January 29th, 2014

mirrormask, sphinx, afraid

Canadian Winter

I'm something of a conflicted Canadian, and nothing brings it out more than the depths of winter.

I grumble a lot about how much I hate winter, but there are lots of things about winter that I love. Skating is glorious and fun outdoors in a way it could never be on an indoor rink (where you just go 'round and 'round and 'round and bump into the boards occasionally), and here in Ottawa you can get on the canal and literally skate for kilometers, and it's magnificent, especially at night.

Winter is beautiful in a way few things are -- a fresh snowfall can make the world look like an entirely new place, where anything is possible, and even the horrors of freezing rain and ice storms leave these astonishing crystalline formations everywhere; it's as if we've all been transported into a mysterious fairy kingdom.

Winter is a time for many of my favourite clothes -- snuggly sweaters, wooly mittens, cozy hats... all those things that knitters make that you can't properly enjoy at any other time of year.

Winter means curling up on the couch in front of a roaring fire, with a soft blanket and a purring cat, and maybe a cup of tea, and that can be the best feeling in the world.

And yet. Winter also means never leaving the house without three to four layers of clothing. It means taking precautions against frostbite. It means short days and long dark nights and months of barely seeing the sun. It means icy streets and all the bruises and scrapes they can cause. It means shovelling. It means icicles in your hair. It means COLD.

In early December, I went winter camping for the first time, as part of an outdoor leadership course I was taking. Oh, I had been to plenty of winter camps with my Pathfinders, but we'd always slept in insulated cabins, even though we spent most of the day outside. This was the first time I'd slept outside in the snow.

I was actually rather anxious about the whole thing. Did I have enough gear? Was I really tough enough for this? What if something went terribly wrong?

And you know what? It was fine. We snowshoed out and back, hauling sleds loaded down with our gear and food. It was a tough slog at times -- especially the steep hill on the way back, after a heavy snowfall in the night. But we did it. We all made it.

I had a more than adequate amount of gear, and I was plenty cosy once I was tucked into my nested sleeping bags, atop my tower of sleeping pads (I exaggerate slightly. I had two regular therma-rests and a blue foamy. It was only a little excessive). I woke up in the morning relatively well-rested, and none of my extremities had frozen even a little bit. It was actually -- dare I say it? -- kind of fun. There was a roaring fire, and warm food, and good company.

Since then, for all I grumble about shovelling (it is perfectly normal to grumble about shovelling), it's hard to justify to myself complaining about the cold. Because it's just cold. And when you're prepared, you can not just survive cold, but actually enjoy it.