Toques off to John Allemang, writing in the Globe and Mail, March 21, 2015.
“My winter walk is a desperate lurch – a 60-degree forward tilt that keeps the wind and sleet out of my face while allowing my downward-drifting eyes to study sidewalks for lethal sheets of ice, ruts of uncleared snow and now (as incoming spring presents its warped idea of welcome change) ankle-deep puddles of murky winter run-off.Don’t talk to me about the romance of winter, the Idea of North, or any other attempt at cold-induced superiority.
This is a hard and nasty thing we do, coping with an unforgiving season that, at its best, can only be described with deluded relativism as not so bad. All this foul weather is made even worse when we feel the need to plumb meaning from our frozen extremities and coax virtue from our capacity to endure the inevitable with sunny stoicism.
I’m glad this unseasonable season is coming to an end, and a little sad to think that an abeyance of biting wind is enough to make me happy – that I’m inordinately pleased by an absence. One of these days, as the winter survivalist habits are finally shed, I’ll stop studying TV weather reports and 14-day forecasts, take my long underwear out of the clothing rotation, calm my night terrors about the latest storm of the century and stroll upright like a man who’s not beaten down by weather. The yearly war is over, and as always, I feel like I have lost.
It’s easy to be all hardy and above it all in December, before the reality of not-so-bad has veered into dead-of-winter awfulness. At this point (unless you’re a smug, snow-free Vancouverite – go away!) it’s entirely right to complain. What exactly is the Idea of North in poor old Charlottetown, where you’re lucky if you can open your front door, or winter-blasted Moncton, where the towering piles of snow now exceed the feeble ability of snowblowers to shoot all the new snow over them? February in Ottawa was the coldest ever – skating on the Rideau apart, did anyone notice that we suddenly became a better, kinder, more thoughtful people?
Winter doesn’t fit a modern progress narrative. It clearly gets worse the longer it lasts, just by being itself.
We set out in November or December with a kind of hope, allayed by a touch of false-memory syndrome that spares us the vividness of winter’s past disasters. We look for counteracting pleasures that paste a happy face over the gloom and devise repetitive, anesthetizing tasks that make this unfair, one-sided onslaught seem more like a battle of equals.
I shovel snow. Winter at its most normal is a state of chaos and I’m turning it into a bearable, useful, humane version of order. Nature, deluded nature, got it wrong. So I set her straight with my well-positioned heaps, walk-able sidewalks, neighbourly drainage strategies and backyard cat lanes expertly designed to ease my ginger animal-god’s passage through this tamed wilderness, his perfected Idea of North.
It’s true. I’m crazy, and I can only say with a clear-headed honesty unknown to most cold-loving Canadians: Winter made me this way.