Tag Archives: climate

Hated Winter: From Snow to Rainforest

I grew up in Calgary, where winters were defined by snow and snowsuits, giant mitts and yes, that Canadian thing, tuques. As kids our tuques (toooq) were balaclavas. They had an inner piece that could be pulled down over the face. Today they’re called ski masks and have a big opening around the eyes. Ours had two eye holes and maybe a mouth hole. Pretty much  only burglars wear them now. It was nearly worth the risk of frostbite not to wear these horribly uncool and unfashionable items, even at the age of seven, even before seven-year-olds were that fashion-conscious.

There was just no way anyone wanted to wear these things. When nostrils started freezing shut and the air cut as we inhaled, and eyelashes froze our eyes shut, then we would reluctantly pull these things over our faces, dealing with the ice encrusting around the mouth hole every time we exhaled.

I didn’t have a snowsuit but I think there were thick pants over tights and two pairs of socks. Imagine being a kid of six, not particularly tall, struggling through a foot of snow and looking like the Michelin tire man. In my first grade I was late every day for a week because I just could walk any faster through all the snow. That was back when children were allowed to walk to school from grade 1 through 12 and the only ones that were driven were the teenagers who drove themselves.

Winter. How I hated it. My sister and I shared a bedroom in a split-level house, which mean all but three feet of our room was below ground. And the air vent didn’t really work. And the floors were cold linoleum on concrete. Cold. Icy icy cold. My sister and I both hate cold to this day. She has other reasons as she has arthritis as well.

In Calgary we would listen to the radio every morning in winter to find out the temperature and whether the schools were closed. They usually only closed them when the temperature, combined with the wind chill factor, got below -30.  Yeah, we were hardy little buggers. Walk or freeze. My mother would load our little metal lunch boxes with a thermos of hot chocolate and some sort of sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and a fruit or a cookie and off we would go.

I somehow don’t remember winter that well in my teenage years. By then I completely refused to wear those horrid balaclavas. Losing my nose was a risk I was going to take. I had a big puffy downfilled coat and some sort of hat or tuque but without the face part.

In art college I remember the tops of my ears being frostbitten one day because I walked from the college across a very major street to the shopping mall where I worked. I had my hair braided back and it was probably spring. That exposure was enough to do the ears in. My toes were also frostbitten when I got a ride by the Calgary hot air balloon club, in exchange for pictures. Again it was spring and the snow had disappeared from most of the sidewalks. In my runners I rode the balloon and everything was fine…until we landed in a farmer’s field still covered in snow.

The cold I hated the most was the one that seemed to freeze the marrow. Doing photography I would go out and shoot until my camera froze up. There are oils that are in the body for the gears and the lenses so that the focusing ring can be turned easily. When I could no longer easily focus I would go in. On days like that there was a cold beyond shivering that really felt like it was in my bones. It was a terrible deep ache that I could only alleviated by immersing myself in a very hot bath.

It was enough to get me to move to Vancouver, land of green grass and ivy in winter. But Vancouver was a different climate from Calgary. Calgary was dry. Vancouver was humid. I moved here and found mold growing in my shoes at first. Every time I crawled into bed it felt like I was in wet sheets. My face broke out in all these little bumps. After seeing a dermatologist, it was determined that I was using too much lotion, having come from a drier climate.

But Vancouver was warm, and sure it rained like it was time to build an ark, but it was nice. Yes, nice. I’ll take a two-week long deluge anytime. So when it snows here I whine. I whine a lot. Snow is for the mountains, not the city. If our temperature drops below 0, I whine. We’re not supposed to get temperatures that cold and believe me, our pipes are not that deep underground. Last year’s hideous, snowy winter caused my kitchen pipes to freeze. Luckily they’re plastic and we could thaw them with a space heater.

I was born in the clime of true winter but I never took to it. Perhaps my ancestors’ genes had some influence. But one half was Danish and the other Italian. It seems my sister and I take after the Italian side, while my older brother and my mother (born of Italian parents) would prefer to be of the Danish side when it comes to climate.

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Weathering Vancouver

What I often hear when friends think of coming to Vancouver for a visit, or for why they could never live here is “the rain.” And yes, we do get rain. After all Vancouver is in a pacific rainforest, though the forest has receded to this hills and mountains in places. Still we’re a pretty green place and that’s evident when flying over the land.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved because I hated the cold and I hated winter. The only snow I liked was the very first snowfall, when it was dry and fluffy and sparkled like diamonds in the lamplight. Walking back from my friend’s in the evening, my footsteps would be the first to make an impression on that scintillating carpet and everything was muffled and magical, with only the sound of a car or a dog in the distance. Then day would dawn and it would just be cold and cumbersome.

I was always cold, sometimes to the point that it felt like my marrow was freezing in my bones, a numbness that would only go away with a hot bath. So, winter especially was not my favorite month. I visited Vancouver three times in one year and all of that was in summer. Vancouver is very lovely in the summer and has the mountains and the ocean so close to the city. I fell in love.

I moved in June and spent the summer getting to know the city and getting a job. But fall and winter came and my shoes were growing mold in them. I always felt like I was crawling into damp sheets and it felt clammy to me. Compared to Calgary’s very dry climate, Vancouver was moist and humid (I hadn’t yet experienced Toronto or Singapore where that’s real humidity). My face broke out in little bumps, not pimples nor really a rash. After seeing a dermatologist it was determined that I was using too much lotion; for Calgary it had been the right amount.

Eventually I acclimatized to the weather. Vancouver does not get blazingly hot in the summer. It’s a rare day that it hits near 30, and because of the ocean and the mountains nearby it will cool down faster in the evenings. While we don’t get as hot as other cities in the summer, we also don’t get the freezing temperatures in the winter. In fact, most pipes for the older houses especially are not far below ground. That and the high water table (we are by the ocean) means that if it does freeze, the pipes are in jeopardy of freezing as well.

Last winter was a brutal exception to Vancouver’s winters. Whereas normally we can expect rain and may be a bit of snow that will melt in a day, we had huge dumps of snow (over 18 inches at one point when I measured) that lasted for weeks. There was so much snow that at first it was that dry snow that other places get, the type that is good for snowballs and building snowmen. But then as temperatures rose, we had the slushy, slippery stuff where everything gets soaked instantly and getting grip, whether by boots or tires, is nearly impossible. My landlord shovelled out more than 13 people in a week, me included.

But the white stuff is rare, and truly hideous when it happens in a city ill-equipped for it. The city is getting more equipment as global warming brings more upheavals in the climate. However, that ubiquitous rain that we always have. Well, yes, there have been a few truly icky and gray summers. But usually they’re quite nice. Winter and fall can vary. The past few years have had winters that weren’t that bad. A bit of rain but periods of sun. Of course the snow last year, negated the rain.

This year almost seems like the old winters here. I heard yesterday that we’ve had 23 days of rain. That doesn’t mean that it rains 24-hours a day but that it is raining every day. Today, it’s actually partially sunny but scheduled to rain some more. When the sky is deep gray all week long and the rain is dripping off of everything, and the grass, if you step on it, slides off the mud below it, then yes, it’s gruesome and depressing. I spent most of the day in bed last weekend because it was so miserable and I felt down.

The Olympics come in February and it looks like they’ll have enough snow for the events. Even in Whistler there are years where it can be a problem. But it could also be raining a lot in February, one of the notorious months for bad weather. But even in winter, usually, it’s not every day of rain. Being someone who has suffered from depression, I can understand the reluctance to live in a place depressed by rain. But then it’s a matter of spending time with friends and in bright light, even if it is artificial. I would still rather take the rain over snow and slogging through the cold every day.

 

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Phobias, Or: Spider Spider Burning Bright

Yes, I am misquoting a William Blake poem in the title. The actual line reads, “Tiger, tiger burning bright…” Yet it speaks just as well to anyone who has ever experienced a spider phobia, known as arachnophobia.

My progression into arachnophobia started as a child. There were two incidences that I can think of that may have been the beginning of my fear of spiders. I’m not sure which came first. We used to live in a house that was a split level. My sister and I shared one of the basement bedrooms and the room was mostly below ground, with 2-foot high windows at the top. Below these windows was a ledge that ornaments sat upon.

I remember I had this plastic bubble bath container in the shape of Pinocchio as well as a plastic piggy bank that I’ve talked about in an earlier post. One night I dreamt that the top popped off of Pinocchio and out poured hundreds of spiders. One other night as I was falling asleep I heard a “plop” upon my pillow. I don’t know if I actually found the spider or imagined it but after that I feared spiders.

Calgary had daddy longlegs mostly, which, depending on where and how they’re described, may be called Harvestmen and are arachnids but not spiders. Still, they’re spidery enough for any fear. The phobia was manageable while I lived in the colder clime that controlled the spider populations. Then I moved to Vancouver.

The first year I moved in with a friend and she was gone through the summer to Greece. And the spiders came a visiting. There were so many creepy crawlies in Vancouver because of the warmer climate that my phobia escalated. The worst were the wolf spiders; large, hairy (at least I think they were) and fast. I was completely freaked out and like a true arachnophobic, I could not kill them because it meant getting too close to them. So my place was littered with plastic containers that trapped spiders beneath them. I put a book on each container for fear that they would get out. When a friend came to visit, he had to dump them for me.

When I vacuumed I’d moan and shriek as the spiders hung from the edge of the long nozzle. Every once in a while I’d dropped the vacuum cleaner’s wand and run back if I thought the spider was crawling down the pipe. I’m sure it would have looked hilarious to anyone watching but the phobia was very real. Camping was a real issue. My tent was zippered tightly shut and if there was a spider someone had to get it out or I couldn’t sleep.

The worst that first year was this monstrous wolf spider that lived in a hole in the wall of the house, right next to the door knob. It was all I could do to get the key in the lock and at night I was terrified. (Note, that people with severe phobias can die from fright. One should never find it funny to chase the person with the phobic producing object.) This spider was one of those granddaddy wolf spiders, with a body as long as my thumb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider

One day I couldn’t take it any longer. I loaded a spray bottle with super hot water and went out to the spider’s home. I started shooting in sprays of hot water…and all the wolf spider did was leap out to attach the water. I couldn’t kill the bugger. Years later I read that some wolf spiders live in warm underwater currents.

My phobia became so bad that I couldn’t go near any spider. It could be the size of a pin dot but if it landed on me I was shrieking and batting it away, in full hysterics. It wasn’t funny and it was getting so bad that I was about to go to my doctor. In a coastal rainforest you can’t avoid spiders and sometimes they fly through the air on their strands. Even staying indoors wouldn’t help because spiders are everywhere. So yes, the spiders burned very brightly in my life.

Along the way I spent a year upgrading hiking trails. I had to hike in and out an hour each way. I started the job wearing gardening gloves and carrying a stick so I could knock the webs out of the way. Imagine being in the forest and keeping watch for spiders. That meant checking every branch I was under, every log I sat on, every piece of foliage I had to grab.

Then one day, about six months later, a spider was on my hand and I flicked it off, calm as you please. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. My phobia was gone. One form of therapy for phobias is a slow introduction to the phobia inducing item. I’d been doing this by being in the forest every day. I no longer freak out or cry. I still don’t like wolf spiders but I’ll leave other spiders hanging in the window and watch them spin and eat. Somehow that natural therapy probably did the job faster than months of counselling ever would have.

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Winter Wonderland

I hate winter. I’m a bonafide cold wimp and left Calgary many years ago, partly to escape hideous winter, and we had chinooks to temper the bluster of the icy season. When I was in art college, doing photography, I’d go shooting in the winter until the oil in my camera froze up. Those days, I’d get so cold that it felt like my bone marrow had frozen. There was this deep aching, numbing feeling in my limbs and the only thing that would alleviate it would be immersing myself in a very hot bath.

I’ve become more constitutionally delicate with cold, and sometimes can suffer from Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which causes the extremities to go through white, red and blood in coloration. It’s numbing and can feel like someone shoving needles into my hands. Luckily I don’t suffer it often but cold is a factor. So forgive me if I hate winter.

Yesterday, in Vancouver it was icy cold and clear. We’d had a small snowfall on Saturday (where I went no further than my neighbor’s) but the roads were clear and dry. All the foliage, of which Vancouver still has plenty of in winter, was a dark, crisp green. Just like the fridge when the temperature is set too cold and all the vegetables freeze into organic sculptures. There were many of those sculptures: the somewhat slumped and crunchy looking ivy, the ferns in perfect emerald stillness, the trees (rhodos) with drooped and pale leaves. You just know that when the weather warms we’re going to have a lot of sludgy slime.

But that’s just it. When the weather warms… Alas, predictions say cold till Christmas and maybe a bitter January and February. What? This is Vancouver, a coastal rainforest, temperate, not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter. Usually only a day or two of frost but not freezing temperatures and snow. I’m wearing snow boots that give me blisters in minutes but at least I have a grip and won’t crash onto the ground, which happened two years ago, injuring my shoulder.

Gah! It’s -2 right now and snowing and snowing and snowing. What happened? Whoever’s weather we’re getting I wish they’d come and reclaim it. There is supposed to be more snow on Sunday. Sob** Vancouver snow is worse than Calgary’s ever was. In Calgary it fell dry and sparkly. My only favorite snow memory was always the first snowfall, when the city was blanketed in diamonds under the streetlight. The world was muffled in white silence and usually I could hear a distant dog bark or maybe a car. In the evening, (as a teenager) walking through it from my friend’s to my place, it would feel like I was the only person in the world, no other footprints yet marring the surface.

That was a good memory and even if the snow stayed, it was crunchy and you could get a grip on it, whether in boots or a car, and you could build snowmen and igloos (Yes, we built an igloo once, how fun was that?). Vancouver on the other hand, has the majority of drivers not used to driving in snow. And our cars don’t have snow tires. And the snow becomes this wet sludge that melts through the most waterproof boots and is slippery for any sort of tires. I hate it, a lot.

More worrisome than my whining is the fact that we’re getting this weather. It’s unusual, but not as much as it used to be. There is more snow and more freezing temperatures. That could cause a problem to the ecosystem with flora and fauna that are not used to surviving in such weather. I wonder what the birds do and I can tell you I haven’t seen any in the past few days. Not the murder of crows that always goes east to roost in the evening, not the ubiquitous sky rats, seagulls.

Many of the cats are staying indoors over the past few days, just like the humans. Many Vancouver homes tend not to have basements, or not ones that go below ground. Our water table is too high. This also means that most homes don’t have plumbing that runs that deep beneath the ground. We always have to worry about freezing temperatures and pipes freezing or bursting. Just like the ice toppling that gondola tower at Whistler, because water froze and expanded. We have a lot of water here, as rain, as constant moisture, which gives us those green winters.

There have been years that I saw cherry blossoms on New Year’s day. Those have also been unusual but not as much as this winter wonderland. Mostly I wonder why we’re having this winter. I hate snow and cold, a lot.

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