-by Frank Macdonald
I’ve lived through the Biblical allotment of three score and 10 winters and more.
With the exception of a few snow-free months basking on beaches all along Central America, those winters were all spent in Canada: Sudbury, Edmonton, Windsor, Calgary, Cape Breton, Cape Breton, Cape Breton...
I’ve never acquired an immunity to the season the way so many others appear to have done, those people who believe winter is a playground made just for them and their cross country skis, their snow mobiles, their smiles of delight stretched between frost-rosy cheeks. These are people, I suspect, who have been born without a driveway or some other birth defect.
Nor have I ever cultivated an appreciation for the various vintages attributed to winter, as though each piece of Canada’s geography is a unique vineyard producing its own version of wind, ice and snow. Like someone with a tone-deaf palate for the finer nuances of wine or food, I’ve never learned to appreciate the subtleties of winter.
I’ve stood on February construction sites in Alberta while sub-zero temperatures seeped into my ears and sank all the way down to my feet encased in steel-toed work boots. It was cold.
I’ve stood on the frigid ice of Cheticamp Harbour taking pictures of parka-clad fishermen patiently sitting beside an axed-out hole waiting for a nibble while my frost-bitten fingers tried to coax their image into my camera. It was cold.
I’ve complained about the cold, east and west, but all it ever seems to get me is a lecture on the differences between winter’s cold, east and west.
Out west, the mercury tends to dive deeper down into the thermometer than it does here on the east coast. If it is minus 40 in Edmonton, and minus 10 in Cape Breton, there’s a reluctance among easterners to concede that maybe shivering in Edmonton is worse than shivering in Sydney.
“Oh, but that’s a dry cold that they have out there,” Maritimers say of Canada’s western climes. “We get a damp cold here.”
The difference, apparently, is similar to the difference a sommelier detects between dry wine and other kinds of wine. I never learned to appreciate the difference, be it grapes or the Great White North’s winter diversity. Through all my winters, I have been an equal-opportunity shiverer.
With the exception of Vancouver and a few milder winter moments spent in Southern Ontario, my accumulated experience of winter is that, whether east or west, it is just cold, no damp versus dry difference about it. My ears, my nose, my fingertips, my armpits unanimously agree with the conclusions reached by my brain: cold anywhere in Canada is a four letter word. Cold is a four-letter word east or west...or in the sanctity of my own home.
This is being written on a January night in early winter, in the middle of another of Nova Scotia Power’s province-wide blackouts, that corporation’s contribution to energy conservation, I assume.
As I sit at the kitchen table scribbling these thoughts, I pause to recall a scene from the film, Dr. Zhivago, an outside camera capturing Omar Sheriff’s candle-lit character through a window filigreed with frost as the poet pens another of his Lara poems.
Such Siberian-like scenes, watched from the comfort of a theatre seat or the livingroom couch during a Netflix airing of the same, make for far more romantic viewing than the reality of desolate winter writing while wearing parka and mittens.
In the time between the first draft of this week’s column and it’s current version, the lights in the house have reignited, warmth has returned to the heaters, my fingers, if they need heating, can be wrapped around a hot cup of tea, and pajamas have replaced anything hooded.
It’s enough tropical distraction to make a guy forget the nature of the season until he sticks his head outside. Winter’s still out there in all its sub-zero dry dampness, skulking around the town, waiting for another transmission line mishap.