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.