We spent time near Christmas at a family farm near Esterhazy in Saskatchewan. Regular readers will know that I enjoy photographing this part of the world. On December 23rd, as the clock marched toward four in the afternoon and the December sun (at 50°39'12"N) neared the distant flat horizon, I resolved on a photo-walk. It was around -30°C with a mild but painful breeze in the fast-changing light; one of the most intense experiences in my 2008. Herewith eight pictures, mostly of snow.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

I was wearing: Ordinary underpants, an ordinary T-shirt from a trade show with a high-tech logo, thin ordinary socks inside and outstanding merino-wool socks from Three Vets outside, over them a tough pair of Zamberlan walking shoes that look deceivingly like sneakers, black jeans from Cowtown, a really warm sweater, a thick fuzzy wool toque that Lauren knitted, a down-filled parka that I inherited from my father, and as for my hands, that’s next.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

I wanted to take pictures so my hands had to be usable without freezing too fast. I had loose ratty old leather-palm-canvas-back workgloves, and then Lauren bought a nice modern slinky fleece pair that fit right under them. With that combination I could carry the camera and operate the controls enough to get by.

Examining these photos’ metadata will reveal they span a period of only about twenty minutes, but you have to more than double that to get away from the buildings into the fields, and then back. My hands were screaming for mercy when I came in, and the grip on the camera was clawlike not delicate, but still, the glove combo did the job, and I’m thankful.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

The prairies, well, they’re big. So all of these photos are the result of pointing my nice Pentax 21mm “Limited” wide-angle here and there. Yes, the colours and contrasts have been enhanced a bit, but—I claim photointegrity—only to look more like what I remember seeing. Yes, the shades shifted every three minutes and every direction you looked.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

English just doesn’t have words to describe cold of that intensity. I was appropriately dressed but am still a mild-climate West Coast Wimp, and the cold hurt me wherever it touched me; and it tried really hard to find chinks in my clothing’s armor to penetrate and hurt.

There are colder place in the world, but very few where people choose to live. Which is understandable but a pity, the cold comes with clear air and this sort of beautiful afternoon.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

There aren’t many “family” farms now, the countryside is emptying out as the quarter-sections (that means 160 acres) consolidate by dozens and hundreds, and the people who operate the resulting vastnesses want to live in town, as people mostly do. In the city or near it, every step takes you as much toward others as away from them. Not here; each step is a step away and will have to be echoed by a step homeward unless you want to sample the (not unpleasant, they say) flavor of death by hypothermia.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

On this walk, part of my mind was thinking about interesting pictures. The rest was worrying about whether I should terminate the photowalk and head for the farmhouse. Because, after a half-hour’s hard trudge for healthy legs over the broken frozen fields, if you trip over a frozen cow-turd and unfortunately break an ankle, well, you might have just given your life for art.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

A tiny part of my mind was saying, back in a remote corner of the skull, “hop another fence, keep chasing that horizon” and I couldn’t be sure whether that mental faction was about really great photos or just next-exit nihilism. The voice didn’t really have a chance to convince me, but it it was interesting to hear. If I weren’t generally both lucky and thick-skinned I imagine it might be louder.

December-2008 Saskatchewan snowscape

I’ll close with a quotation from Little, Big by John Crowley which on alternate Thursdays I think the finest novel ever written in English. The quote comes with a title: Brother North-Wind’s Secret. And the secret is: “If Winter comes, Spring can’t be far behind.”

And I can report first-hand that right now in the mild Pacific Northwest, in the first days of February, there are green shoots to be seen in the corners of our garden, promising small glories of violet and gold before too much longer.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Alex Ball (Feb 06 2009, at 08:51)

Didn't anyone ever teach you to wear mittens???

Thin wool liner gloves + mittens == warm(er) hands.


From: Stan Dyck (Feb 06 2009, at 09:00)

Thanks for the pictures. My Dad grew up in the same area, in a farm outside Rosthern, SK. I was talking to him recently about it. His family lived in a small, uninsulated(!!) farm house. I (a fellow West Coast wimp) can't begin to imagine how difficult the winters would be under those conditions.


From: Derek K. Miller (Feb 06 2009, at 09:12)

Here in Burnaby, even though we still have ankle-deep snow in our front yard (it hasn't snowed substantially in a month -- but our house shades the yard, and we had a LOT of snow), this morning we were startled by a woodpecker banging away on our kitchen's metal stove vent pipe. Maybe the same guy as last year, who didn't show up until late March:


It has been as warm as 10°C these past couple of days, and some of that feel of spring is in the air. On the other hand, in previous years we've had blizzards mid-February, so we'll see.

I'm not sure if I count as Canadian enough, by the way. I've never been in anything colder than minus-20.


From: Dave Pawson (Feb 06 2009, at 09:29)

Nice pictures Tim. Yorkshire moors aren't quite as big, or as cold; but the sense of what you captured there reminds me of home. Bit desolate, bit beautiful, well worth staring at.


From: Tony Fisk (Feb 06 2009, at 16:30)

On a day when the temperature is expected to top 44 degrees*, these look blissful.



From: Rudi Gens (Feb 08 2009, at 00:58)

Living in Fairbanks, Alaska, I have an idea about the temperatures you are talking about, at times actually colder than that. Our advantage is the usually non-existing wind chill. Makes all the difference in the world. Especially in nice, clear nights when you want to take pictures of the aurora.

In case you want to rescue your hands from the cold while still admiring nature: hand warmers. Their are air activated and you just stick them into your gloves. And of you go for another photo session. You should be able to find them in any outdoor store. Should be part of any survival gear in winter.


From: Rob (Feb 08 2009, at 12:26)

You want breathtakingly beautiful prairie winter pix?


He comes up with pictures like this:


and this



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February 06, 2009
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