Northern Alberta, Goodfare – another few kilometres up north, and you won’t see any farming settlements anymore. Just a few oil fields and that’s it. As far as production of food goes; you can’t get much higher on the world map. Life is hard, and the winter makes everything just a little more difficult. However, you can live happily in a land where contact with the outside winter world can be sometimes painful – just follow five simple rules:
Rule No.1: Don’t go out!
Canadians living in northern Alberta spend a great chunk of their time in their homes and in their heated workshops. But that is not necessary a bad thing. Craft, DIY, storytelling and social gatherings take a different level up here. It never stopped to amaze me how truly interested these people are in the most simple of our stories. All the artists, musicians, environmental activists, writers and restaurateurs amongst others make this community unique and never boring. I often wondered whether it is the necessity of staying indoors that encourages creativity in Goodfare. While finding a million cool ways how to stay hidden from the freezing temperatures, these people play, invent, and create.
‘Yes, I have bought this church and brought it here ten years ago, now I am thinking to get a school. One day we will have a proper museum, and we are planning to open an environmental college right here’.
Ok, even if you have a church on your land, even if you are completely self-sufficient, and even if you are ‘grid and bill independent’ – i.e. you produce your own energy from your land, your water and your sun (which is often the case up here), still…there must be times you have to go out?!
Rule No.2: If you must go out, just take it easy!
Getting ready for stepping outside can sometimes take all your energy – all the layers, jackets, gloves, hats and then the coverall. With all the gear, I found it sometimes nearly impossible to bend over and put my boots on. At the end of this you always end up looking like you are going to conquer the moon. Well, but now you are standing out there, what’s next?
Walk slowly, don’t get sweaty, and never ever overdress! At -45 degrees physical exhaustion comes without warning, all you feel is this comfortable need to sleep. Do not stand around; keep on walking – to keep your feet warm. Watch your fingers and ears; you won’t feel that they are getting frozen. Don’t touch your freezing eyelashes, you will break them.
Since you don’t want to be there too long, follow the rule No.3!!
Rule No. 3: Keep it simple!
Some tasks are just easier with manpower than getting the tractor started. No matter that the block heater was plugged in the whole night, if you start it, you still got to wait around for the hydraulic oil to get moving again. The water you deliver to the animals will freeze in about 20 minutes; you can’t be late, you don’t want it to freeze whilst in your truck. Mittens, you just can’t work in mittens!!!!! Is your whisky turning into lolly? It’s time to go home. Now, do what is necessary, keep it simple and leave the rest for summer time!
Rule No. 4: Stick together and share!
Yes, you can learn this from animals. They are clever enough to share and maintain warmth with others. Perhaps it’s just a survival instinct that gets stronger than their need for autonomy, but you can be sure that if you find all the pigs in one house in the morning, it was a cold night. Cats, mice and dogs have decided to follow rule one.
Similar attitude applies to people; there is no other way than being friends with your neighbour. In this frozen land, no matter how much you try, you won’t survive alone. Hence, do stop to people that have broken down on the road, with no gas and no long johns, you won’t last an hour waiting for a tow truck.
Rule No.5: Enjoy yourself!
The North is a big playground. You will see and do great stuff. You don’t have to be lucky up here to be woken up by howling coyotes or by a woodpecker knocking on your window. Lynx, moose, deer, owls or bears are amongst other non-people entertainment that will keep you interested. Constantly changing colours of the sky and snow will make this place look different every day. We had a blue day, then we had this red day and when the sun is blindingly strong, you get the ‘white’ day. And when you think you are going crazy, hearing the sound of wind chimes, turn around and look at the donkey – the turkey guardian – there are icicles hanging off him, jittering in the wind. You can be sure that your brain is enjoying this massive northern tickle that is setting your imagination looser than ever.
Ok, and if you ever get bored, just think for a minute…how do you recognise frozen eggs from the non- frozen ones?