Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Northern Living Series:

Kathryn Reid // Cobble Hill, British Columbia

03 / 16 / 17

For our fifth interview with the Northern Living Series we talk to Kathryn Reid, a new home owner who lives in Canada's most temperate location: on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Kathryn and her husband live in a home heated by only a wooden stove and together they explore Canada's western coast with their two playful dogs. Here she shares her experience of living within a "snow belt" on an island known for it's rainforests, and chats about storm watching, the chaos that comes with a snowfall and her short move to the subarctic in February...

Background: My husband Spencer and I were both born and raised in Victoria, Canada's most western city, a 40 minute drive south of where we currently reside, in Cobble Hill, B.C. Having grown up in the southwest corner of Canada, the winters we experience are mostly mild, and that’s part of what keeps us here. 

On The Novelty of Canadian Winters: Over the years I’ve experienced bits and pieces of “real” northern winters. As a child, visiting our favourite blogger in more frigid Canadian locations like Brandon, Manitoba or Calgary. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed some of what Jasper and Kelowna have to offer in the winter, as well as a full winter (September-April) in Saskatoon, where literally every local I met who found out where I was from said, “What the *insert inevitable expletive here* are you doing HERE?”  

All fun to visit, fun to experience. If you don’t know what it’s like to see your breath freeze instantly to your eyelashes, if you haven’t driven in ruts of ice for months on end, if you’ve never skated outside, then you haven’t yet lived! My husband and I even once tried moving to Edmonton in February—we stayed two weeks. I enjoy winter, even the impossibly cold ones, but I’m happy to keep it a novelty.

On A Year-Round Season: The weather here is mostly pretty temperate, as any Canadian knows. We on Vancouver Island notoriously like to alternate between complaining about the cold and complaining about the heat, preferably to friends and family in the east who are living with far more extreme conditions. In the summertime, temperatures can reach up to 30-35 degrees, and that high seems to climb a little each August, making me long for the cool days of fall, when I can enjoy hot drinks and hot baths comfortably yet again (while complaining about the cold? You betcha).  It may well be that, except for the marked changes in temperatures on sunny days as the year progresses, January will blend into April, which could even blend into July, if a couple of the past summers are anything to go by. It got up to 10 degrees in early February, and it can get down to 10 degrees in the late spring/early summer. Raining the whole time! In recent years, the weather seems to be a little more erratic, with some warm days in February and chilly ones in July. 

The changes in seasons here are about right for me though. I enjoy the time we have with the snow, and the time we have 30 degree heat, but I sure don’t want either for too long. I really don’t like sweating at breakfast, nor feeling too chilled to get out of my nice warm bed in the morning!

On Storm Watching: Winter on Vancouver Island mostly means wind warnings every week or so. Storm watching is a big thing here, and the drives to Tofino or Port Renfrew on the western coast of the island to watch the surf crashing against the rocks are totally worth it. Even in the interior of the island, such as it is, the storms get pretty impressive, and it can be scary to live in the forest and watch the trees all around you bending impossibly for long seconds at a time. Hikes in the days that follow each big storm are always grounding, when we see how much damage has been done, and know how lucky we have been (so far!) not to have lost the house or anything else. I know many people now who have at least lost roofs, decks, and vehicles to high winds. We have been fortunate enough to get by with only occasional long periods of power loss, which are a guarantee each year.

On The Chaos of A Snowfall: Here in Cobble Hill, we are in what locals call the “snow belt”;  Mill Bay/Shawnigan Lake/Cobble Hill tend to get more snow than surrounding areas, and it will stick around longer as well. When I say “more snow for longer”, I mean we might get up to 6 or 8 inches! It might stay an entire month! A lot of that time will be from one snowfall that just freezes and sticks around, making everything icy. There will be periods during which it’s warm enough to rain during the day, and cold enough to freeze at night. 

The trouble with not living in obvious winter very often or for very long is, it can be a hassle when it does come around. I find it difficult to remember that we must do things like shovel the driveway, or dust/deice and warm up the cars, before going anywhere. Mostly undamaged cars in snow-filled ditches are all too common as everyone forgets how to deal with the conditions, if they ever have. 

Snow tires are mandatory from October to March on the highway between Victoria and the rest of Vancouver Island, which means folks who live in Victoria and get away with all-season tires at most won’t be making the trip up to visit, at least not without risking fines. Generally, we on Vancouver Island will look outside at the 4-6 inches of snow that’s gathered, and may call a cab or take a sick day, and everyone will understand. 

On Bike Riding: Although I’m not an avid winter sportsperson (I put my bike away when the snow and ice hit the streets and trails), I do love going for hikes in the silence of snow. The property my husband and I just bought backs onto Cobble Hill Mountain, and most days I’ll take the dog and do the 30 minute hike to the top, and linger there, regardless of the weather. I think the view from the summit is especially gorgeous in the snow, as anyone following me on Instagram will have noticed. The non-biking season is short for me, though (and non-existent for many Islanders); I brought my bike back out at the end of January.

On A Season For Keeping Cosy: With such brief cold weather comes not only appreciation for the beautiful scenery and that special quiet that comes with snow, but also the excuse to just stay inside and not do too much of anything some days.  This winter I worked through the one container of hot chocolate I seem to cave in and buy each year, and the original Twilight Zone series, which is just fantastic. 

Now that we own a kitchen with a more reasonable amount of counter space, I’ve also been baking more than usual, trying to find the right balance of “vaguely healthy” and “things my husband will actually eat”. Carbohydrates are some of my best friends and winter is my favourite excuse to indulge, PLUS the oven helps warm the house, as we refuse to heat with anything but the wood stove. Since moving up island, the Turkey Dinner Poutine from The Village Chippery in Shawnigan Lake is something we wait patiently for at Thanksgivng and Christmas.  This year, we adopted a little ball of fluff we’ve named Mad Max, mostly to help the other pets keep me warm when it’s cold and wet out there, so I have even more wintertime cuddles to look forward to in the years ahead.

On Staying Dry: As in other northern climates, it’s all about layers out here, especially if they might get wet in a downpour! Anyone from the west coast will be quick to tell their central/eastern Canadian friends, “…but it’s a damp cold”, and it’s true. I might not wear three pairs of pants every time I leave the house in winter, like we did in Edmonton, but I’ll often be wearing two, and if that breeze picks up even a little, it can be felt right to the bone (yes, even though it’s only -5ºC). Rain boots have become increasingly popular in the past few years, as some companies have begun putting actual designs on them, and have been making them more comfortable to wear. Gone are the days of brown-soled black rubber boots from Canadian Tire for everyone. The Cowichan Sweater  is another Vancouver Island staple. The originals are hand-carded, spun, and knit; they are extremely lightweight, warm, and most importantly, water-resistant. 

On Maintaining A Sunny Disposition: The days are finally getting noticeably longer, and that is something I always look forward to. Depending on my work schedule, there can be days on end in the dead of winter during which I’m just not home in the daytime and don’t get outside to see any sunshine that might be peeking out. When then sun rises after 8am (if it appears at all) and sets around 4pm, increased melancholy will ensue, but I’m getting better at recognizing when and why my more negative wintertime moods occur, and make a particular effort to get some rays on my face, should the clouds part!

On Loving A Temperate Climate: This year’s little winter was over for us in early February. It was in fact relatively significant! There were portions of lakes and ponds on which people were skating, something I haven’t experienced out west since the 90’s. Now the rain has begun again and the spring is herein full force.

Ultimately, although I relish the lengthening days and hesitate to do outside chores when the west coast windstorms begin and the temperatures dip—our dog poop situation got a little out of hand in January—true winter is something I have, if anything, sought out over the years. I don’t LOVE the cold in my bones, but hot chocolate; tea and coffee that doesn’t have to be iced; sweatpants all the time; long, hot baths; puppy cuddles in front of the fire; and especially the peace and serenity of a snow-covered forest are absolutely worth it. Winters here on Vancouver Island aren’t too crazy and because of that, I look forward to whatever we get.

Thank-you so much Kathryn! You can see more of her gorgeous island photographs (and her sweet pups) on her Instagram feed. 

P.S. The Northern Living Series: Canada's True North and Winter-peg, Mani-snow-ba

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