Where Is Winter?

photo: hanspoldoja/creative commons
photo: hanspoldoja/creative commons

I want to lie down where the snow is deep. Lie on my back where the silence of snow is thick, and where great white drifts drop into curves and hollows round the bases of trees. Even I am not sure what my heart’s secret is, but I know it has to do with winter, with the slow wheeling stars and the stillness of snow.            – Michael Spooner

Where is winter? It’s the middle of January and the view from my window is sadly lacking in white. Instead, an array of brown, green, and grey meets my eye, thankfully with the addition of a bright blue sky on this particular day. But the mountain of snow that usually dominates the school’s parking lot across the street is non-existent and the teachers are able to park their cars in their usually spaces. The sidewalks are clean, so moms with strollers are out for morning exercise. People aren’t bundled up like they should be for this time of year; a light jacket and some gloves are sufficient. All of these things may sound convenient, really, but it’s a matter of great sadness for me. As big a pain as winter can be, it’s supposed to happen every year and, when it doesn’t, I feel cheated.

The first year I moved to western Ontario, to the coast of Lake Huron, I heard from everybody about how awful the winters are, especially from my Mississauga-raised boyfriend. I laughed off the warnings; after all, I’m from Muskoka and know all about snowy winters. Yet, sure enough, winter hit with a vengeance. We shovelled daily and couldn’t keep up. As soon as we managed to clear the driveway in the early morning darkness so Jason could leave for work, the snow plow would go by and create another 3-foot wall at the end of the driveway. Sometimes I didn’t go anywhere because I couldn’t lift that shovel anymore. Of course that was also the year I had to commute to Toronto once a week to finish my degree. I had some memorably stormy, snowy drives.

My childhood winter memories are of mornings when the thermometer registered as low as -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) on a regular basis. My parents bundled me up like Bonhomme. I could hardly walk but that didn’t matter. My sister and I rolled around in the snow, making impressive networks of tunnels in the high snowbanks that circled the driveway. The snow was a natural playmate, wonderfully conducive to creative building projects. On rare special nights, my parents would wake us up, wrap us in sleeping bags, and carry us out into the middle of the frozen lake to see the northern lights.

That was three years ago, and the last two winters have been ridiculously mild and almost snow-less. There’s no shovelling, but there’s also no sledding, no skiing, no tingly red cheeks, no wet mitts on the heat register, no icicles to suck, no snow forts or snowball fights to have, no stormy snow blizzards that shake the house. It’s downright depressing. Most upsetting of all was the early spring that hit last March, with temperatures in the 20s Celsius and the local fruit trees budded. When the temperature crashed, the fruit farmers lost their crop. There were few apples, cherries, peaches, and plums in Ontario in 2012. This past weekend, I went outside and saw bright green buds forming on the lilac tree and on my Japanese rose bush. I hope our poor local farmers don’t miss out on yet another year’s harvest.

It irritates me when the weather reporters on the radio sound happy about having “some nicer weather,” as they forecast temperatures above freezing. Give me frigidly cold temperatures any day over the mucky, slushy, greyness that hovers around zero degrees Celsius. This isn’t winter; this is some kind of winterish purgatory that needs to go away. If the skies would open up and dump the last two years’ worth of snow on top of Ontario right now, and if the thermometer plummeted along with it, I’d be thrilled.

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7 thoughts on “Where Is Winter?

  1. Hi Katherine – thanks for this thoughtful post. Like you, I’m disgusted with the radio forecasters, so much so that I don’t listen to our local CBC a.m. radio show anymore. Although a better response might be to phone in every time they delight in our above-normal temps, and remind them about the dire consequences globally and (increasingly) locally. A FB friend of mine from southern Ontario posted this on his wall this week:
    My friend Chris C just posted the following status update: “WHY DO MEDIA FAIL TO DISCUSS OPENLY THE SIGNS OF CLIMATE CHANGE NOW. 12 DEGREES IN TORONTO, NO SNOW, AND THE SIGNS OF SPRING IN JANUARY ARE NOT GOOD FOR ECOLOGY, HYDROLOGY, OR HUMAN PROSPERITY.” And this is [my FB friend, Jim Harris’s] response to it: “Thanks for posting on this incredibly important issue Chris. It is deeply disturbing that yesterday we experience +15 degrees where I am in Toronto. And I am disturbed listening to the media commentary about how wonderful this warm weather is. A friend mentioned to Lee Anne that the Magnolia tree in their neighbourhood is showing signs that it might be about to bud. If this Spring weather continues in the middle of winter it will bud. And it’s flowering will be killed off with the inevitable return of winter weather. The stability and predictability of the seasons is defined as security” by many Aboriginal peoples. Too tiny a percentage of the population realizes that the changing of the weather on a global scale will bring unprecedented, disastrous changes in human experience. When I hear on the radio or in media how wonderful this mild weather is, I despair. Because to me it’s like people dancing as the Titanic is sinking, unaware of the impending consequences. And so the band played on . . . Yes. It is deeply disturbing. And frankly depressing. Just my happy thoughts for this mild Sunday.”

  2. The truth is that, globally, December was the 334th month in a row of above normal temperatures globally. The last time that the globe experienced a month of below normal temperatures was April 1985. That means (depending on your age) you might not even have been around. Certainly my 2 daughters, 22 & 19, weren’t. Mothers, parents, and grandparents need to raise our voices loud and clear, to our political leaders and to our communities – church, local, etc – and say this is not acceptable.
    I would encourage you and any of your readers who are concerned about climate change to write letters to the editor in your local papers, and engage in this issue like our lives depended on it, because the lives of our children and grandchildren may in fact be dependent on our collective actions in the next 5 years.

  3. I can see how depressing is for Ontario to have a so much mild weather in winter and very hot summers even if I did not grow up here but in the Greek warm climate . Climate change is obviously here! By the way, Greece is also facing very hot summers – much more days of 40 and up degrees. This means that the Greek grape production there was very bad last year but the Ontario grape production was very good. Is it a reason to celebrate this change? NO!!! Next, I expect to see olive trees in Ontario very soon. Actually, England tries olive trees for some years now. I really feel that simple people are finally ready to change the way they live in order to avoid having such extreme phenomena all around the world – many have taken their lesson in one way or another. But are politicians and rich people going to accept the new reality in order to change the “business as usual” scheme in their minds? I am not very sure.
    Furthermore, European and more specifically German politicians started to try alternative solutions to the renewal energy and – after tsunami happened in Japan – they stated that they do not wish to maintain nuclear plants in their soil while politicians in Canada continue to build new nuclear plants. There are longitudinal German studies that clearly show the association of nuclear plant activity and kids cancers.

  4. Not to take away from the important issues like climate change and whether nuclear plants are causing childhood cancer, my dog’s perpetually muddy feet are mostly what’s driving my wish for sub-zero temperatures. I wouldn’t be opposed to a few snow days either. It can be fun to be snowed in when you live in Bruce County!

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