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Archive for February, 2021

One Long Snow Day

Winter has come, stayed briefly and then has seemingly left again. I’ll say this for a U.K. Winter, if it was a house guest, they’d be that person who you never quite see enough, brings a tiny overnight bag, cleans up after themselves, disappearing quietly before you wake, leaving you wanting more. This is of course in stark contrast to Canadian winters, where if it was a house guest, it would be comparable to a person that is lovely at first but brings huge suitcases, quickly dominating your space, with no real plan on when they’re leaving. And if they do leave, you can’t be sure they won’t be coming back. There’s this almost superstitious quietness about even mentioning snow in Canada, the mere thought or desire of warm weather is enough to loudly beckon winter back in, where as in England, it’s as if winter is an over attended to cat, if you want it too much, it just won’t come to you. 

I have always lived with winter before moving to the U.K. I moved to the U.K. for its more temperate climate, I was never a fan of the winter or summer in equal parts. I was looking for something as close as to an eternal autumn as I could get close to, and in all honesty for all of the rain London boasts to have, it’s still never quite enough for my liking. When people said the winters were mild here, I thought they meant a light and short winter, not no winter at all. The word winter is something the Brits still swear they have in Southern England just as the Saskatchewanians swear they have autumn. To both of these groups I strongly disagree. To me, autumn is a long good-bye to summer, its own rightful quarter of the year where layers gradually pile on easing into the big blanket of snow that inevitably awaits. Whereas to Saskatchewanians, autumn is a concept (a week perhaps) of sweltering summer almost immediately followed by a blizzard that starts the annual, six months of winter. To the Southern Brits, winter is the wearing of the same jackets they wore in autumn all the way through to Spring. The Novemerish rain, that to some feels never ending but still welcomes football matches to continue all year round. No, my friends, that is not winter. To explain winter to people who think they know winter, who don’t really understand winter seems like an obnoxiously Canadian and somewhat condescending thing to do. How do you explain winter to the winterless?

Lockdown, for me, has felt like one long, exaggerated winter. I feel equal parts cozy and grateful to be indoors and the temporary pause in time, while, simultaneously, experiencing cabin fever  and wanting to be able to move freely outside of my home. I am familiar with this feeling. I have experienced this feeling regularly for most of my life before moving here. I think what Lockdown has revealed to me about England is that people here aren’t used to having their mobility limited. We’re talking about the land of easily accessible planes, trains and automobiles, and walking to boot. Whatever you desire is within grasp, whenever you want. The idea of grocery shopping once a week was the first obstacle my partner faced in the first lockdown. Hunkering down was not a concept he or many people here were familiar with. It felt oppressive. To have your movement controlled and dictated by a huge force of nature. In a time where many people have so much control over who they talk to, what they watch, and what they listen to, I am reminded of the importance of patience and humility. That sometimes, waiting something out is sometimes your only choice and more importantly, how you wait it out, is sometimes the ultimate choice.

Although I grew up with winter in Nova Scotia, when I think of winter, I often think of Fredericton. I think it’s because it was the first time in my life where I was living in a place as a pedestrian facing the elements on my own. It’s not that I didn’t know what cold was growing up but living rurally where you get everywhere by car is a different world to having to walk to and from bus stops as a university student in a -30 cold snap with snow up to my waist. I learned to exist within the unforgiving elements. It was not uncommon to wear your outdoor gear indoors, to be shivering while the heat poured out of the poorly insulated walls, despite your best efforts in trying to blow dry plastic around each window hoping to contain any heat and/or money. This was especially true at 352 York Street. This terribly insulated (both in winter and summer) apartment, which I utterly adored on the corner of York and Aberdeen Street. On one side of the house sat a Lebansese restaurant where I spent many an early morning observing while shivering in our office. On the other side of the house was the old Hartford shoe factory with a large tree hanging over it. I used to watch as the icicles glistened under the street light, the snow swirling around, like tossed glitter. This too done, while shivering on the couch.

It is this apartment I equate with Lockdown so strongly because one of these winters our university faculty went on strike. I don’t remember extensive details of that time other than time felt like a bit of a blur but also that it stretched on. We were basically in the house 24/7. One, because it was a particularly cold winter during a three week cold snap. Two, we didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Three, we didn’t really have any money to go anywhere to. We turned the heat up, we got some Gilmore Box Sets and we did some Sudoku. It was an extortionately expensive month with very little to show for it. My roommates and I adored each other but we grew tired of our scenery and the conversation. We missed the outdoors. We missed other people. Like one big snowstorm that wouldn’t quite go away. I hadn’t really even remembered that time and I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Lockdown. 

Last week, magically, it snowed for maybe the second time in my 8 years of living here. The comedically light snowfall that had everyone not been in Lockdown it would have created a kind of lockdown anyway. Snow was uncharacteristically on every surface. I wanted to go for a late night walk in this temporary wonderland. Frantically, I searched my house high and low for my hat and mittens. How could I go walking in winter without these things? They were nowhere to be found. I braced myself, strangely afraid of this now foreign cold. I should have remembered my friend Kristin’s wise observation, that in winter temperatures, snow equals warm. What a hilariously astute observation from someone who grew up in the Bahamas. I didn’t need the hat and mittens. Secondly, I forgot the absolute silence snow brings. On this same walk I brought along my audiobook to keep me company along the carpet of freshly fallen (and soon to be evaporated) snow. I forgot how quiet snow shushes everything. I put the audiobook away, I wanted to be consumed by this rare silence. As I walked I remembered back to the first annual snowfall as I sat in James Dunn Hall, watching the International Students who saw snow for the first time. The awe and wonder of snow. This thing they would eventually come to both love and hate. The temperature dropped to a whopping -6, I became even more of a coward to the winter. I found my hat and my mittens. I forgot how crisp the air felt, how alive you can feel. I forgot how much I loved my rosy cheeks thawing once coming in from the outdoors. Grinning at how much I appreciated both the outdoors and indoors again. These seemingly small things, these things that at once seemed all consuming, constant, I had forgotten. How could I have forgotten just how beautiful winter is?

There are things that at the time you swear you won’t forget, or that you feel are just too palpable to fade. However, time has a funny habit of playing tricks with one’s mind. Here I am, ten years later forced back indoors in a place where I felt quite certain that would never happen again. Indoors with another two other people I really adore. We miss the outdoors. We miss other people. Like one big snow day that won’t go away. It occurs to me that if 28 years worth of winters can be whittled down to a few moments and memories, ones I had swore I wouldn’t forget but did, and ones I didn’t think memorable but surprisingly, were. It makes me wonder what will I remember about this year or two of Lockdown. What will I and won’t I forget?

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