The first snowfall ushers in excitement of the adventures to come: the first afternoon spent tobogganing down a hill, the first snowman rolled on the front lawn, the first time you come inside with frosty eyelashes, anticipating a hot cocoa.
In the Far North, this initial excitement can fade quickly, as we prepare for a winter season longer than those who live in most other regions. The snow began to fall in October this year, a little late, and will continue to cover our land with white until May.
Daylight wanes until the solstice, when our skies are painted by a sunrise and sunset within a few hours of each other. At the darkest, coldest time of year, our temperatures can hover at -40 F, or lower, for days and weeks on end.
When explained this way, our winter may seem difficult, depressing and isolating to friends and family members from the South. Indeed, it can be for some. Like anything in our environments, our winters cannot be changed. As northerners, we have learned to either put up with it, or make the most of it. Our family has chosen to do the latter.
Our children were all born up here, and seem to have a higher reserve of enthusiasm for winter than their Southern-born parents. This joy becomes infectious, and soon sees us embracing the winter months as an opportunity for adventures on the cold frontier, and for quiet nights spent hibernating at home.
We began to prepare our homes for winter weeks ago, building momentum toward the time when warmth, comfort and peace are the prevailing themes in our days.
Families up here fall into traditional rhythms and roles: men go out into the bush to hunt caribou and moose, dressing the meat in the field and bringing home a bounty to fill deep freezers. Women gather berries and jarred produce, lining pantry shelves with mason jars of jams, preserves, syrups. Families chop and gather firewood for their hearths, hoping it will last the winter. Elders from First Nations communities are hard at work tanning hides, sewing moccasins, gauntlets and hats.
When the cold winter air rushes in, announcing its arrival, we hope for the best and begin winter living. For our family, this means taking extra care to dress warmly before heading outdoors, but it also means something more. We begin slowing down in the darkness, finding quiet corners to read, quilts to construct sofa forts, colouring books to fill. We turn on the radio and listen to the sounds of quiet jazz while our preschooler invents her own lyrics and I stir the evening’s moose stew. We become united as a family in our human-made den, cuddling for warmth and comfort.
Our children exhibit a natural pull towards a daily and weekly rhythm, helping us mark the time and celebrate cold days. They encourage us to go outdoors and find beauty in our surroundings, from the perspective of a child lying in the snow, making a snow angel. Once we are beyond our doorstep, there are many avenues to explore beauty.
One need only look to the sky to see the beauty in a sundog on a cold, clear afternoon; when the sun is flanked by two seemingly smaller suns–apparitions brought on by crystals in the dense cold air.
At night, we are often treated to dancing aurora borealis: green, blue and red light shows across our skies. Our First Nations people believe the lights are our ancestors coming back to visit.
On the most beautiful of days, as the sun rises mid-morning, we see that ice fog has swept through during the night, coating every surface, from the trees to power lines to stop signs, with a dusting of crystallized ice. I tell my little girls the winter fairies have come and decorated the whole world with ice glitter, and they squeal in delight.
We continue to find Mother Earth’s bounty in the lake when we ice fish for arctic char, and adventure in the bush when we snowshoe–quite a vigorous adventure when pulling a sled with children on board!
We have many months of winter left, but as we have done before and will do again, we embrace it. We have learned to find the best of ourselves in the challenges that come with living in the far isolated North.
Sarah Niman is a writer, wife, and mother of three young girls. She lives in the Yukon Territory and blogs at Cure For Boredom.
Photos by Johanna Duyan
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.