A Blog Series by Elorah
Maybe I should have renamed this blog…it’s only been winter every other day of the week throughout this odd April! Really, that sums up most of the winter here at Lochalsh, which I wanted to share some reflections on as spring arrives.
April has somehow been the most unpredictable yet least exciting month. I intended to publish a blog much sooner, but time got away from me over here, with more of the “every day is the same” feeling than usual.
The weather is less of a classic slow melt to spring and more of a complete confusion. Ordinarily, there is still ice on the lake when I arrive in May, and knee-deep snowdrifts surrounding the cabins. This year, everything has been happening in flashes. One day a week, it will be warm enough to wear a T-shirt on a hike, then overnight it will ice rain and snow four inches! Overnights have generally still been below freezing, but it appears that is forecast to end this upcoming week. Rain has been constant, so the winter snow disappeared quickly; I certainly couldn’t use the snowmobile after the last week of March. There is a reason I have a whole collection of footwear and jackets– not that I actually ever choose the right gear for the current temperature!
This all leaves me a bit all over the place. Am I warm? Am I cold? Do I feel like sleeping more or less?
The animals don’t like to wander around in heavy rain, but they visit in the sunshine. I’ve spotted the fisher every other day, but the two usual foxes (Sasha the cross fox and Terry the red fox) have disappeared– I think it is the time they’re having their kits. I’m not sure how foxes might change their territory seasonally. This past week, I have met a new red fox whom I have named Flat Stanley, as it looks somewhat like a pancake from certain angles. Flat Stanley is becoming increasingly curious, and as I write, has been running around the yard snapping at butterflies.
More birds are out: bluejays, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees, robins. I went walking out to Godin Lake the other week accompanied by the cacophony of frog vocalization and partridge drumming. The bugs aren’t out yet, but undoubtedly will be as soon as we start varnishing boats. Beavers and ducks are out swimming around. Loons are my favourite, so I can’t wait to see or hear one.
The ice went off the lake around the afternoon of April 15. I looked back at my 2020 photographs, and last year we only had a boat in on May 20, still dodging ice sheets then! (And I know that some of you witnessed the 2019 icy opening week).
The lake level has been very low. I attempted to walk down the shoreline at one point, but encountered the last ice sheets and some spots too deep for my rubber boots. I haven’t found any neat tackle.
As much as I enjoy winter, it feels good to put my feet down on dirt again. I do feel a great sense of accomplishment in having pulled through this adventure without too many struggles. As of May 1, my winter term will be over.
With the winter experiment coming to an end, I’ve been reflecting on the whole experience.
My main goal was to be prepared, and I was well-prepared in the supply department. The food calculations that I made, based on my general one-person grocery list and some preppers’ recommendations, were very generous and I have a good stock of dry and frozen goods still. I am down to my last pound of sugar and last 15 lbs. of flour, but only because I’ve been baking all of my bread and like a sweet snack (too many sweet snacks!). I daydream about salads and watch the Food Network with utter envy, but I have managed to keep a healthy and balanced diet that isn’t boring. I’ve tried new recipes.
These times are tumultuous, without a doubt. The province has been in various states of lockdown throughout 2020. At the start of April, the Ontario government instituted a province-wide lockdown which, in contrast to previous lockdowns, requires retailers to forbid the in-store sale of non-essential items. It seems that there is little consistency in what is actually “essential” and that is still causing all sorts of confusion and frustration. I haven’t been out to civilization recently to observe this for myself. Hopefully this stricter lockdown and increasing vaccination rates will put Ontario in a better position by the end of May– I’m positive that there will be improvement. I was planning on driving down to Sault Ste. Marie near the end of the month to do my semi-annual Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire run (in ordinary times, I stock up on six months’ worth of clothing, toiletries, and gear and haul totes up to camp in May). Now I am happy to be where I am with what I have, and to be able to go outdoors and enjoy myself.
Well, enough about that side of things. I don’t want to make this blog political at all– we get enough exposure to the news every day and being out around Wabatongushi is the time to cast off such concerns for a day or two. I have no inner word on the tourism situation, but you can bet that every day I am waiting for good news!
While deeper snow would have been more enjoyable for snowmobiling and winter pastimes in general, I’m grateful for the warmer temperatures, which made it possible to test the house and outdoors experiences without constant extremes. Though we’d re-insulated pipes and I’d put a new heat trace on the water line, we simply didn’t know if -40 C temperatures might damage the water system. It turned out that everything in the house functioned well and I did not have to crawl under the house again. I did have nights at -40 C or below but my house was cozy!
I had no power outages the entire winter (and if I had, my wood stove, propane cookstove, and generator would keep me going). This was nothing short of miraculous considering that we have a number of scheduled outages the rest of the year for maintenance at the gold mine, and severe weather can drop trees on the power line. The largest and most expensive problem that I faced was my snowmobile engine destroying itself on a dark ride home, but even then, it did not become as dangerous as it could have— I had friends who assisted me and I keep the satellite phone charged.
In some ways, life out here can be dull. Considering that you either cannot or do not want to go to town often, you need to have everything that you want in your freezers and pantry already. Fresh fruits and vegetables are difficult to get even in Dubreuilville. Food has to be highly nutritious without taking up much space. I can only travel so far on snowshoes and after a while, that radius can become too well-known. TV has been horrifically repetitive, with new seasons delayed or every type of TV show seemingly becoming nothing but a recording of a Zoom call. My satellite system was surprisingly decent throughout the winter, with not much snow falling on the dish or clouding reception. It’s actually at its worst now, with ever-looming rainstorms.
Would I do it again? Right now I would say yes. The state of the world right now lends me some hesitation— can anyone really be planning more than a few months ahead?
What I would do differently crosses a number of topics. I’ve been making a list of what I think would be improvements in the future. I have a much better idea of food stock and storage now. I’d like to set up a little indoor greenhouse for fresh vegetables but whether this is viable remains a question. For recreation, I’d like to buy cross country skis and alternate that with snowshoeing; I can ski a lot faster. I’d like to go winter camping and I already have the gear for it; I just need a few other willing victims (I mean participants) as there are some things that probably shouldn’t be done alone. Of course I plan to snowmobile much more if I have a functioning machine and the trails are open with sufficient amounts of snow. Same with ice fishing. This winter was more about practical activities than entertainment, just making sure that the house stood up to the elements. I definitely missed ski plane flying this winter, as for the past few years I’ve travelled to Azilda (just outside of Sudbury) to fly a C172 over frozen lakes. Buying my own plane is out of the question so far, but a girl can dream. I need an ATV to travel the roads and trails in late fall and early spring. Lastly, I would get a pet. I’m more of a cat person than a dog person, but I would love to have a dog who’d snowshoe or ride with me.
I am a very private person, hence why I don’t have a personal Instagram at this point, but I’d consider buying a GoPro or quality camera to record more immersive videos (in turn, this requires a better computer for editing work than my 11 year old laptop). I like to write, but video offers a perspective of its own and there are new apps and technologies that I could make some interesting media with.
I will try to keep everyone updated throughout May!
One issue that I face in writing this blog is that it’s very difficult to remind myself that my life is not necessarily “ordinary” and maybe the minute things really are interesting to other people. I’m in this environment all the time and see the same trails and cabins every day. I like the job, undoubtedly, but I do the same things every day, with just a few variations in meals or picking where to explore, and often I think to myself, Well, nothing happened today to write about. For this summer season, I do want to continue a blog. About what exactly I don’t know. In the ordinary summer season, I don’t go on that many adventures and I only fish select spots because my typical day runs from around 5:30 AM to 8 PM, seven days a week. And every week on the job is the same at the core, just different guests. But I’m sure I can write something entertaining.
I’ve taken over the lodge Instagram account (@lochislandlodge), so I hope to keep updating everyone through photos there, too.
Thanks again for reading! I hope to see everyone this summer, keeping faith that we will be able to have everyone on the lake again! It isn’t the same without you!
Read past blogs here:
- Winter at Wabatongushi #1
- Winter at Wabatongushi #2
- Winter at Wabatongushi #3
- Winter at Wabatongushi #4
- Winter at Wabatongushi #5
- Winter at Wabatongushi #6