As usual this winter, I stepped outside the other day dressed like the Michelin Man sporting long underwear. This winter, extreme measures of multi-layered clothing have been necessary just to survive the freezing trip from the house to the car. You can barely move in your Pillsbury Doughboy suit, and if you fall over, it would be just like in the movie A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s little brother falls over in the snow and can’t get up because his mom has made him wear so many clothes that he can’t move.
From my house to the car, it’s only a matter of a dozen steps or so, but with the endless record-breaking mega-sub-zero temperatures and the stupefyingly cruel windchill factor, a journey of more than, say, three minutes outside requires a survival suit and a full emergency kit.
You need silver thermal blankets, emergency flares, and a large thermos of hot coffee (spiked) at the very least.
And this winter, it’s hard not to consider the worst-case scenario and include a packet of last-resort cyanide.
That’s how bad this winter of our discontent is getting. Shakespeare’s was, like, 400 years ago, and I’m sure ours is worse.
But this one day recently, I looked up and immediately froze. Not in the normal sense of actually freezing to solid ice on account of the cold, but in the sense of stopping in my snowy tracks, frozen in awe.
I suddenly felt what the ancient Egyptians must have felt when they were worshipping their ‘sun god’ named Ra. (It’s a little known fact that the ancient Egyptians invented cheerleading. They would chant the sun god’s name: “Ra ! Ra! Ra!” whilst shaking their homemade pom poms.)
I was expecting the usual incessant snow, bitter winds and frozen dark skies, but instead of feeling awful, I was feeling full of awe. On account of there was this bright yellow shining thing in the sky. A shining bright sky-thing that seemed to have left our part of the world behind, so very long ago.
What did we used to call it? Oh yes, I remember now: sunshine.
The sight of it was enough to make me want to shake my pom poms.
And there, too, was that big blue Alberta sky we used to have on a seemingly regular basis. Where had it been hiding? It had been suspiciously absent most of last summer, too.
It’s amazing what a sunny blue sky day can do for the psyche of people who have been locked solidly in the icy grip of a winter — a winter that has been like a dreaded relative who comes on too strong, and stays too long.
I myself was so surprised and inspired by the sunshine that I actually took Scamp the deranged shih tzu for a walk — an event that has been extraordinarily rare this brutal winter. In fact, he hadn’t been out for so long he almost forgot to bark incessantly with happiness when I casually mentioned the word “walk.” And he almost let me put on his collar and leash without having to tackle him as he turned into a whirling dervish at the door.
Being diabetically blind and chronically dense, Scamp still instantly realized the rarity of a nearly normal day weather-wise and our mutt of over 10 years managed to make it all the way around the block, only walking smack into several large snowbanks and one parked car. An improvement I attribute to a sky full of Ra.
I could tell by the spring in his step that even a blind dog with a questionable IQ appreciated a day when our weather was finally a smidgen better than the frozen atmosphere of the planet Neptune.
What a difference a year makes. According to Environment Canada, last year was the warmest winter on record. In fact, many meteorologists dubbed the 2009-2010 season “the winter that wasn’t.” Funny, after living through this winter so far, I don’t even remember the ‘winter that wasn’t.’ However, I do clearly recall the “summer that wasn’t” — and that was last summer.
I don’t think many of us will forget or forgive Mother Nature for last summer or this winter.
I think I’ve worn out around four snow shovels this winter, and the poor puffball birds at my feeders looked pathetic. Like little snowballs with tiny legs and a disgusted look on their little freezing faces.
And I feel sorry for those people who have had to work outdoors this winter, and the folks who enjoy a daily walk outside, instead of having to cocoon themselves indoors for months, staring in disbelief at the window thermometer, while the wind and snow rattles and rages outside.
And it’s not over yet, according to the venerable Farmer’s Almanac, which for many people is the last word in weather forecasting and is occasionally right.
It predicts that April and May will be much cooler than normal, and “late season snowfalls” will be above normal. It also says summer in Alberta will feature temperatures that are, surprise, surprise, “below normal.”
Which leaves many of us wondering: just what is normal anymore? Put it this way: when it comes to weather, I think I’ll keep my Michelin Man suit and my long underwear handy all year.
And you never know when you might need that emergency kit. I’d better make sure the emergency thermos of coffee is always fresh and hot. (And spiked).
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate.