Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Melting Ice and Spring Fever


The days grew longer and warmer as May flew by
in the spring of 1961 in Lansdowne House.
We watched the ice and waited impatiently for it to melt.
Everyone hoped that break-up would be short,
but it dragged on and on.

We hungered for every scrap of news that came about the weather
via short wave radio, our community's only link to the Outside;
and a favorite topic of gossip among the adults
was the state of the ice in the more southern villages.

Every morning my brother and I would wake up and run to the front window,
and every morning we would see the ice stretching unbroken
to the nearby islands in Lake Attawapiskat.

Every afternoon we would get home from school
and dash down the hill to our waterhole with our buckets.
Roy or I would test the thinning ice by  jabbing it
with the end of the long handle of our ice pick,
then inch onto the ice making sure it would still support us.


The Path to Our Waterhole
Painting by Don MacBeath
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Winter 1960-61
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






Chopping Out a Water Hole
Flickr:  Thirteen of Clubs   License  





Near the end of April we still had to chop away any ice
that had covered the waterhole overnight,
but soon only a skim of ice formed during the dark hours,
and then none.
The sheet of ice spanning the lake
became grayer and splotchier as it rotted.

We'd dunk our buckets into the waterhole,
fill them to the brim, and then lug them up the hill to our house. 
Negotiating the steep hill became trickier and trickier
as the snow disappeared and our path became slick with mud.

We struggled to keep our balance on the slippery path, 
because the more water that slopped out of our buckets,
the more trips we would have to make to fill that water barrel in the kitchen.
Sometimes our feet slid out from under us, 
and we drenched ourselves with icy lake water.

It was always a competition between Roy and me.
Who chopped open the waterhole best?
Who climbed the hill fastest?
Who got to the house with the most water?
Who had the biggest muscles from hauling water?
Boy oh boy we had fun!


Early Rivals, Fast Friends
Breckenridge, Colorado, USA
Photo by Susan MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved




Then a May day came when we couldn't reach the waterhole.
The ice had retreated about ten feet from the shoreline,
and our waterhole had vanished.
We had to wade out and fill our buckets in the shallow water
as best as we could.
That's when the cheesecloth covering the water barrel
in our kitchen proved its worth by catching debris in the water. 

Once the ice was no longer land-fast, it could shift with the wind.
We'd hear a boom and know a big crack or lead had opened in the moving ice.
The wind would push open a narrow passageway along the shore,
change direction, and pile the groaning, grinding ice against the land.

Farther south wide stretches of water opened on lakes,
and some lakes lost their ice cover all together.
When would our ice go was on everyone's mind.


Rotting Lake Ice


One lazy Saturday, likely the last before the ice went out,
I was walking in a thicket of woods near the Hudson's Bay post.
A tree with low branches by the shore beckoned.
I climbed up into the tree and lounged in the warmth of the sun,
watching chunks of ice drift by in some open water near the shore.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, loud music obliterated
the subtle sounds of slipping water and melting ice.
Startled, I looked across to the Father's Island.
"I love to go a-wandering, along the mountain track,"
blared from Father Ouimet's home in the Roman Catholic Mission.

To say I was surprised is an understatement.
Who knew Father Ouimet had a record player,
let alone one that played that loud?
I rested my head against the tree trunk and listened to 
"Val-de-rie, val-de-ra, val-de-rie, 
val-der-ra-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha ..." 
booming across the ice and water.

Whenever I hear The Happy Wanderer,
I'm in that tree watching the ice glide by on the dark water.
I guess even priests get spring fever.


Frank Weir and His Saxophone, Chorus and Orchestra 
The Happy Wanderer (1954)





Father Ouimet with My Father and Brother Bernier
Roman Catholic Mission Kitchen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.













For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario




Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited


26 comments:

  1. Greetings Louise. A well-written piece that I enjoyed reading. The ice certainly created struggles for everyone living there. I'm surprised it's still there in the month of May, as it's usually quite sunny here in the UK during Spring (and I think sometimes we have more sun in Spring than Summer!). I had a similar rivalry with my brother, who is a year older. It does get muddy when the snow melts, and you certainly had your struggles carrying pales of water up-hill! I enjoyed the 'wanderer', glad you have fond memories! Blessings to you.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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    1. Blessing back at you, Andrew! I'm glad that you enjoyed my post. The science of lake ice is complex, and it was difficult to predict when the ice would clear from the northern lakes back then.
      Today the land-fast period of the winter ice has shortened because of climate change, and the lakes of the North are facing rapid changes that are already impacting their biological, chemical, and physical attributes. The way of life I knew in there is gone, and the environment I experienced is changing profoundly. My memories of my family's time in Lansdowne House grow fonder as I get older ~ That's one blessing that comes with increasing age! Have a great day, my friend!

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  2. haha nothing wrong with making things a competition, can be more fun that way. A face full of mud and covered in cold water may not be fun though. Imagine one had to be super careful. Sometimes winter drags on too long for even the most godly of people I guess.

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    1. Hey, Pat! Competition with my brother is still great fun, but now we compete mostly in card games which can be brutal ~ LOL! We did have to be super careful, and I'm surprised that our parents had us carrying water unsupervised; but, they were super busy and were relieved that we could help with a time-consuming and demanding chore. All the best to you, my friend!

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  3. Here you could have heard music all winter long!
    I bet ice colliding is really loud.

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    1. Hi, Alex! I'm sure Father Ouimet enjoyed music during quiet moments, but that was the one time I heard it, and it was happy and loud! Prior to meeting Father Ouimet, I had known only fervent, dour Baptist ministers whom, as a young girl, I regarded with awe. Through him I realized that "men of God" were ordinary people even if they had a more direct pipeline to God than I. And yes, colliding ice is really loud! One thing that struck me in the North and in Newfoundland was the richness of vocabulary for snow and ice ~ so many words describing so many varieties. I miss the lake and sea ice because they were beautiful, alien, and audible. Have a great day, my friend!

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  4. just reading that made me cold

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    1. LOL ~ And thanks for the great feedback! You and Daisy have a good one, my friend!

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  5. I remember in the old days if ice jammed up on rivers in Manitoba, the problem would be solved simply by throwing a stick of dynamite out in the middle of the jam. But nowadays, they have to use all this fancy-schmancy, expensive ice-breaking equipment . . . .

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    1. LOL ~ Sometimes I miss the excitement of those days! I worked one summer on the barrens of the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland. One of the great opportunities that summer delivered was working with dynamite. It was thrilling to pick it up from the mine, drive it out to a prospect, drill holes along a surveyed line, cap the dynamite sticks and stuff them in the holes, run the fuses to a blasting machine, and KaBoom! You wouldn't catch me doing it now, but it was fun and adventurous then! All the best to you and your Rare One, Debra!

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  6. Hi Louise! I LOVE this post!! I love how your write, it was such a fun story! The photo of you and your brother is wonderful, you both look so happy! :) And I laughed out loud at Father Ouimet's music, and I sang along "Val-er-ra ha ha ha ha ha"... :)

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    1. Thanks, Rain! You made my day! I'm so glad that you enjoyed my post. "The Happy Wanderer" always lifts my spirits, and it will forever be associated with that day and Father Ouimet for me. Have a great day!

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  7. this brings back a memory of when a friend and I walked to primary school, about 1.5 miles on a rough metal road, and when it was winter and there was ice on the very shallow puddles, we tried to see which one could carry a sliver of ice the furthest. This was NZ, no snow ever where we lived then, a Latitude about 37 S. I am sure in Lansdowne House the weather, the break up, the freeze were such an important part of everyone's life.A wonderful photo of you together. I still always wonder how did your Mum ever get the washing dry?

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    1. Your memory made me smile, Jean! Kids are kids everywhere, and they will play and challenge each other with whatever their environment provides. I love children, and their creativity and ways of thinking and playing was a constant source of joy and fascination for me. Wishing you and Hugh a fun weekend together!

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  8. Hello Louise. Your stories always draw me into them. You have a knack of creating pictures/drawings/images with your chosen words.
    This time up north has certainly impressed you in the best of ways.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. Thanks, Jim! I've often thought of writing as painting with words, so your comment was encouraging and appreciated! Wishing you and Ron a great weekend!

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  9. It sounds like you were able to find fun in doing chores. I imagine gathering water from a hole and hauling it back to the house may have actually been hard work. I think your life adventures have made you a stronger person with deep insight.

    Always, fun to get a glimpse into your life.

    Thank you for sharing! Music can be found in the most unexpected places.

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    1. Hi, Truedessa! Yes, hauling water was hard work, but it felt like an adventure to us. I'm sure that music has been with humankind since its beginning. Where would we be without it? Have a great weekend!

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  10. Again what a great post. I love the picture of you and your brother. It must have been hard to carry that water everyday but I know you never complained. Where I live we look forward to the ice freezing on Lake Erie because it means we won’t get Lake effect snow in my town in western Pennsylvania. My husband loves The Happy Wanderer and sings along anytime he hears it. That is an old song from his past.

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    1. Thanks, Peggy! I love that photo of Roy and me too. I always feel sympathy for the areas around the Great Lakes when I hear the words "lake effect snow." That usually signals a big dump. I think I must have heard "The Happy Wanderer" a lot on the radio in Charlottetown when I was a little girl, because it was a familiar song that I knew every word of when I heard Father Ouimet playing it that day in Lansdowne House. It always lifts my spirits, even now. I hope the new year has gotten off to a good start for you, Don, and your loved ones. Sending you big hugs!

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  11. Holy, what an experience!!! The things you talk about my friend, I can't even imagine!! I so love reading your posts!! Big Hugs!

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    1. Big hugs, Stacy, right back at you! I know some of the things I have experienced are out there, but I'm so glad I had the chance to do them. Wishing you a happy start to your week!

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  12. Such an adventure! It sounds somewhat terrifying too--as a mother. I just can't imagine how your mother must have stressed about your safety every time you went for water. Yikes!

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    1. Hi, Crystal! I don't know how my mother did it. She had great faith in us, and she was the rock in our family. She is the most amazing woman I have ever known. I am in awe of all mothers; they contribute so much to our world. I hope that you new year has gotten off to a great start!

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  13. it is such a lovely feeling to read your stories again .
    i think the ice out there was scarily thick and dangerous
    but isn't it wonderful that memories belong to that period of time are so beautiful and precious!!!

    what a fun time you both brother and sister had together while looking for water on frozen lakes ,sounds great adventure to me as i never experienced this !

    racing between siblings never end :) they absorb love from each other this way ,each competition and fight has lots and lots of love behind it i bet ,treasure of such shining memories make our inner world still enthralled and cheerful!

    once i slipped on ice while walking to home from school and got my knee little injured as ice was old and slippery so i can imagine how scary it was to keep the balance on slippery ice with water buckets

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  14. I'm glad that you enjoy my stories, Baili. One of the biggest pleasures in my life is sharing these stories of long ago with others. My siblings and I are very close, and we love each other's spouses, children, and extended families. I know families whose members are estranged, and it is so sad. The love of my sisters and brother has been a solid, unshakable foundation in my life. They have always been there for me, no matter what. I am so lucky!!! Maybe my glass is three-quarters full!!! To this day I am wary of walking on ice, especially since I am older and my bones are more brittle. I am grateful that I don't have to haul water up a hill from a frozen lake! Wishing you a lovely day my friend, and I hope the stone polishers are finished or close to finished restoring your floors! I'm keeping you, your hubby, and family in my thoughts and prayers!

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.