Churchill 2011

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(“Clergy Supply” in Churchill, Manitoba — Part Four)

Walking into the wind

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Whoof!  The wind almost knocks me down as I round the corner of the house.  I knew it was blowing when I chose to go out onto the tundra for my routine walk, but this much?  My boot slips on some ice; I struggle to keep upright.

Environment Canada says “...winds gusting to 61km/h,” but this is no gust.  It is a constant, unrelenting maximum force gale blowing right in my face.  I lean into it, and once more almost lose my footing on the ice.  So I stop on the edge of a small snowdrift (less chance of a slip), and pulling some ice-grips from my pocket, kneel and strap one to each boot, tightening it as securely as I can.

Once more upright, I point myself at the wind and step forward again.  That’s better.  No slipping now.  The steel points of the grips make a crunching sound with each footstep.  Crunch... crunch... crunch... clingg! (steel hitting gravel)... crunch...  steadily moving forward now... need to pull my parka hood up more tightly (the hood creates a small tunnel around my face which cuts some of the force of the wind).  Crunch... crunch... trying to move my body forward into that wind is hard work... each stretch of the leg is an effort, like lifting weights.

I squint trying to see far ahead, and to the right, and to the left – watching for polar bears.

But, why am I squinting?  Dang!  I forgot my sunglasses!  Even on a cloudy day in the North there is a glare of ambient light, and sunglasses are essential, always.  And they also help to keep the wind and stinging snow out of the eyes.

No point in turning back now, though.  It would be too tempting just to stay in my cosy home and forget about a walk.  And I need the exercise.

Being a temporary priest here in Churchill is a quiet sort of thing.  There is the occasional pastoral call, or Bible study, and of course the weekly church services, but hours can go by with not a lot to do, and I could very easily become a couch potato.  I must have this walk.  And, this one certainly qualifies as exercise!

Crunch... crunch... crunch... cling!... cling!... cling!  Uh-oh.  One of the ice-grips is slipping off my boot.  With the wind roaring over me I bend down to retighten the strap and am nearly blown into a sitting position.  Adjust... wiggle the foot... pull the strap again... stand up... move forward again.

Drifts cover the road now.  But there is a crust on them, where snowmobiles have passed.  And footprints on the crust.  This should hold me... oof!... I broke the surface, dropping down a foot and a half!  Now snow is in my boots.  That other person must have been lighter than me (a bad sign! I’m getting too fat!).  Brush off the snow.  Trudge forward... very carefully.  I find that if I don’t put my weight down, but flow forward in a light-footed quasi-run, I don’t break through the drifts so frequently.

And the wind never stops, never varies, never lets up.  Whooosssshhh...  it’s constant.  Inside my parka I’m hot now, and breathing heavily.

But I make progress.  The town has been left behind.  I decide to go as far as the old radio building 1 before turning back.  I would have liked to have made it all the way out to Cape Merry, but I don’t have the strength.

And I decide that I’ll return via the main road past the grain elevators.  With the thaw that we had recently, I figure the road will be clear of ice.

Around the abandoned building, and down the hill, and, yes!  The main road is clear.  Yesterday’s bright May sunshine and the increasingly long days have completely evaporated the ice from the dark asphalt road surface, and from the gravel shoulders where I now walk.  Off come the ice-grips.

The wind is at my back now, and I’m being propelled along.  I have to push back in order to keep from being forced into a run.  The fabric of my hood cracks like a flag on a car antenna.

The wind chill (I learn later) is -13°C and the ambient air is only -4°C, which is pretty mild compared to what you can have around here.  I am really hot, in fact.  Although I keep my hood up (I don’t want the gale blowing down the back of my neck), I open the front of my parka all the way down.

Then I’m startled by a screeching piping sound over to my left.  I have to move the parka from the side of my face in order to see what it is.  And, lo and behold! a large pond of melted ice has formed in a valley beside the road... and in it are several hundred seagulls.  Seagulls!  But the wind is too strong for them; they all stand in the icewater facing into the wind with their heads scrunched down into their shoulders.  One or two try to fly, and are instantly thrown upwards and far away.

Seagulls are a true sign of spring.  The lady at the trading post yesterday said that “snow buntings” had also been seen.  They’re tiny birds, almost completely white, that travel in large flocks even farther north than Churchill.  I myself have seen them.  They’re viewed around here as the first sign of spring, and on their return journey, a definite harbinger of winter.

After twenty more minutes I’ve been blown back into town.  In the shelter of the larger buildings, I can walk home without wearing either hood or gloves and without doing up my parka.  I’m enjoying this northern spring day.
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ice-grip on boot
a steel ice-grip, strapped to my boot
abandoned building
Building with a history – abandoned


1  “Old Radio Building” is the only name that I knew at the time, for the structure to which I was heading.  After returning to Winnipeg, however, I learned that it had a much more complex history than simply being a former radio station.
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