Today, with two days left in the calendar year, my hometown has been laced with freezing rain. Seniors and toddlers were falling all over the sidewalks, nervous drivers were skidding through downtown intersections, and able-bodied adult pedestrians had to keep a keen lookout to jump away from an uncontrolled car, or to lend a hand to a prone septuagenarian.
As I returned from my early morning tasks, I found myself walking against the wind. Leaning into it, my face being pelted with ice, my socks and jeans getting wet, my hat ready to take flight. It was one of the few times I recall my face actually being punished by weather. And in my physical misery, I couldn’t help but think of my least favourite weather. Freezing rain.
Sure, it might look pretty in the trees from our window, provided the power is still on. And provided it doesn’t destroy the hundred year old oak that your grandfather planted as a boy. But it really is a dangerous and miserable weather phenomenon and I saw it in the eyes of my fellow travelers today. And it made me wonder how our weather affects us. In good ways and bad.
I am poorly traveled but in my limited adventures, I remember some things decades later. My girlfriend at the time and I went to Jamaica. The heat was stifling. Our modest hotel had one of those swim-up bars and the man behind the bar seemed to move more slowly than I thought possible. The first time we visited him, we probably ordered a Pina Colada and a Marguerita. Big mistake. He chipped the ice by hand off a large block, cut the fruit, shook them for an eternity, all in slow motion. Without exaggeration, the two drinks might have taken fifteen minutes to put together. By the second day, if we were thirsty, we knew to order a couple of Red Stripes while we waited for our drinks.
To this day, I still don’t know if he was just a slow old worker serving drinks to pale Canadians on a Monday afternoon. Or if his fifty years in the oppressive heat told him to take it slowly because the vacationers weren’t going to look for another bar in their bathing suits.
As Canadians, suffering our thirtieth or fiftieth or eightieth winter, it has to have affected the way we feel and interact four months of the year. Unless you are an avid participant in winter sports, our days mostly consist of traveling through the cold and the darkness from one warm room to another. But in our isolation comes commiseration. From two guys smoking in a Church parking lot in the cold. From sharing a blanket or two on the couch when the power goes out. From making an extra effort to help a fellow bus-rider find a seat, the bus being twenty percent smaller, given our parkas and our boots.
Do Swedes laugh differently than Greeks do in January? Do Inuit people wake up as happy in the darkness and coldness where they live constantly, as Brazillians do in the consistant light and warmth? Does the harsh environment make Newfoundlanders funnier than those who live on the plains of Saskatchewan? It has to. It must.
“Hot enough for ya?”, we used to joke. But our skins are mostly the same thickness, wherever we live. And extreme weather conditions must affect us more than simply dampening the soles of our shoes. It must affect the development of the souls of our bodies.
I guess I will never know. But the miserable weather outside has kept me inside long enough to ask.