. It felt more honest, more real, more raw.

And it all started off so swimmingly. There were long evenings curled up by the fire reading European novels and virtuous books on forest ecology, wildlife tracking, and bush flying.

We invited friends up for relaxed weekends.

In the afternoons I took Katya, our two-year-old German Shepherd, for long winter walks on the other side of the river – we tracked cougars, deer and more than once ran into the local elk herd.

Kristin, meanwhile, a true Scandi, positively beamed as the snow fell. She made bowls of soup and and even set up a little Christmas tree in the corner. Between times she brought in the firewood and shovelled off the deck.

And then the Gods of Winter decided that was enough Christmas spirit for one year. First off, the internet broke. One minute it was working fine, the next it was dead as a dodo.

We waited and waited for it to come back online but eventually gave up and drove to Kaslo, an hour away. I tried to find a technician to come and fix the internet. No such luck.

The nearest qualified person was six hours away across a snowy mountain pass and not picking up his phone or reading his emails.

And then, with the internet still out, the generator failed. The batteries were soon kicking around the cut-out voltage and Kristin was filling bowls with emergency water and scratching around for candles and matches.

There was really nothing for it. The next morning at 5.00am I put on a worn puffer jacket, a headlamp, and a woolly hat and started taking the generator apart. I removed the air filter and the carburettor and carefully unscrewed the actuator that controlled the throttle. Eventually I got the power working again

Next up was the internet. Two freezing hands, a ladder perched on icy snow 20 feet below and a half-inch spanner. For an hour I fiddled and cursed. This screw a few turns this way, that screw a few turns the other way. Finally the internet began to bleep again. It seemed that the dish had been knocked off-kilter by a lump of snow falling off the roof.

And so, as the sun began to set on day two of our little drama, our life support systems were once again up and running. Power, water, heat and internet. The essentials of life.

I even got a loving look from Kristin.

Not for being smart or good-looking or witty or having a winning way with words – those attributes count for nothing in the bush. But for being able to screw together a Kohler generator and bring back to life a moribund satellite dish.

Now if I would only stop writing, pull out the snow-blower and clear the driveway I might even get a peck on the cheek.