Winter memories rewarded with cup of hot chocolate

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 17, 2007

Last week’s column on memorable sounds of winter drew some equally memorable responses.

Calgary coffee companion Jeff Perkins lamented that “those of us with hearing impairment will never again be able to ‘hear’ silence. The snowflakes may fall silently, but it is against a background of tinnitus hisses.”

Longtime Cochrane coffee companion Liz Giles remembers a winter evening when she was just 12 years old. She was walking home from Pioneer Girls in Northern Ontario. Ice crystals sparkled in the air, and the stars were so vivid “you could almost pluck them out of the sky,” she said. And there was this sound that caused her to keep looking over her shoulder, thinking someone – or something – might be following her. A wolf, perhaps? But no, it was just the echo of crunching snow beneath her feet.

Speaking of winters in Ontario, Kathleen Adamson wrote:

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE memories was of the old (1850s) pioneer home we lived in "snapping" in the cold. It was the wood contracting!

Sometimes, when the winter moon was a frozen dime in a navy sky and the stars were icy diamonds, and you wiggled deep into foot-thick blankets and quilts, you might be lucky enough to hear the lynxes in the cedars by the river yowling their scratchy songs. We called it "the lynxes' lullaby." In the morning on powder snow, you saw their fluffy footprints near the trees, but never a glimpse of the soft-footed, shy little puddies.

Down by the river, with its roaring cataract, you could hear the ice grinding as it pushed its way in big chunks downstream, and back at the house, the screams of the blue jays demanding their morning sunflower seeds be served up posthaste! So glad I grew up in 1950s mid-Ontario bush!

—Kathleen Adamson, Schomberg, Ont.

ANGUS McNEE, formerly of Ghost Lake Village and now residing in Westbank, B.C., wrote, asking that we not forget “twortling.” Twortling is a sound my wife Mary Anna noted once in her diary and which I referred to in this column six years ago. Let me share once more Mary Anna’s record of that Ghost Lake experience:

TWORTLE, TWORTLE, TWORTLE. We heard the strange sound distinctly as we walked toward the calm lake this late fall afternoon. It was one of those rare times when the wind was not blowing. We decided to savour the stillness and see how much ice had formed inside the lagoon and whether there was any ice on the rest of the lake.

Twortle, twortle, twortle – the sound continued as we drew closer. What kind of creature is making that noise, we wondered. Lately we had seen mud hens floating in groups in open water. But we'd never heard them make a sound like this. Nor was this the sound of geese.

What could it be? Looking around, we came upon our neighbour Angus McNee and a friend standing on the rocky shore of the lagoon, skipping large stones across the fresh, smooth, snow-free ice – twortle, twortle, twortle.

"Come and listen to the sound these rocks make on the ice," Angus called. "They make this sound only at this time of year. The ice is still thin enough to vibrate with the bouncing of the rocks, but thick enough to hold them."

We listened in fascination to the reverberations as the two continued to skip their stones, and soon found ourselves joining in.

"I call it 'twortling,'" Angus told us, "because you can hear the ice twortle as the rocks skip across it.”

I’LL WRAP UP with winter recollections from coffee companion Jeanne Hammer:

I REMEMBER WALKING home two miles from my girl friend's place in the country, the crunching sound under my feet, the lights from the houses set back in country lanes, the smoke going straight up from the chimneys, and what seemed like a million stars in the sky. I, too, remember the giant icicles. So beautiful, so cold! The best part was knowing that when I arrived home there would be hot chocolate waiting for me, and that made it all worth while.

—Jeanne Hammer, Calgary

HOT CHOCOLATE or piping-hot coffee; either way, you good folks make this column all worth while. Thanks for the warm memories.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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