Time to Build a Snowman – Under the Northern Sky

Time to Build a Snowman
Time to Build a Snowman

On a whim, I built a snowman on my front lawn the other day. I was shovelling the driveway during a warm spell when the temperature rose to zero degrees here in northern Ontario. At that temperature, snow turns from a crystalline sandy consistency to a more sticky substance like bread dough. It is cold enough to stay a white mass but damp enough to form into solid shapes that can stick to itself. It was perfect snowman making material and the kid in me moved into snow creative action.

My partner and I spent some time piling snow, building a big round ball as best we could, then slowly added to our creation. We gave the snowman some black plastic eyes, an old scouring pad for a red lip mouth, some wooden branches for arms and an old red jerry gasoline can cut in half for a hat. We topped him off with a carrot nose, gave him my work gloves and named him Bartholomew.

Due to the pandemic, I’m spending a lot of my days at home and conduct all my work in front of a computer and the internet. My partner Mike has a lung condition so we have been very quiet for almost a year now. As the number of cases rise every day and too many people seem bent on having a busy shopping and visiting holiday like other years, we are more committed than ever to stay home. We certainly are experiencing cabin fever but we are trying to stay positive and busy at home.  I haven’t been to a restaurant, fast food window service, a coffee shop or any kind of public eatery in almost a year now. At this point, the only visits I make are to grocery stores and I do my best to limit that as much as possible and I wear a mask and gloves when I do.

Many people are experiencing stress and depression after months of this pandemic and I urge everyone to find creative and fun safe ways to stay busy and get through this difficult time. Getting outside and into the fresh air and rediscovering something I enjoyed as a kid was a great diversion. I had forgotten what it was like to be a kid with no excuse to go outside other than to be outside. As we built our snowman, I thought about all the times I played in the cold winter weather as a boy growing up in my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast. Back then, I never thought about the dangers or discomfort of the cold. All I wanted to do was to be out with my siblings and friends in the fresh air and snow.

As young boys, my friends and I would spend entire days in minus ten, 20, 30 and 40 degrees wandering around the community creating ways to keep busy. We seldom built snowmen in the middle of winter because the snow in the extreme cold is like dry sand that does not stick to itself. Instead we spent our time trudging through deep snow drifts, building forts and snow shelters or sliding down the steep banks of the river. We would bring along tiny miniature toboggans we built and pulled with a string to mimic the big sleds our parents used to travel on the land. We did not play that much hockey at the local rink when we were very young because the ice was dominated by older boys.

As we brought Bartholomew the snowman to life on my front lawn, I realized how good it feels to just do something silly and on a whim. Bartholomew reminded me that I don’t need an internet connection to occupy my time. I don’t require another movie to entertain me or spend chunks of time on social media.

We are entering a critical phase in this Covid-19 pandemic and what we do over Christmas and New Years will determine how many of us will get sick and die of this virus. We need to avoid public places and mixing with each other as much as possible until we get this pandemic under control. It doesn’t mean that we have to lock ourselves up in our homes. We can figure out safe ways of staying active and busy outside our homes without having to endanger one another under the shadow of infection and disease. Vaccines are out and will be coming over the next few months. Head out for a walk, put on some music and dance when you can and maybe even let that kid in you come out to build a snowman. Happy holidays to everyone and keep your loved ones safe and well during this time.


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Under The Northern Sky is the title of a popular Aboriginal news column written by First Nation writer, Xavier Kataquapit, who is originally from Attawapiskat Ontario on the James Bay coast. He has been writing the column since 1997 and it is is published regularly in newspapers across Canada. In addition to working as a First Nation columnist, his writing has been featured on various Canadian radio broadcast programs. Xavier writes about his experiences as a First Nation Cree person. He has provided much insight into the James Bay Cree in regards to his people’s culture and traditions. As a Cree writer, his stories tell of the people on the land in the area of Attawapiskat First Nation were he was born and raised.