January thaw

“I’ve thaw thousands and thousands of Januaries, and I’ve never thaw a January without a thaw yet.”

So joked my father almost every year that I could remember during my rural-route growing-up years.

As a matter of fact, while growing up on the farm, I looked forward to the January thaw. The reason being that the swamp area that drained our and the neighbour’s farm would flood with water and immediately freeze over, making it possible to skate the full length of our 50-acre farm, which was the front half of a string hundred that went from side road to side road. 

The frozen ice stayed for quite some time, and the built-up snow in the fields froze solid, making it possible to sleigh ride across the open fields on windy days. It was a simple matter of standing up on the hand-pulled sleigh and holding open your jacket at arms-length, using them as sails.

The farm just north and west of our farm was blessed with two adjoining fields that were flat as a pancake. Draining these two was a small meltwater creek that rambled this way and that, drying up in the summer, overflowing in the winter, and remained frozen solid until spring. These fields were known to the locals, and rightly so, as “the flats.”

When the January thaw came along each winter, these flats flooded and froze. What a blessing! You didn’t even need a sleigh or skates. Rubber boots of any size or shape were sufficient. You simply held open your jacket, and with a few quick steps forward in the direction of a gust of wind, you literally sailed across the ice lickety-split.

When you reached the edge of the frozen surface, there was no way of stopping or slowing down, so you simply rolled up in a ball and went, as my mother phrased it, “a**-over-tea-kettle” to a rolling stop. My mother was at the nail-biting age when she couldn’t understand how any kid of hers, in their right mind, could consider that fun.

On sunny weekends, there would often be several cars parked along the side road, having brought faraway neighbours to join in the fun. Five or six kids, not necessarily from the same family, in unbelievable numbers, would tumble out of each car while the parents socialized as they watched their mixed offspring having barrels of rough and tumble fun, meanwhile silently praying that no one got hurt.

By 4:30 on each of these short winter days, the sun would be forming a beautiful sunset low in the western sky, and you could listen to the almost exhausted children waving their hands while calling goodbye, heading home now to each help with their designated winter day chores.

Often now, as I sit at my window watching out over our backfields, I can’t help but feel sorry for the upcoming generations of children. So many of them are completely deprived of most ways of making their own cost-free fun, while the atmosphere of the overpriced, enclosed arenas have no way of providing the startled feeling of having a jackrabbit or partridge burst out from beneath a clump of dried grass under which it was hiding.

They are so far removed from the ways of Nature that I have fear of the upcoming generations not even knowing the things that Mother Nature provides absolutely free of charge to all of us.

Sad, sad, exceptionally sad – when you think about it.

Take care, ‘cause we care.





Barrie Hopkins