The White Tornado


It looks like we are going to be in winter mode as of tomorrow. It’s been blowing, snowing and raining all morning and the temperature is forecast to drop this afternoon. The 14 day forecast is for temperatures to stay below the freezing mark. Some of the lows may be in the range of minus double digit Celsius. Sounds like winter to me.

Last winter was miserable. Cold, snowy, windy and long. I sort of dread what this winter will be like, but on the other hand, it’s just another winter. Statistically, the chances of this winter having as much snow as last winter are low. That’s based on snow data collected annually in this area since the 1950’s. Snow-wise, big snow years tend to occur  two to four times out of 10, and over the last five years, we’ve already had 3 or 4 big snow years (according to a standard snow depth index used by biologists to rate winter severity). Still, anything is possible, including another cold, snowy, long winter.

Since I’ve been home from Alberta, I’ve been spending some time, most days, sitting in our small cabin overlooking a grassy field, waiting for a buck to show up. When I’m not scanning the field, or watching my decoy, I’ve been reading ‘the Snow Walkers’ by Farley Mowat. Mowat’s a famed Canadian author, who passed on this past May, and who wrote extensively about the Arctic and the people and animals that live there. This novel is a collection of stories and experiences while living in the Arctic barrens, and many of the tales dwell on the harshness of winter and its effects on mind, body and soul. The majority of the characters in the stories are Aboriginal and provide an excellent insight into parts of their culture. I’m really enjoying the book, but  in some ways it’s almost impossible to fathom. It’s hard and rather horrible to imagine living in a snow house for months, using only small lamps that burn fat for one’s source of heat and light. And sometimes the fat runs out . . . .

This morning, it was overcast, windy, with periods of heavy snow. But things were much, much worse in the chapters of ‘the Snow Walker’ I read.

No deer came, although when I arrived, and there was just enough light to see, I saw a fawn and doe under one of the spruce trees where a buck or bucks has made some scrapes. They hung around for about ten minutes, feeding, then disappeared into the evergreens. After that, the only thing I heard or saw of interest was a raven that circled and squawked over my deer decoy.

This is the first time in the last 5 when I’ve spent this much time watching the field without seeing a buck. It’s more confirmation last winter took its toll on deer,

When I was coming back home from Alberta a little over a week ago, I had another experience that screamed of winter. There were great flocks of snow geese alongside the highway in what the sign said was Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. It was a wonderful sight. It was a bright, sunny day with clear blue skies and only light winds. The whiteness of the snow geese was absolutely stunning on that prairie landscape, and when huge numbers lifted – thousands – it was like a white tornado.

Snow geese are now so numerous that bag limits in much of Canada is 50 a day, with no limit on possession. Apparently, the snows are eating themselves out of house and home on their Arctic breeding grounds, and generous bag limits are one attempt to reduce populations to sustainable levels. Trying to reduce the snow goose population by providing more hunting opportunities has been going on for a number of years now, so to date, one would have to say it’s not working. On the other hand, it certainly is providing a lot of hunting opportunities, so from that point of view. It’s a success.

Eventually, the snow goose population will crash.

In the interim, it’s time to embrace another winter, I hope it doesn’t hit like a white tornado.

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