The cold has seeped into my felt-lined boots, winkled its way around my ears and down my neck. My fingers are stupid with it, and I'm shivering. Mostly it's the temperature and wind chill.
I'm wearing a scarf, watchcap and army surplus canvas jacket, out patrolling some of the 15 kilometres of trails through the conservation area. We've lost most of the ash to disease, and I'm looking for deadfalls across the paths or hung-up branches and broken trees that might threaten an unwary trekker.
Earlier, I was lending a hand where I could -- mostly by staying out of the way -- to repair foot bridges damaged in the flooding last month. A couple were shifted off their moorings and had to be set back in place, then raised nearly two feet with a tractor and what one of my volunteer friends laughingly called "man killer" jacks. Except he wasn't joking.
And all the while, my thoughts are elsewhere, never a good idea when around such equipment. Specifically they're on the email I got from my brother this morning.
It's Dad. They think it's pancreatic cancer. It doesn't look good.
Well ... no. No, it wouldn't. The only good thing about pancreatic cancer is that it's treatable if found early enough. The bad thing is that it's hardly ever found early enough. His wasn't. The survival rate is negligible.
But even at 88 and flat on his back, he'd laugh at me about winter, as well he should. I've seen the black-and-white home movies my grandfather made in the Great North Woods in the 1920s, blizzards howling in, two-storey forts, snowballs at the ready to bombard the miners on their way home from work.
Then winters in not-very-sunny Italy, where he turned 21, and in Holland, doing his part to help kick the Nazis, particularly their vaunted Parachute Regiment and SS Panzer units, senseless every time they encountered the "amateur" soldiers of the Canadian Corps. He knows what cold is, and what I think about it would be risible, if not downright fatuous, to him.
He's been through much in his life. The motorcycle accident in Holland in May 1945, just after the war ended, that tore up his left leg, leaving his knee held together with screws -- an injury he refused to acknowledge even with a limp. Later, three knee replacements, open heart surgery, mini-strokes, skin cancer, the loss of two beloved wives.
Never, until fairly recently, did any of it stop him from hunting, fishing, golf. I remember years ago when he fell off his horse at a jump during the annual Labour Day Hunt, separating his shoulder so badly they had to pin it back together. Come back in eight weeks and we'll take the hardware out, they told him. Have to be six weeks, he said, I'm going fishing up north. They did, and he did, after an eight-hour drive the next day.
I plod on through the snow, stop briefly to look at a partially frozen East Two Creeks. Funny the currents in our lives, I think. I didn't follow him into the army nor into the company he and my mother created out of nothing in the 1950s nor into any of the service clubs and organisations he supported over the years. Instead, I went my own frequently misguided way. I don't kid myself that it was an easy relationship.
I didn't inherit his business sense or his love of hunting and fishing -- or even hockey, which he coached for years. And I didn't grow up big and strong like him and my brother and sister. In fact, I was pretty useless at, or at least uninterested in, almost all that perhaps he valued most.
Almost all. I remember him bouncing me on his good knee as he read poetry aloud, each movement in time to the cadence of The Highwayman or How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix or The Charge of the Light Brigade. He loved words and how they work, and it somehow, somewhere, awoke in me that which I still seek: a rhythm as the words roll across a page.
Much like the way the current rolls the creek through its banks, I think to myself, slicing deeper and wider each year as the earth is cut away, out to the lake a couple of miles south.
Much like a life.