Up North and Off the Grid: December Transition

Ah, December. A month of changes, a month of anticipation, wonder and excitement!

Here in the forest, December’s changes are eagerly awaited, and solemnly anticipated. For us, the changes are radical. We will move from commuting across the open water, to sledding across a snowy landscape…but when?

Over the past few decades, the question we are most often asked is, “What do you do when the ice comes?” There is a period of time in December when there is too much ice to get out by boat, yet not enough ice to cross by sled.

The first part of the answer is, “We love being isolated!” This can be a time to truly enjoy the quiet of the forest. Daily we go out to check the lake – to see how much new ice has formed in our bay, to see if the little protected area behind the island has enough ice for skating, to see what animal tracks have appeared in the snow overnight.

Yet it is also a time of trepidation. This year, the ice is late. So we keep commuting by boat. And at this time of year, the boat is small – just 14 feet long, with a 20 hp 4-stroke motor. The bigger boat is tucked away – it has to be pulled out before the shoreline ices up.

So it’s a little unnerving watching the weather, wondering if it is going to be windy on the day we need to go to appointments in the city. It’s no fun being in a little boat in a big wind.

When the ice comes, it will creep slowly out our long bay. We may need to break through three cm of ice to get the boat out to the open water. The next day the wind could push all the ice back to shore. Or maybe the night will be calm and cold, and the ice will get thicker. By the time it reaches 10 cm, we can pull the little boat across a hundred feet of ice to get to the open water, then motor from there to get out – so long as it is not too windy.

On the other hand, if the snow comes early, we don’t have to cross the lake at all. Once there is enough snow, we can sled through the forest without crossing any water. Except for a few wetlands. Travel on snow is partly dependant on the days and nights being cold enough to freeze the ground so the snow won’t melt. If the snow comes before it gets too cold, the wetlands stay wet underneath, making for difficult travel. But at least we don’t have to worry about the wind!

So we watch through the days of December, looking toward the winter solstice, and the hope solstice brings of the returning sun. We eagerly await the ice, the snow, and all the beauty and joys of winter.

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