Are Canadian winters a thing of the past?
For the last three years I joined the snowbirds that ‘escape’ Canadian winters and spend them under a palm tree in Mexico. The predictable landscapes of cold, grey and cloistered living get exchanged for blue skies, sunshine and sandal-friendly temperatures. Natural year-round rhythms of life ‘alfresco’ – bikes, mopeds, outdoor kitchens, art studios, patios, hammocks, umbrellaed shade, markets, small uncovered fishing boats, street festivals and parades, blooming bougainvillea, ripening coconuts – all are perennial features of a southern, tropical clime. And while local population make take this way of life for granted, it is the northerners who are out there con gusto – from morning walks on the beach to sunset margaritas – mindful of what they have left behind back in Canada.
Curiously, after three years, a nostalgia had grown for a northern winter, and I wanted to give myself a chance to re-experience what I had left behind. I was feeling disconnected from my Canadian roots, almost like I was betraying my identity as a northerner by slipping into the ease of southern living. We are a hardy stock we Canadians and we take irrational pride in owning our unfriendly winters and unhuggable terrain. We can withstand what others cannot and we’ve learned how to nudge beauty out of harsh landscapes and God’s frozen people. I was game to put the parka back on again, and rejoin my compatriots at least for one winter!
“Hygge” Canadian Style
Yes, after two months of reliving a Canadian winter, there is much to appreciate about the experience and to admire about my fellow Canadian’s toughness. The hunkering process of stockpiling provisions and diversions to heat, clothe, fee and amuse one while housebound has a particular appeal to it knowing we can take some smug satisfaction in being a self-sufficient lot! And we take special care in preparing things that may help to warm a long winter’s night – strings of white lights, candles, firelight, an assortment of teas and soup recipes. Cocooning with a good book, a film or a friend are the ultimate consolation prizes of enduring inhospitable weather. And those projects you have always wanted to finish – the quilt, writing the book, the woodcarving, learning the Beethoven sonata? Not a better time to do it than when you are well and deep into hibernation. Then there is the joy of knowing that when you do venture outside, all those colourful woollen hats, mitts and sturdy fur-topped boots which you have dug out of your trusty winter chest will serve you well on the trails and give you a sense of communion with other winter hardy folk.
Snowfalls Russian Style
But without a doubt, there is nothing on earth as peaceful, as magical as being wrapped in a full-on snowfall. When the world of industrial grey and unending dull evergreen around you succomb to an unrelenting wash of white, and by morning, you are knee-deep on a snowy Russian steppe, waiting for Omar Sharif to arrive. How precious the time to embrace this world before the ‘vast and soundless similitude that interlocks all’ (thank you, Walt Whitman!) disappears under the blades of shovels, blowers, plows, traffic…… And rain and warming air, and the return of the ubiquitous grey fog, and a world that just wants to get back on its feet again. Those spells happen so seldom now – with global warming winters have become less intense and more middling in nature. The rare time-stopping snowfalls are couched in days, weeks, even months of uneventful weather.
And while our winters have been particularly affected, on could say the same about almost all our seasons now – with a 90 day spring, summer or fall season, there may be 20 days that are legitimately seasonal in character. Is a true white northern winter a thing of the past? Will our nostalgia for four distinct seasons remain a yearning for something that can never again be re-experienced? If that is the case, perhaps it best I continue a quest to find somewhere where at least summer is still summer!