Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Having lived in the south for a good deal of time, where winter forecast temperatures never include a negative number, you forget just how cold, cold really is.

Winter in Northern Canada is harsh. It takes a tough and hardy type of person to live in a climate where the daily weather forecasts include words like "daytime highs of -38 with winds gusting to 90 kilometers per hour". It takes a mentally unstable and slightly deranged type of person to willingly relocate back, after having experienced a number of southern winters.

For those like me who are metrically challenged, 90 kilometers per hour is our legal posted highway driving speed. To fully experience the thrill of a Canadian winter, simply dump a bag of ice into your undergarments, get into your vehicle, and drive at full speed with your head sticking out of the window. For a more realistic experience, you could have a friend tow you on a trailer while you perform simple tasks such as chopping fire wood, changing a flat tire, or boosting a dead battery.

I remember as a child walking through huge mountains of snow on my way to school each morning. Drifts of snow blown up over the sidewalks would present formidable obstacles, one side we would climb, and the other we would slide down. I remember temperatures so cold your eyelashes would freeze and stick together when you blinked. I remember cars frozen into the street, who’s owners would be shoveling around spinning tires, or cursing non-starting stone dead batteries.

The kids from my neighborhood walked about a mile to school. There was no yellow bus that came by our houses and no parents ever drove their kids. We walked a mile each way, every day. A mile in the rain, a mile in the snow, a mile in temperatures so cold that loosing extremities was a real and serious possibility. Each and every kid in my school by the age of six, had experienced severe frostbite and had been stuck by their tongues to a pole or some other large immobile metal object. In fact, successfully daring a classmate to lick a frozen metal fence post is a coveted skill. You can reach local legend status if the classmate remains stuck to the post until a teacher or other responsible care giver is forced to search for the poor gullible victim. Canadian law dictates that you are immediately graduated from grade school with full honors if you can convince the same kid to lick a frozen pole twice, regardless of present marks or current grade.

I remember winter as being fun and exciting. I remember waiting with anticipation, surpassed only by Christmas Day itself, for the first wondrous snowfall to arrive. I remember rushing to the window every morning when winter drew near to see if the world had been blanketed by a beautiful layer of pristine white snow, and being thoroughly disappointed to discover it had not. While we had fun playing outside in the summer, snow added an entirely new dimension to fun, with a bonus of endless potential for torment to neighborhood children. There were face-washes, where a handful of snow would be rubbed vigorously into one's unprotected cheeks, and dunks, where one's entire head would be forced into a snowbank. Snowballs would be carefully constructed and then tossed full force at unsuspecting prey who's distance was carefully gauged to ensure an easy escape without the possibility of retaliation, and gloves or toques would be stolen and filled with cold frozen snow. We would spend a week building an ice fort which we would then vigorously defend against neighborhood marauders brandishing ice-balls and hockey sticks. I don't remember when I started to hate the cold, but it seems that my distaste for winter has increased in exact proportion to the increase in my age.

Winter, and more specifically cold and snow, now represent pain and suffering. There is work and toil in everything that involves leaving the warmth and comfort of my easy chair. Long hours of extended darkness, chapped and bleeding lips, crippled aching joints, and mountains and mountains of shoveling. Snow is removed from walkways and dog runs, roofs, driveways, and cars. Snow is now something to be dreaded, and long months of cold and darkness becomes depressing. Thankfully, just when the season seems the darkest, and all hope is near dashed, some poor kid comes along and licks our fence. 

That just never, ever, gets old..

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