On Edmonton Winters

I was in Vancouver this weekend, and it had snowed. The city was up in arms about it; news reports were discussing the treachery of the roads and locals were on camera talking about what an anomaly it was, the snow, the ice, falling in soft pellets that burst lightly into small slushy pools. Outside of a friend’s apartment, the landlord had poured salt pebbles all over the stairs, which were merely dark and shiny with moisture. Vancouver winters are cute, aren’t they? Endearing and cute. And they deserve a sweet little pat on the head for trying.

Anyway, as I rode the new Canada Line into the city from the Eastern Western suburb of Richmond, it occurred to me that in Edmonton that morning when I left, it was about 25 degrees colder. 25 degrees! It’s ridiculous in Edmonton, how cold it really is. Insane that anyone even bothers to live here; and I wonder why we don’t just relocate for six months of the year; November hits, and we all leave for the Calypso Island of Edmonton – the Island of Champions – until May when we can comfortably and (most of the time) safely settle back into our homes and anticipate an amazing summer of festivals, food and patio beers.
And despite that I wish this would happen – and would love to somehow acquire an astronomical, outrageously large sum of money to put this plan into action… I am also under the fervent belief that hatred and disgust bond people; they are shared experiences of repulsion, such as when my three good friends and I watched “Thankskilling” this weekend while sticky snow latched onto green leaves and flower petals.

I walked from my gym to my workplace this morning, gloveless, because I left my gloves in my office (damn it) and I walked past this elderly woman of large carriage passing by me in the opposite direction; her fur hat was tight on her head and the strands of silver hair that stuck out from under its fur lining were covered in a myelin sheath of frost. Her breath, like mine, rose like wood smoke from her chapped lips and momentarily stayed frozen in place in mid-air before dispersing into the thick, brittle clouded air. Wind blew in my face and past her head, its sheer cold so biting and miserable I had to close my eyes and a gasp escaped – of misery, surprise, disbelief, a mixture of emotions brought on by tasting and feeling that extreme cold lingering around your half-exposed face, drawing shocking pink-red from one’s cheeks. And in that moment, on that slick sidewalk with smooth arctic drifts blown into curbsides, this elderly woman and I smiled at each other. We exchanged looks of camaraderie and understanding; we are Edmontonians. This is our winter, our climate, and we’re hearty people who take pride in walking even that few blocks to work from a bus or a car or another building…

My plane was making its descent back into Edmonton and freckles of ice dotted the plane’s oblong-square window pane. I looked out past the woman next to me and saw the flat prairies, their yellow and green patchwork grasses, their cultivated crops, were covered with white snow – on bushes, on trees, on the ground… everything. Pure, white cold. The stewardess came on the intercom and said, “We’re now preparing for landing in Edmonton; the local time is 12:35pm, and the temperature is -22 degrees.” I looked down and glanced at my jacket in a messy tangled fold, safely stowed under the seat in front of me as instructed.
While I maintain – while we all maintain – our hatred of this winter, of this barren wasteland of chill and darkness and high whistling winds that blow the detritus of this long, drawn-out season… my heart warmed. I thought of Christmas and my friends and the enduring power of such a climate, of its bringing together of people and conversation and an almost disbelieving dialogue that can even merely be exchanged through eye contact and waves of gloved hands from vehicles… and I realized that in this brutality, there is something beautiful.

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