Dogberries & Snowy Owls


Looking south down Cookstown Road from LeMarchant Road. December 27, 2013

Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula is not known for the cold, snowy winters experienced in other parts of Canada. Around here we usually escape heavy snowfalls until January. The snow came early this year though, and the colder than average temperatures convinced it to stick around. This was the first “white Christmas” in recent memory, with the month of December seeing almost a meter (39.4″) of snow falling in the St. John’s area. It’s the start of a long, hard winter.

This weather does not come as a surprise to many Newfoundlanders; we predicted it last fall when the dogberry trees were loaded down with berries. It’s a bit of folklore handed down through the generations, too accurate to discount.


A sure sign of a hard winter. Photo credit:

Another omen this year is the abundance of snowy owls on the island. They’re here in the hundreds, some even pitching on oil rigs in the north Atlantic. Apparently it has been 40 years since this many snowy owls have been seen here. I adore snowy owls, I think they’re absolutely beautiful birds, and if I thought I could tame one I’d let it perch on top of my cupboards each night and “take care of” the odd mouse that tries to take up residence. The previous generations didn’t share my enthusiasm for the birds. They hated seeing snowy owls, the reason being that “their arses are full of snow”. In other words, snowy owls fortell a hard winter.


A snowy owl at Cape Spear. Photo credit:

As a people who managed to survive for hundreds of years in tiny, isolated communities, we learned to observe every minute detail of what was happening around us. Knowing that everything in nature has purpose, we linked these details to weather patterns and used this knowledge as tools for survival. For a sea-faring society without doppler radar, satellite imaging and GEM models, making a living was extremely dangerous and knowing when weather was on the way was literally a matter of life and death. “The calm before the storm” isn’t just a figure of speech here, it’s an actual weather phenomenon played out time and time again, and we know instinctively that a clear, calm day brings stormy weather in its wake.


“red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”

Being motorcyclists in a harsh environment is a little akin to being fishermen. We too have to pay strict attention to the weather forecast and radar picture. Riding into a storm will not only ruin our day, it’s also quite dangerous. Even though many of us have access to the most up-to-date weather predictions via our cellphones, there are still many places on the island without cell coverage. We must still pay attention to the natural world around us, and take heed to the knowledge of our ancestors. The clouds, winds, moon and animals can tell you a lot if you care to listen.


Posted on December 28, 2013, in Behind the Visor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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