GETAWAY by Andrea Anthony-Luke        2007

A winter trip to the cottage. Thirty six hours away takes on gargantuan proportions – like preparing to load a pioneer wagon. My family jokes that we must be moving due to the growing pile at the front door. My checklist is crossed off as items are added. Water. A stash of extra socks and mittens. Skates, a shovel and a camera. Marshmallows, hot dogs, bread, jam, eggs, milk and peanuts in the shell. Hats, extra snow pants, neck biters and scarves. Sleds with skipping rope handles. Carrots for the snowmans nose. Newspaper, matches, candles, Kleenex and lip balm. Essentials, too – chocolate bars, popcorn, cookies and wine.

Two hours of travel time passing salt encrusted cars on the highway. Until we reach the familiar winding roads, disguised by snow banks higher than the van roof. The knot between my shoulder blades loosens with the first breath of specialty Northern air. No exhaust fumes, no smell of other peoples dinner. No traffic jams or deadlines.

A getaway. Leaving behind grey frozen snow banks. Deliverance from discount grocery stores, sale flyers and the same four walls of the city. The pioneer spirit with a gas barbecue. Hardship with store made bread and a toaster. Explorers with a roof over their heads. Adventurers with a thermos of hot chocolate.

We load the toboggans and sleds and secure them with bungee cords. We strap on backpacks for the walk in - silent except for the sound of our boots crunching through the diamond-adorned crust and the wind huffing through the evergreens. Our daughter rides on a sled like a princess in a parade, her doll cradled proudly in her lap. Our son yanks the biggest toboggan along doggedly, leaping aboard and riding down the smallest of hills.

The driveway steep and dusty in summer becomes a luge run. We sled down countless times, gripping co-pilots boots around our waists in our laps. The countdown, the shove off, mittens pushing off, the countdown, the point of no return at the brink and the giddy arrival at the bottom Sleds abandoned, we roll down the hill landing in a dizzy shrieking heap.

All that pristine untouched snow. An invitation to cover it in boot prints and snow angels. We follow the insane rabbit tracks circling the trees and see the cottage from a new perspective. Snow is scalloped on roof draping down like an old lace collar. Icicles dangle from the eaves as long as a child’s arm. Ideal for sword fights and launching off our cliff. Winter echoes are different – muffled – as if stored somewhere and then released. Bustling twittering birds arrive in a cloud. An agitated assortment of chickadees, nuthatches and bold blue jays shrieking for peanuts. We sit perfectly still with an outstretched mittened hand waiting for a brave chickadee to land for lunch.

We haul in stacks of wood we chopped last fall to light the fireplace, blowing on newspaper twists and kindling. We feast on burnt marshmallows and lukewarm hot chocolate from a thermos.

There is a competition for the biggest and best snowman. The shed is a treasure trove of props. The life jackets are heaped on the freezer like off-duty soldiers. Our snowmen sentinels sport baseball caps, snorkels, swim fins and brandish badminton racquets.

We enjoy a banquet of steak and potatoes from the barbecue and devour a squashed pie for dessert. We scrape the dishes in the snow and wrap warm rocks in towels for our beds.

Snuggled in under layers of blankets, we sleep in long underwear, socks and hats. Snow pants and jackets are hung from nails on the rafters to dry. In the morning the kids pad down the hallway heading for the fireplace like moths to a flame.

Underneath the snow, spring bulbs are waiting. Beneath the ice, sluggish fish and thousands of insects are biding time for the right temperature to start the next cycle.

In the long shadows of afternoon we pack and begin the journey out, Mom and Dad each pulling a sled containing a curled sleeping child. Back at the cottage in the snow there is an offering of peanuts, bird seed and toast crusts slathered with peanut butter. A tribute.

Andrea Anthony-Luke February 2007