It’s Snow Day #2 on Prince Edward Island. Since yesterday at noon, PEI has been buffeted by a blizzard. While only a foot of snow came down, 40-60 mph winds make it a mess. Most of us are content to stay snug and warm in our homes and ignore the outside world until the snow stops falling and the winds die down.
Kerry and I have our alarm almost perfectly timed. Her radio goes off to CBC at 5:57, just in time to hear if school has been cancelled. She’s a teacher, so it matters. Just at that moment, our forced air furnace kicks in. We run a woodstove, and the furnace adds a rush of heat in the morning and then again at night. Below -15 Celsius, it runs sometimes during the day when it isn’t sunny. Below -30, at that point when Fahrenheit and Celsius merge for an unusual united nations of temperature, our furnace runs hourly.
We love the furnace. On mornings like these we are one snooze button away from a warm house. I remember as a child how we had to wait for the wood furnace to slowly heat the entire house. I remember pulling back the layers of quilts as a child, sometimes hearing the tinkle of ice crystals as they hit the old wood board floors. As kids we would hop out of bed and race to the kitchen. There we set one of our mismatched chairs in front of the old wood stove. Then we put our feet in the oven part of the woodstove, feeling our freezing feet grow toasty and warm as my dad meditated over coffee and as CBC played in the background.
It wasn’t until much later that I thought of the half hour before we woke up, the cold house and my father lumbering through the dark to make the house warm for us. I did know that when the coffee was drained, he would suit up and head to the barns. It is never a snow day on a dairy farm.
Today, at 5:57am, the furnace tried to come on, and failed. It tried again, and again, and again. Each time it failed. This is bad on a snow day.
Now, I have the technical know-how of a chipmunk. I’m strong on opening nuts and weak on anything with a moving part. There is a reason I was never intended for the family farm. This is a real deficit when it is -14 with the wind chill and the furnace won’t start. The street is not ploughed, and there is no way we would see a technician for a day or two. One little woodstove in the basement is a comfort, but it is not enough against a PEI snow day.
I’m not even worrying yet about the technical problems. I suspect I know what the trouble is, and I groan in bed at the thought of it. But there is nothing else for it. I get dressed, light a fire, put on my jacket, hat, mitts, and the giant pair of snowpants I found in the ladies section at the thrift store. I put some grocery bags in my boots–Canadians will know what I mean by this–and head out into the cold, dark, windy morning.
I suspect that the air vent for the furnace is filled with snow and it can’t get enough oxygen to ignite. Now that I am outside, that’s what I hope the problem is, because it means we don’t need a repair person. I suspect that have to dig out the air vent so my furnace can breathe, so my family can be warm.
For those who are starting to do some calculations, no, I’m not going to the roof on a day like this. We have a side-vented furnace that is 36″ off the ground. I know in my head that besides being freezing cold, it has to be quite a storm that packed a (hot) vent with snow more than 3 feet off the ground. Because the entire west side of the house is painted with sticky snow, I couldn’t check the vent before going out in the storm. Windows are boarded up by winter, even on the top floor. I have to go outside.
Walking to the side of the house was tough. At one point the drifting snow was up to my right nipple. That’s about 45″ (what we technically call “nipple height” in Canada, the way we measure horses by hands and wood by cord). As I suspected, the snow was packed in against the vent. Not fluffy, white, Valentines romantic snow, but a sticky, thick, abomination of winter jammed against the side of my house like a sand dune.
15 minutes later I’m back inside, setting the wet clothes by the fire–and feeling blessed for having a fire. Today is a research day. After a couple of hours of marking, I will dig into the books that are easy to neglect in the middle of the semester. Nicolas is doing his heritage fair project, digging into the villains in our family tree. And Kerry will do whatever it is teachers who teach kids to read for the first time do. I think it is a kind of magic, or interplanetary technology, or a miracle or something.
None of this adventure my son will know, except by story. He will tumble out of bed in an hour or two, wrap himself in a blanket, and stand in front of the woodstove, allowing the heat to warm his body through the glass of the stove. He will trust that the fire is lit and the furnace worked and that he can simply log on to his hand-me-down laptop and get to work.
It is intriguing how we echo our parents, despite the radical shifts of our urban, technological generation. I am no longer on the family farm, but I want the house warm for my family. And researchers find themselves at work on a snow day in the way that farmers never get a chance to be snowed in.
I hope, wherever you might be in the world, that you have a great snow day–even if it is an honourary one. Check your side vents and compressors to make sure you’re safe and warm. Check in on your little ones as they sleep, remembering the stories of those that have gone before and the stories that are growing right in front of you. And, if you can at all pull it off, dig into a book that’s easy to set aside when life is too busy. This is what a snow day is for.
Enjoyed this post vicariously. We have had too few snow days here in Michigan, and honorary ones are just not the same. That last paragraph reminded me of Auden’s “Thank You, Fog.”
Thank you, Brenton.
Thanks Shayne, I’ll have to look up the poem before my snow day ends.
Yes, I’ll have an honorary snow day! We haven’t had any cancellations due to snow this year in Indiana. Ah, love those stay at home all nice and snug and warm snow days! Enjoy!
Enjoy the honorary snow day!
Snow? What’s that? I’m in Texas. (Actually, we do occasionally have snow in this upper half of Texas–and even more in the “Panhandle,” which is even more “upper”–but less frequently it appears as the global warming continues. And of course we don’t get anything as deep as you describe.) I remember a few “ice days” from my childhood in upper Oklahoma.
Not a lot in Texas? That’s okay, we’ve got very few desert scenes here. Even our prairie deserts have grass, of a sort.
When I was little and we lived in Montana, our house had an oil-burning furnace, and I used to stand on top of its metal grate in our dining room in the morning while I got dressed for school. My mom kept the thermostat at 40ºF, which was not quite warm enough to keep ice from forming on the inside of the window panes; she spent a lot of time during the day changing folded-up towels on the window sills to catch the moisture as the ice melted. But I don’t recall getting a snow day until the thermometer hit -40ºF (my snow days were colder than your snow days – so there!). The local paper sent a photographer to my school the day we were dismissed due to the temperature, and somewhere I have the newspaper photo of several of us in first grade gathered on the porch of the school building as we were leaving at noon, with only our eyes visible below various types of knit hats and above mufflers wrapped around our mouths and noses.
Now I live in a place (the western part of northern California) where we get an occasional rain day, which happened last month – we actually got 2 rain days in a row, as nearby roads were in danger of flooding and school buses couldn’t navigate them. House was warm enough, but it rained hard enough that water seeped through underneath the door in our den and one area of the carpet grew mushrooms 😦
Wow, 40F is super cold! It got down that much in our home, but during the day the sunlight windows and wood furnace brought it up.
I lived in Lethbridge, AB, just north of MOntana. We got the kind of cold you are talking about (maybe even colder, though we got chinooks a couple of times a winter). We never, ever had school cancel because of cold, but it was in the -30s for a week in 1998, and once more maybe in 2000.
We’ve never had rain days, but we’ve had water woes.
Nothing like a snow day to make you feel cozy…if the furnace works! Glad yours was a relatively easy fix! Last winter during one of our -30 snaps our furnace died and it took a few days for the right part to come in. I’ve never appreciated how much wood you need to keep a fire going before! Hope you get dug out soon…
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I actually have to order another cord.
Ah. This would make a great essay. It starts off unexpectedly and takes the reader on a journey. Great tribute to your dad, but also to your own role as father.
And geez… Winter in Canada is brutal!
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Actually, it’s not that bad. There are just moments of terror interspersed between long times of beauty.
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Isn’t that a lead-up in the definition to sublime?
I suppose it is!
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I enjoyed this! It reminded me of the winter I lived in the Annapolis Valley, and we were treated to the joy of “White Juan,” the blizzard that sent the province of Nova Scotia into a state of emergency for the next two or three days. Now I’m back on the balmy West Coast, where we complain when it gets down to single digit temperatures!
Right on! Yes, that was a storm of storms. Legendary even for a stormy area.
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