The transition to winter in Canada is discretely incremental but nonetheless unmistakeable. After the autumnal cleaning of the gardens, the appearance of driveway markers is among the first indicia of upcoming winter. There are some terribly handsome markers, reflectors which are multi-coloured, multi-faceted, telescopic and even solar. For the less discriminating homeowner who is not so concerned with the artistic performance of the hardware a mere stake will suffice, frequently recycled and wound in adhesive tape. There are those whose property borders a curve in the road and who therefore feel compelled to decorate the perimeter with a parade of cautionary standards to assist the hardworking early-morning plough operators. One has to wonder how responsive the plough operators are or can be to such carefully positioned warnings in the midst of a snowstorm and mountains of ever-increasing urban snow piles. It is wise to recall that the municipality likely owns the first several feet alongside the road and may thus snap its collective fingers at such muted intimidation.
The mania for winter tyres on automobiles is ascending though fairly recent. Only in the past several years has the topical debate graduated from statistical analysis to what is now considered socially unacceptable behaviour to avoid putting on winter tyres. No doubt even republican Ontario will soon adopt the mandatory legislative directive which now persists in Quebec. Winter tyres are generally acknowledged to be unattractive, a fashion foible nonetheless thought to be well-deserved and mollified by the indisputable repugnance of black ice, road salt and slush. Winter tyres are still a hard sell to dedicated automobile aficionados who’ll likely succumb to forking out thousands for matching rims to preserve the shiny package on those rare, cold days which afford a window of dry pavement.
The harshness of adjustment to the winter vernacular is at least softened by the sight of a dedicated young father building the wooden perimeter of a backyard skating rink for his children and perhaps their neighbours. What a family hero he is destined to be! Some of our rural brethren are fortunate enough to have a pond on their sprawling acreage for like purpose but without the attendant architectural exigencies. Visions abound of muffled skaters, red sleighs and frosted breath, a truly Canadian picture reminiscent of Cornelius Krieghoff!
No sooner have the corn sheaves of Thanksgiving and the pumpkins of Hallowe’en exhausted their favour than the wreaths, garlands and boughs of Christmas decorations make their seasonal appearance. It is a well-organized householder who plans to put up the exterior Christmas lights before the first snow. A cool, clear day in November and the prospect of a cozy fire and wassail is all the stimulus required to awaken the radiance of the Christmas spirit. Equally intoxicating are the Gregorian chants of Arvo Pärt and almost any refrain from Handel’s Messiah, sacred music which suddenly figures in one’s personal library and on almost any radio station. The once latent winter catharsis is galloping onward!
Any summary of evolving hibernation would be incomplete without noting the dwindling daylight hours, an assault conducted at both ends of the spectrum. More evocative clues that winter is coming are those regularly touted in the Farmers’ Almanac:
Thicker than normal corn husks
Woodpeckers sharing a tree
Early arrival of the Snowy owl
Early departure of geese and ducks
Early migration of the Monarch butterfly
Thick hair on the nape (back) of the cow’s neck
Heavy and numerous fogs during August
Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands
Mice eating ravenously into the home
Early arrival of crickets on the hearth
Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers
Pigs gathering sticks
Insects marching a bee line rather than meandering
Early seclusion of bees within the hive
Unusual abundance of acorns
Muskrats burrowing holes high on the river bank
“See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”
Narrow orange band in the middle of the Woollybear caterpillar warns of heavy snow; fat and fuzzy caterpillars presage bitter cold
The squirrel gathers nuts early to fortify against a hard winter
Frequent halos or rings around sun or moon forecast numerous snow falls.