It is that time of year here. Winter is about half done and we have been whacked with another cold snap. We don’t call it a “Polar Vortex” or other nonsense designed by news departments to hype what is nothing more than the usual stretch of damnably cold weather that hits most of Canada in January.
For our American readers, the last holdouts on the Fahrenheit scale, it is a balmy –0.22 degrees, or –17.9 C. Of course the sun is out, shining away happily, as we freeze our nubbins, vapour from the bus exhaust leaving contrails in the air. The car creaks, metal and oil protesting at being used in these temperatures, the shocks and springs grumbling at our abuse. There is the occasional square tire, where the car has a frozen flat spot that only smoothes out after several kilometers of driving, thumping along, giving the car the gait of a gazelle with one foot mounted in concrete.
There are the snow banks, piled a dozen feet high from the December blizzards, frozen solid, as unyielding as stone. Falling on one means deep bruising or a trip to the ER for some plaster to set broken bones, a common occurrence in this season. The only way to cut the snow banks back is with a rock drill and the careful application of explosives, both things frowned upon by the City, Province and Federal authorities, so we leave the glaciers alone, trying to peer around them, to drive out onto the main streets.
Yet remarkably there are the fanatics, who insist on bicycling to work, even at –25, saying it’s bracing and great exercise in the winter. The Ottawa Skateway (7 kms long) on what is normally the Rideau Canal waterway, hosts the usual collection who insist on skating the length to work, simultaneously proving their hardiness and madness, their exhalations coating their faces with glistening icicles that thaw miraculously in seconds as soon as they come inside.
Naturally there are the high-school students, jacket open, no hat, no gloves, many in a skirt that would barely cover that which it is supposed to cover, walking from school. They’re too cool to admit to being frozen half to death and we all did it when we were that age, except now they text to their friends that they’re cold, with stuttering fingers and thumbs tapping out texts that read like a cat trying to use a QWERTY keyboard.
The sensible among us recognize that January here is cold. We stay inside, near the fire, or wrapped in a blanket on the sofa, sharing bad television with our partners, snuggled together in that curious comfort of watching the Cake Boss in Houston, making sure we don’t think more than is actually necessary. We hunker down with a book and read in bed, only rising to let the dog out onto the back yard glacier for one last pee before lights out, muttering to ourselves that come spring, that back yard will look like a cesspool of dog excreta with patio furniture and cedar hedges and that lump of ice over there where the barbecue used to be.
The very first vestiges of a new season are upon us however. It is no longer as black as a well-diggers arse come 4 pm. You can still see without lights at 5 pm. You notice the sky lightening up at 0700 as you go into work, it having been dark when you got up, dark when you got to work and dark when you went home at the end of the day, the sun a distant memory of that bright thing up in the sky that seemed to make your eyes hurt when you looked at it.
Nature is hinting, just the merest of whispered hints that this winter will pass, as they have every year and will every year ahead.
We have to get through it as best we can.