Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Forty Words For It

It snowed last night, and everyone is losing their everloving minds. It's like no-one in Toronto has seen snow before, and while I'll give it to the babies who were born in the summer, most everyone else is familiar with it. It's like every year, the snow falls, and every year, we're all like, "Whaaa...? I don't...oh, help us!"

While I'm not wild about snow, per se, I do enjoy a good arctic blast winter. I like being cold. Not indoor cold, which is more like clammy and makes me feel all crazy and nerve-wracked when I put on, and then take off, my sweater 800 times a day. That kind of cold is often a by-product of stress, anyway: the body's desire to flee or shout subsumed into sweaty palms. But outdoor cold, when you're bundled to the point of warmth, but not sweating and uncomfortable, is really enjoyable. Over the Christmas break, I walked out onto the frozen beach of Lake Huron, outfitted in big Sorel boots and a couple warm scarves (among other things - I'm not some sort of erstwhile polar bear dipper) and thought to myself, "Hey, this is pretty great out here."

I'll admit to not really being one for winter outdoorsiness, although I do enjoy a vigorous round on the snowshoes and have tried snowblading. I used to claim that winters were best spent in front of the fireplace, hot chocolate firmly in hand, catching up on your trashy celebrity gossip and listening to the dog fart. But now I'm more interested in romping around in the briskness, especially after a good night's sleep.

Canadian winters are so odd, because they both isolate and unite us. I don't know how many conversations I've had with people about various winter-busting techniques: staying warm, avoiding black ice, getting one of those solar lamps, the best way to avoid windburn, routes to avoid (walking Toronto's Bay Street in January is like trekking along the bottom of a canyon, magnifying the wind factor and making a girl curse all the high-rise residents who want to live and work downtown). But at the same time, movement become more difficult. Driving becomes perilous, biking is downright dangerous, walking takes forever, the trains slow down, and the subway barely lurches along. I know I sort of go into hibernation mode, since social visits that might be an eight-minute bike ride away in the summer have turned into a 35-minute trek through the snow, or a half-hour sardine experience on the TTC.

It makes me wonder how other wintry countries handle the season. Like Canada, the Scandinavian countries have an impressive music scene, and Russia uses the months between October and March to perfect their sports. But it also more snowy a scene gets, the less socially scenic: the Northern Territories are rife with alcoholism and health problems. The much-derided Extreme Weather Warnings that get issued in Toronto (you know, the ones that cause the rest of the snow-encrusted province to scoff at those pansies in the 416) are for the purpose of getting the homeless and underhoused off the freezing streets and into a shelter, at least for the night. And it seems like people get meaner when the weather's extreme - and this is by no means a winter-specific phenomenon, as evidenced by heat waves and their corresponding rage waves. The grumblings about snow and salt and cold and BLAH increase through the roof.

The Inuit allegedly have forty words for snow, a concept that doesn't surprise me in the least. But for all the rest of us - the recent immigrants from Grenada, the life-long Torontonian, the transplant from Kapuskasing, the hand-holding couple currently falling on their asses on the ice, the kids skating in Nathan Phillips Square, the parent who needs to scramble for last-minute snow-day childcare, and all the other snow-loving/hating/tolerating citizens - need to get over the concept of "good" and "bad" for snow, and just accept the fact that Toronto winters are wild, sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult, but always interesting.

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