Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Tails From Life

Forty Below

Forty below is the same, whether Celsius or Fahrenheit. It’s cold, snow crunching underfoot, trees snapping inside, sniffling, frosty eyelashes sort of cold. Allowances are made for freezing weather and we Canadians, at least most of us, prepare and adapt to it. It’s not like it’s a new or surprising event. After all, winter comes every year, and tends to hang around for about five months or so, with varying degrees of chilly. Winter of twenty-eighteen started out rather beautifully, with above normal temperatures and very little snow, at least here on the prairies where I live.
With the forecast warning of temperatures in the minus forties Celsius, we thought it would be wise, to blanket our big guy, Levis the Belgian. He’s a funny sort of horse, as he doesn’t appreciate donning his winter blanket. Being at least twice as big as any of the other horses, and with a bit of age on him, we figure he needs a bit of help on the extra cold days. After all, at twice the size, he cools off twice as fast, and takes twice the fuel to keep his body warm. A blanket, quite simply helps. Try telling him that, though. The horse is simply contrary to the whole idea. We’ve tried to explain the logistics of the whole idea to him, yet he still doesn’t care. He just dislikes the blanket.
Whether he likes the blanket or not, it still goes on, when needed. Sweetpea and I gathered his blanket, a brush and a lead rope. She had to deviate from the path, while I went ahead to move the big horse behind the shelter and out of the wind. Hiding the carrots I held in mittened hands under the bulk of blanket, I entered the pen then purposefully made my way to the tall shelter. It’s so much easier on bare fingers to be out of the wind. Surprisingly enough, Levis followed his pen-mates as they followed me with typical insatiable Morgan curiosity. Hmm, things were going very well indeed. Though he surely knew I was carrying a blanket, Levis wasn’t avoiding me. This was a good thing. I gave him his carrot, threw the lead over his neck and began to brush. As if suddenly realizing what I was up to, he was suddenly opposed to the whole idea. Raising his big head, he made as if he was about to leave, lead rope or not. It took a few, repeated warnings to get him to stand to be brushed, but when I reached for the blanket I’d hung on a post but was now on the ground because of nosy Morgans, Levis decided that was enough. He was leaving. Thank goodness the girlchild joined me, laughing as I fumbled in the cold. Out of the wind or not, cold fingers don’t work very well, and buckles need bare fingers. With her help, we had the disgruntled, big fella blanketed in two shakes of a dog’s tail, well … maybe three. The other horses weren’t in need of blankets, but they did want their carrots. Carrots rate very highly in the scheme of things. I suppose like we humans, they’re used to the cold weather. As long as they’re prepared for it and have lots of good feed, they do just fine.
Walking back to the house after finishing up, I had to smile as I thought about all the people who’ve never experienced real cold or winter. Sure, one must be prepared to deal with it, yet there’s so much fun to be had when it’s cold out. There are so many things we can do in the winter that many people, never get to experience. There’s tobogganing, skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, snowball fights and making igloos, as well as snowmobiling and ice fishing … so much fun to be had. Still, there’s the hauling of water to the horses, biting wind that freezes exposed skin in mere minutes and a few other little problems, but they’re not impossible.
I used to haul snow at night. It’s a different sort of thing, hauling snow. You’re travelling the city streets when all manner of people are out and about, and you see and experience all sorts of interesting things as well. There are so many stories to tell, yet this time, I’m going to tell someone else’s. Sweetpea and her beau like to go ice fishing, something I won’t do. The idea of driving onto the ice, drilling a hole in it then sitting around for hours upon hours hoping a fish will bite, isn’t my idea of a good time. Still, hundreds upon hundreds of people love to do so. More than anything, it’s the fact that I would be suspended above deep, freezing cold water on however many inches of ice that bothers me the most. I’ve never been keen on crossing ice, and I can’t see that changing.
When we truckers who hauled gravel were between loads, we’d sit in the scale shack, waiting our turn to go out again. On slow days, the stories would begin, and I loved the tales the guys would tell. I’m going to share a couple of winter ice ones just to impress upon everyone how unpredictable ice can be. John, a trucker we know, was hauling on the winter roads. He was crossing a lake to the usual accompanying cracks or sound that seemed to echo everywhere. This wasn’t his first time doing an ice crossing, but for some reason, he had the oddest sense that things weren’t going to go well. Because of this, he drove with the driver’s door open, just in case. Just in case he had to jump for it. Funnily enough, his premonition came true, as the truck suddenly broke through, and he had to jump for it. He walked back the way he’d come until picked up by another truck, and his truck remained frozen in the ice for a good, long time.
Another story is about Cash. He was a big man. We called him Cash, because his name was hard to pronounce. Besides, he liked Cash. He was the sort of man, you wouldn’t mess with, but who would be there in a pinch if you needed him. He treated everyone with honesty and integrity, and expected the same back. I can still vividly picture him telling his ice story, in that European accent of his. The expressions on his face changing with every dramatic turn. This is his story.
Cash was working up in northern Manitoba, building ice roads. This is a risky job to say the least. Imagine heavy construction equipment clearing snow from rivers and lakes as they prepared a road for the trucks that needed to haul freight to northern communities. Cash was operating a bulldozer. It didn’t have a cab, but the operator’s area was surrounded with heavy canvas to keep the heat in. It wasn’t as nice as a cab, but in a way, it was safer if bailing became necessary. Anyway, Cash was waiting for the foreman to tell him if it was safe to head out. His machine was running, and he was ready to get to work. All he needed to know was whether or not the engineers had deemed the ice thick enough to support his heavy dozer. The foreman gave the ‘good to go’, and Cash got going. He hadn’t gone more than a half hour down the frozen river, when he felt the machine breaking through. He didn’t have time to think or plan, he had to react and act. Now, picture this, a three hundred pound, giant of a man, leaping over the controls onto the hood of the dozer then running as nimbly as a ballerina along its length, to leap from the rapidly sinking, still running machine, down onto the ice. To hear him describe it was so funny, it was hard to focus and listen to the rest of the story, and more story, there definitely was. Picture the big man in his winter coveralls and big boots, running and jumping onto the ice then running some more. He wasn’t running because the ice might break under him. He was running after the pickup truck that was reversing back down the river, just as fast as it could. In that pickup truck was the foreman who had said the ice was thick enough. As it turned out, the foreman hadn’t waited for the engineer’s okay. He’d sent Cash out, without knowing it was safe first. That foreman was reversing for his life. Cash was as angry as a grizzly bear that had been abruptly woken from hibernation. I don’t think, I’ll ever forget the visual that man put in the heads of everyone listening. Cold is cold, but when it comes to ice, cold has to equal thick.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB