How to enjoy the cold of winter
The daytime skies have been Winnipeg-like in their crystalline blue of late, the stars at night a kaleidoscope above the city, snow settling in a hush on the bare branches of trees to create nature’s own artwork.
To those in many parts of Canada, Toronto and southern Ontario will always be the country’s banana belt, home to a garden of tender flowers seldom chillier than it takes to nicely cool the chardonnay.
Perhaps. Inuvik, or even Ottawa, we aren’t. But we have had our moments.
An ice storm in the winter of 2013-14 knocked power out across swaths of the city for Christmas – including, showing the elements and their consequences play no favourites – the home of Premier Kathleen Wynne.
In 2007-08, Toronto had its third snowiest winter on record. And, as all Canadians know and ceaselessly remind this city, former mayor Mel Lastman, no model of wintry calm, was moved to call out the army to help contend with the snows of 1999.
So mock if you please, but by Toronto standards we’re enjoying (or enduring) a good, old-fashioned winter so far this year, with record low temperatures and Canada Goose parka labels dotting downtown streets like raisins in a Christmas cake.
As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. And for the snuggly clad, winter has its own special pleasures while our patch of the planet is tilted away from the sun.
The comfort foods and steaming mugs held in grateful hands. The crackling fires, the blessed cosiness after outdoor pastimes, the bunkering down with loved ones against the battering winds.
In recent years, the season has produced books ranging from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s O Canada, The Wonders of Winter to New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s 2011 Massey Lectures and book meditating on winter.
“I love winter, I love snow, I love blizzards,” Gopnik told the Star back then. “I love the way it transforms an ordinary scene.”
And therein might be the best advice - that winter’s rewards come to those who pay attention - and the caveat that the season’s enjoyments come most richly to those able to easily take refuge from it.
“The romance of winter is possible only when we have a warm, secure indoors to retreat to,” Gopnik wrote. “And winter becomes a season to look at as much as one to live through.”
Even so, the novelty of winter tends to be fleeting. Christmas and the holidays have passed. Now we face the long slog and shovel-work to spring.
It might help to think of this as character building. For instance, the House of Stark on the HBO sensation that is Game of Thrones took “Winter is Coming” as its motto, a warning that there will always be challenges and hardships, that the reward for preparation, vigilance, endurance is survival.
George R.R. Martin, the American author who wrote the novel on which the series was based, knew something of the season, pro and con.
“Nothing burns like the cold,” he once wrote. Yet, “my old grandmother always used to say, summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.”
It is in just such contrasts, the two sides of any coin, that perspective and appreciation is usually found, and the ceaseless cycle of the seasons, the remorseless circle of life is best understood.
For as John Steinbeck wrote in his much-loved Travels with Charley, “what good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
So bundle up. Don’t run low on windshield fluid or tissues. And take heart.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a month.
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