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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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Hot Air Balloons

I grew up in Calgary and went to art college there, majoring in photography. Calgary can be a windy city and sitting in the foothills of Alberta, it gets good currents. In Vancouver, you never see a hot air balloon but Calgary is rife with them. With all the political debates, there is a lot of hot air that could be used more effectively to float those balloons.

Calgary’s skyline was often festooned with balloons, and I took one picture that had six balloons at sunset. A friend of mine still has that picture. Through the summer and fall it’s a common sight. I presume it still is. I was lucky enough at one time to run into the hot air balloon club as they were getting their balloons in the air. The balloons are massive, large enough to have a party of a 100 in some of them (a cozy party). The gondolas range in size but most would only hold four people max.

The rides can be fairly expensive but I made a deal and traded photos of the members working on their balloons for a ride. It’s was a spring morning in Calgary, which means there was still some snow on the ground. I was wearing runners and carrying my gear.

As we rose over the city I was amazed to feel…nothing. This was no sense of rising and falling and the ride was like standing in a building. I suppose if there had been too much wind, the ride might have been bumpier. Like looking out a plane window you get a sense of the birds-eye view of the world, but this is closer because you don’t rise as high. Great detail and a languid sale over the city and out of town.

The farmers’ fields outside the city held far more snow than the streets. The city was nearly bare with just a few wet patches. As we slowly moved over the fields, watching cows and cars, we came down in a farmer’s field. Hot air balloons are very much at the whim of the air currents and it’s one thing that people have to check before they plan their flights. We landed in a good two feet of snow and had to wait for the truck to come to bail out the balloon and us. And that’s when I frostbit my toes, standing in snow, in runners for a couple of hours.

I still have pictures of the balloon ride though shots of the balloon are far more interesting to me. If you ever get a chance, go for a ride.

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