Tag Archives: winter

The Only Good Thing About Snow

Creative Commons--Ian Britton

I grew up in Alberta, which meant real winter. We had winter in the winter, we had winter in the fall. Sometimes we had winter  in the spring…almost always and we even had some winter on a rare occasion in summer.

Winter was cold and snowy. Sometimes winter was deep, with a windchill factor of -40 or -60. In most cases we still trudged to school, wrapped thicker than the Michelin tire man and the Pillsbury dough boy put together. When I was little I was perennially late for school and exhausted from dragging my little self through all the snow. Snow was evil, snow was cold. Winter was no fun and sometimes my nostrils would free shut while walking and a crusty layer of ice would form on a scarf, or worse, the balaclava we wore over our faces. You know the ones; bank robbers favor them now.

The indignities of snow and winter meant fashion nightmare even before I was old enough to really care about fashion. But no kid wanted to wear the geeky balaclavas. In our house, two of our bedrooms were in the basement, mostly below ground, where the furnace somehow didn’t send any heat. And the floors were cold linoleum on cold concrete, in a city where the ground freezes in the winter. But we were lucky in Calgary, compared to Edmonton, because we got chinooks, which is when a warm front moves through, turning the clouds into a chinook arch, and brining a reprieve with melting snow.

When I was about six I remember my older siblings building an igloo in the back yard. We had enough snow for it and I think it was only about three feet high but they were cutting blocks of snow and then pouring cold water on it to freeze. I remember an igloo shape; whether it truly was or just an open fort I don’t really know.

But the only good thing about snow, as far as I was concerned, was that very first snowfall of the year. Calgary is dry so the snow would be dry and big and flaky. It would drift out of the dark sky falling like powder over the ground. The best was at night, if I was up at my friend’s and I got to walk home late. The snowfall, usually enough to carpet everything was like diamonds under the street light. It of course warmed everything up and it sparkled and glinted. The virgin fall would be untread by cars or footprints and I would be walking through a new landscape. Everything was muffled in this snowy white blanket. Any car or dog, always heard in the far distance, was far far away and very faint. I felt like I was the only one in all the world and it was so tranquil. I loved that aspect of snow.

But these days, as I did then, I believe that snow should stay in the mountains where it belongs and where it is of use. Vancouver’s snow is wet and moist, sticky and damp. It soaks through everything and you can’t get traction for yourself or your vehicle. I especially hate it here because of that and because we’re in a climate that isn’t supposed to get snow. So I will always vote for no snow but remember those tranquil evenings when the first snowfall was magical, before it turned to slush.

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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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Weather and Commonality

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

It is alas, snowing again in Vancouver. I’m supposed to go to a friend’s for Boxing Day but may very well not make it out.

What I have noticed over this last week of weather, snowy, slushy, slippery, trudging weather, is that people have opened up. Where normally we walk down the streets minding our own business, not making eye contact or glancing briefly and away, that has changed.

I’ve passed people shovelling and shovelling and shovelling their walks. A few of us have popped out with our cameras to take pictures of the record breaking views. I’ve followed behind people stepping into foot-deep slush and water puddles, squeaking and shrieking as we slip and the wet seeps through our boots to later freeze our feet.

We’re clumsy, we’re beleaguered by snow and stuck cars, we laugh at our silliness, because we can’t curse and grumble the whole time. People have looked at each other and smiled in commiseration. In the long pre-Christmas holiday line-up I started talking with the woman behind me about how we both almost got rid of our old boots this year. And she said she was originally from New York but wants to get her maple leaf in Newfoundland (when she applies for citizenship). I was wearing my cat hat (with ears) because it’s the warmest I have. Another woman commented on that and how it seemed to suit me.

Me in cat hat on my very snow street.

Me in cat hat on my very snowy street.

In our conversation about weather the second woman said she worked for the government and they’re staging all sorts of disaster scenarios to prepare for the 2010 Olympics. We were making comments about how bad it’s gone at the airport this year. On Dec. 24th Air Canada cancelled all of its short and medium haul flights (my friends going on West Jet were luckier), and Greyhound cancelled all buses in and out of the Lower Mainland due to road conditions.

We thank the bus drivers for stopping over the three-foot banks of snow in front of the bus stops and smile at the people shovelling to ease our way. One thing the adverse weather is doing is making people much more friendly. We have a certain commonality in weather and in dealing with it. Even Christmas does not have that commonality because we come from different backgrounds and beliefs, have had good or bad Christmases.

But snow and more snow and dealing with it in a city where we don’ t normally have to, has given all of us something we can talk about, safely and freely. If it wasn’t for all the other unsavory aspects of bad weather I’d almost welcome it for the aspects of bringing out camaraderie in everyone. I have actually really liked this side effect of weather.

Photos are courtesy of my neighbor Rob.

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Let it Snow, Oh No, No No!

Okay I’m not yet  done whining about winter, or describing snow. This is seriously the biggest long term dump of the white stuff in a very long time. Many years ago we had a blizzard on Dec. 23rd. I was going to Tacoma for Christmas but on the 24th I couldn’t get my Honda Civic out of the parking spot. The snow was up to the tops of the doors. I did go, catching a taxi and then the Greyhound over the border (an experience I never want to repeat because customs officials treat you like a street person if you take the bus).

Last year, we had several small snowfalls, that melted in between, and then froze, making the streets look deceptively clean but with the thinnest sheet of ice that denied traction. And it was cold. This year, a week of freezing temperatures with snow and then Saturday and Sunday’s big dump has made this more unusual. Yesterday it continued to snow steadily, and for most of the day it really was like someone shaking a big sugar shaker as the snow fell straight down. No wind whatsoever.

My landlord shoveled the walks twice and this morning there was another four inches of snow. It was snowing when I awoke, or maybe raining as it was very light. My back patio is snowed in and everything carries large caps of the white stuff. My round patio table looks like a giant cake with white frosting.

I have a little tuxedo cat named Venus. She loves her territory and hisses fiercely at most interlopers. She also tends to like the comforts of home more than the outdoors ( a direct opposite to the late great Figment who loved his outdoors and would have been out  exploring in the snow.) Yesterday, I picked Venus up and put her out the door, under the eaves where there was still some loose dirt. She does tend to like the great outdoors for doing kitty business. But no way. Since the snow and cold last week her fuzzy butt has not touched the ground.

All the lines and tree lims now have about two inches of snow sitting on them. When it starts to thaw (and I did here dripping from the eaves this morning) it will be really messing with big snow splats falling on our heads.

Yesterday the snow was still dry and powdery and the sky a silvery white. Today, blue is peeking through the clouds and the temperature is near zero. So that means everything is getting mushy. My car is pretty much buried in the ruts of the side streets with a good six inches or more sitting atop it.

So I took the bus but I had to walk along sidewalks thick with the overnight snowfall (on all walks) then up past the schoolyard and through the school parking lot. You can guess none of this has ever been shoveled. I was lucky enough to find a few tire ruts to walk in which made it slightly less tiresome. But I was panting and my legs hurting from walking on the sliding snow. It’s softening up and underneath those inches of gray brown sludge is still a lovely layer of ice. I was sweating by the time I got to the Drive.

The double length buses going south on Commercial got stuck. The back end would slide and pull backwards. Finally one bus made it to the stop. We trudged out through the muck because he couldn’t get close to the curb buried somewhere under the snow. We all sat at the back because the driver needed some traction. It sure is white here in Vancouver today. The streets are mushy and you have to dodge cars shooting past and sling the slime at you.

And why do people get this stupid grin on their faces and say, Looks like we might have a white Christmas after all. As if it’s special. As if it’s romantic. Some dumb song or two talking about snow in nostalgic terms does not make it better. Go backt to the mountains, evil snow, go. Go now. (Oh wait, BC is almost all mountains…sigh.)

But it’s warmer, though we’re still getting snow this week. Snow in our rainforest. Evil snow, herald of doom and darkness in all those fantasy novels. Come to think of it, Mordor might be welcome right now, for warmth if nothing else.

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Freakin’ Winter Wonderland Update

On Friday night I decided to completely close my bedroom window. It tends to be the warmest room in the house and although I like my climes warm I like to sleep slightly cool. So I usually have my window open a crack throughout the year. It got frikkin freezing enough on Friday that I closed it.

Or tried to. But the wood is warped with the cold. All that west coast moisture that seeps into everything has now expanded as it turned to ice and I could only, mostly, close the window. Likewise, I could only partly open the door under our front stairs where the garbage is stored. Luckily it was enough to get my head and arm in to toss the offending scraps.

This morning (Saturday though technically it’s 12:10 am) I washed my face and put clothes in the washer. All good, but when I went to rinse dishes in the kitchen there was no hot water. Not just water that’s gone cold but no water period, though I had the cold water well enough. My earlier fear of pipes freezing had come true.

My landlord and I put a heater in the cupboard and I walked up to the drive to meet a client and do some shopping. I now have a new appreciation for what it was like living on the farm in the 1900s and having to pile wood on the stove. You’d wear tights and socks and shirts and sweaters, and shawls, piling layer on layer to just keep warm. No care to how weirdly street person like you look.

If I’d been a guy, by the end of my walk today I would have been a woman because the proverbial brass balls had fallen off the monkey. I walked so quickly (uphill) to the Drive that I sweated and pulled off my cat paw mitts, unbuttoned the top button of my melton wool coat and loosened my woven silk scarf. I kept my hat on my head but when I met my client I took off my coat, unbuttoned the sweater and took off the hat.

By the end of the meeting, before we had even left I was putting on my hat, then buttoning my sweater, then putting on my coat. The sweat had cooled on my body by the time I walked to the bank, then to the post office. Not too bad…bearable if not freezing. But then I walked down to the market, carrying the parcel and the two bottles of wine from the liquor store (it may be an economic downturn but you can’t tell from the empty shelves in the store…or maybe you can). I bought veggies and began the trek home. Two blocks and my right foot was completely numb with cold.

Not to mention I’d been cold in the liquour store and never warmed up. I stopped in the chocolate store, partially to thaw. My foot was hurting by then. But I didn’t mind the wait in the store. I depopsiclized. I got home and it was positively balmy in comparison. And hooray, the water was working again.

Tonight I drove to a friend’s yule party in New West. Fine weather but freakin’ freezing. I left at 8:30 to go to a party in Kits and it had warmed up enought to not need mitts in the car. I picked up my friends along the way and we were there by about 9:15. Just as it began to snow. That’s snow on top of snow and ice, with below freezing temperatures, that we’ve had for a week, in Vancouver. Where it never or just barely every snows!

Guess what? Coldest day ever! in one hundred years! That means since they start recording temperatures and I guess hell has frozen over because this sure feels like hell. So now it’s 12:20. I made reasonably good time though all, and I mean ALL the roads are coated with snow. Anyone driving had windows covered with snow because it was falling faster than a heater could melt it. But I made it without incident.

Hunkered down. Grinchly grumpy about the stuff I moved away from Alberta to avoid. Sad that I won’t be making it to my friend’s memorial tomorrow because I won’t be able to get through the snow. But grateful we’re whole and we all made it in one piece and that everyone was driving sanely.

Addendum: It’s Sunday noon, and it’s still snowing! There must be a foot by now and no end in site. I didn’t order this. Waaaaaah!

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The Idiocy of Winter Driving

Inevitably there is always someone (or more than one) who decides they’re outside the laws of nature when it comes to driving, and driving in winter. Really I should call this Sex and the Idiocy of Winter Driving and it will get more hits but I just can’t work sex into this…in most cases, and really I don’t want to know.

As I ranted yesterday, Vancouver doesn’t handle real winter well. We’re just not used to it. Not that the first snowfall doesn’t cause havoc in the rest of the country, and it often does but I can observe first hand the idiotic behavior here.

So yesterday, snow falling, roads sanded and salted but still icy and city trucks not keeping up everywhere or on the Number 1 Highway. There were accidents, there were lights out at intersections. There were many of us who opted for SkyTrain and bus. I did because even if I was cautious I didn’t want to deal with those who might not be and the traffic snarls. I’m glad I didn’t drive after I heard about the accidents. There were at least two deaths. I don’t know the details.

But as I was waiting for the bus last night, having stayed late at work to hopefully avoid delays (I didn’t) this is what I saw on the slushy, still slippery road: people booting it through the lights. Revving up on slippery snow and ice is bound to get you spinning your tires and going nowhere, or worse, sliding out of control. People running red lights. This is par for the course in Vancouver and dangerous at any time but more so when you have less control on the road. People dialing and talking on their cell phones, driving with one hand. Why am I surprised? People always think they can divide their attention between driving and smoking and talking on the phone and drinking coffee, sometimes all at once.

Sure, some of these drivers might just be from the Interior or Alberta or Ontario where snow and ice are a factor of winter. But reckless and unsafe driving negates the fact that they know how to drive in winter. If they’re driving like that, they’re not aware. Then there are all those who may not know, who incorrectly judge how fast they can stop, how slow they should turn a corner. My biggest fear in taking the bus was standing on the street and watching some vehicle spin out of control and into me.

Today I drove, deciding to take my time. That meant brushing all the snow off my car, including my lights and the roof so that it didn’t blind someone driving behind me. That also meant pulling slowly out of my parking spot, driving carefully down the ice and snow packed street, coasting gradually to a stop at the corner and signalling well in advance. The main roads were pretty good and overall, on the city streets, people were driving reasonably, not too fast and too close.

On the highway, traffic was lighter than usual and moving well. The speed limit is 90 km and we were moving at speed or 100 km. That wasn’t enough for one guy who decided to pull suddenly into the HOV lane, roar along at something like 130 km and cut back in front of a car without signalling. Obviously the recent news of a family losing two of their young boys in an accident when a single occupant driver drove into their van in the multi occupant lane did nothing to deter this guy. That driver was charged and a second driver (also single occupant who hit the other one after it hit the van) will likely be charged as well.

I shake my head and wonder who else will be a statistic because they thought they were immune. Like the stupid teenager last night, who arrogantly kept walking closer and closer to the cars driving by (while waiting for the light to change). He made one taxi come to a stop in the middle of the intersection on slippery snow. That kid will pull his tricks of power until he becomes a statistic or loses a friend. I wanted to smack him and muttered, “There’s someone who deserves to be hit. ” I got a look from one pedestrian, but really, if you’re going to court disaster, don’t be surprised when it takes you up on the offer.

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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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