Rudolf Harmsen 

A Strange Winter

One of my very favorite winter pastimes is getting into my bush outfit, hiking boots, gaiters, toque and gloves , strap on my snowshoes and hit the trail. Then spend an hour or so going all over our patch of wilderness, identifying the different tracks left by everything from deer down to the smallest rodents and shrews. When I get to the end of our land, I venture out onto Collin's Lake to look for the breathing holes of the otters, and their amazing tracks, which show how they run fast on the snow-covered ice, and then slide on their belly like a torpedo until they slow down, only to repeat this feat over and over again. But winter 2012 was not a normal eastern Ontario winter: it hardly snowed, and what little fell, melted soon after – not once did I get my snowshoes on! It turned out to be the warmest winter since weather records started to be taken in this part of the world. However, because of the lack of snow, I did get some great hikes in, including a few with Guy*, and one with Guy and Leslie*. The land to the north of the area where we live is not suitable for modern agriculture due to its steep hills, with swampy areas and lakes in between. As a result, it is mostly forested and excellent for nature hikes, especially in the protected area of Frontenac Provincial Park and surroundings. On our hikes there, we had a grand time bushwhacking off trail, clambering up and down steep hills, and crossing frozen lakes and swamps. Although actually seeing wildlife is rare, the evidence of its presence is all over the place. Few of our local animal species hibernate, so that they leave their footprint on the winter landscape in more then just the literal meaning of the word 'footprint'.

On the 9th of June 2011 we had a storm which came close to being a tornado; I remember the frighteningly powerful wind gusts, and wondered why the trees around the house did not get blown over. It wasn't until months later, in October, when walking the western boundry of our property, that I discovered four of the large, mature ash trees that had stood along that fence-line for the past hundred years or more, had been blown down. They had come down with such force, that several smaller trees including a few of our planted spruce, were smashed to bits. It was sad to see these century old giants lying flat on the ground, like beached whales, or the fallen pillars of an ancient temple. I decided to take a positive attitude, and adopted the new situation as the basis for a new firewood collecting strategy. Also here, the lack of snow was a distinct advantage. So, Leif* and I, tackled the postrate trees. First, however, we had to clear an access route from the hay field, through some pretty dense bush, so that we could get a truck to back up to where we would be cutting.

Greg Shannon*, our neighbor, came to have a look, and decided to give us a hand getting two of the main logs out of the bush for easier cutting. He came with his tractor and pulled the logs out onto the hayfield, and then picked them up with the front-end loader and carried them to a good cutting spot near our house. It was a crazy site, a tractor with an eight ton log crosswise on the front loader fork. By spring time we had cut up about two thirds of the fallen trees. We are planning to do the rest this winter, provided we do not get too much snow.

The winter of 2012 never got going, and after the warmest winter we also got the earliest spring, with lots of rain, flooding the area where the rest of the fallen trees were lying in the bush, so ending the wood harvest. But spring also brought us other jobs as things started to grow in the garden. Two other records were the flowering of a bunch of cocusses on February the twenty third, a date on which we normally still have a thick blanket of snow covering the garden, and Loughborough Lake was ice-free on March 20th, which we* celebrated with getting our feet wet and cold .

* People mentioned in text and pictured in Ice out picture: Guy Thorne, Kingston friend since 1960s; Leslie Thorne, Guy and Susan Thorne's daughter; Greg Shannon, neighbor and friend; Leif Harmsen, our younger son; Katharine Smithrim and Sandy Sellers, who hosted our 50th anniversary in 2010, and  Shaun Sellers, Sandy's daughter; and Jeri.


  dolf@harmsen.net +1 613 544 3626