Sunday, November 06, 2011

On the lighter Side

Winter In Toronto
Mid Ninteenth Century

The ghastly and rather interminable Canadian Winter is set to arrive here in Toronto shortly and so here are some thoughts about the arrival of our own Via Dolorosa here in the Great White North.

Now one thing you can be utterly assured at with Canadians is that we love to talk about the weather. Generally how lousy it is and the lousiest is Winter. Generally when a nice day happens we are shocked and surprised and we know it won’t last long. So we savor every moment of weather bliss. And we stop whining for a moment about the weather.

But generally we complain about the weather and we also complain about complaining about the weather. So if we give up whining about the weather, we whine about whining about the weather.

Thus the springs and falls are too wet and humid, the summers are blistering hot and humid and so largely suck. If we don’t have the weather to whine about, we often have nothing to talk about with each other. And if we don’t complain about the weather in Spring and Summer we complain about the little visitors that arrive. We complain about the hordes of black flies at our cottages, which doesn’t stop us from going to them; and we complain about the mosquitoes that are everywhere and we walk around afraid of catching West Nile virus.1

Complaining about the weather goes back a long way. I suspect the Native Canadians complained about the hot summers, wet weather and of course the horrid winters, to say nothing of the utterly ubiquitous black flies and mosquitoes in late Spring and early Summer.

Ah but Winter in this litany of woe is special it is like each year we pass through Hell, in our own penitential ride through Purgatory and have our sins washed away and come through to Spring bright, fresh, pure and innocent. Or at least that is what it feels like.

We regard Winter in the same spirit of Dante’s ninth circle of Hell in his Inferno were traitors are frozen for eternity in punishment for their sins. It feels like we are, like Dante’s lost sinners, encased in ice. Like Dante’s sinners it some are up to their necks in ice, others to the chin and still others entirely covered from head to foot. And like Dante’s sinners it feels like it, Winter, will last forever.2

Of course Winter does have its compensations.

Of course it generally takes time to think of such compensations. One of them is that snow on the ground, especially after a snow fall, can be stunningly beautiful. If one is gazing out a window from a warm room the newly fallen snow can be beautiful. That is until one goes out and feels the life sapping cold cling to one. Then one’s thoughts of beauty turn to thoughts of staying warm.

Another compensation is that when it is dark snow does have the effect of making the night less dark, by reflecting the light that is there and giving the dark an aura of light.

Of course Winter sucks in another way. The long nights leave one with a sense of despair and ennui. The fact that the nights are so long and the days are so short produces feelings of depression. That coupled with the fact that the cold drives you inside and coups you up, produces feelings of claustrophobia and angst.

There is of course the compensation of Winter sports. Such things as Hockey, Ice Skating. But sadly you have to do them while freezing in ice cold temperatures. But then you need all that movement to keep warm.

The beauty of snow fall also has an ugly side effect. Melting snow often looks very ugly and dirty as it melts. The beauty of a field covered by snow is eventually replaced by a sordid mess of rotting debris, dirty snow and ice, and lots of mud, in the late Winter making the landscape look like it has taken a dump.

Then there is the wonderful (sic), snow storm which can be so beautiful to watch from inside a warm room. When you are struggling in a blizzard, with wind and snow cutting through you like a knife of ice the beauty wears thin and you long for all of it to be gone; forever!!

We also love to tell stories about foreigners and perversely we boast about how terrible our Winters are, with a sort of perverse pride. Stories abound about what we put up with. How we do everything possible so that snow falls do not deviate us from doing what we must do each day.

Thus we reveal in stories of the Americans who come north in July with skis. A story so many of us will swear is true, but always seem to have been seen by an uncle, friends or told to someone who told someone.

But of course we love to sit and look at the cold, windswept and snow covered outdoors and we are grateful. No ecstatic that we are inside and we are warm. Still it chills us to the core of our being just to look at the chilled outdoors for we imagine the feel of the wind borne biting cold upon our skin when next we go outside.

Also we see the chilling frost upon our window panes and we curse and look at our calendars to see how many more days until the weather warms.

We love to tell stories of people experiencing a Canadian Winter for the first time. Stories of them being aghast at the first significant snow fall upon being told that this is “meh” and nothing compared to what is coming.

We pat ourselves on the back for our endurance and strength in getting through the Winter, while perversely, secretly, hoping it never will happen again. But each year to our everlasting sorrow it does happen and it will happen each year to the end of time. (Unless global warming happens.)

So we patiently endure, whine and get through another season of that great bastard Winter. But then what we have to talk about if not how terrible Winter is?

1. For Canadian weather go to the Environment Canada website Here.

2. Dante, The Divine Comedy: Hell, Penguin Books, London, 1949, Canto 31-34, pp. 265-289.

Pierre Cloutier

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