My current conception of Winter is radically different that the one I carried with me on my motorcycle as I moved here from the prairies over five years ago. In Calgary, the first snowfall of the year usually occurs in mid-October. It is seen by many as a death sentence.
Those first snowflakes, ultimately doomed to melt on the chilly pavement, are cursed as they are symbolic of the thousands of pounds of solid water bound to infiltrate the city’s vast sky over the next… eight months.
The Prairie’s first snowflakes symbolize other things too, off course. They bring to mind the enormous chaos and panic that inevitably descends upon any given city during the winter months. As the grass turns brown, and then dusted with white, the streets become a stew of messy sludge complete with a high sodium content as salt is used liberally to melt the ice: this is the broth. The larger pieces of the stew, the protein if you will, are the thousands of vehicles which are slowed down, often to a complete halt, on all of Calgary’s major arteries during the winter months.
The vehicle of choice amongst prairie dwellers, the pick up truck, is a rudderless ship on the prairie’s massive winter ocean of ice. Truck nuts sway back and forth gently as half-tons fishtale their way through traffic, posing a significant danger to brave pedestrians who walk on black ice sidewalks blinded by hoods, toques and other obligatory pieces of winter paraphernalia. Winter is a deadly square dance in Cowtown.
But here things are much different; I’m wearing flip flops as I write this piece in the middle of December. One can get by in Victoria with just a good umbrella, a sweatshirt and a nice pair of rain boots. Sure it rains; there are many kinds of rain, some of which I genuinely enjoy. There’s torrential rain, a rain that is the cold equivalent to one of those showers rich people have, with ten different heads. Torrential rain has no massage feature, however.
There’s also mist rain. This one’s my favourite. It’s the kind of rain that refreshes you, it’s invisible, cold cloud hugs your face and restores one’s energy. Mist rain goes well with a locally roasted espresso and a hand rolled cigarette.
Sometimes, Victoria is pounded by windstorms and on these nights, I truly rejoice. On these nights, only a few of us dare leave our homes. When we walk outside, we hear the roar of an angry wind through the creepy, deformed limbs of Gary Oak tree: some of them snap and fall to the ground like the dead limb of an amputee.
Some of us go to the beach on these nights, to hear the roar of giant waves crash upon the shoreline. Some of us let off some steam by screaming curses at that wind, and only the wind hears what we say.
All of the Pacific ocean’s guts are belched out onto the concrete on these nights. Mussels, clams, small fish, kelp and sometimes even octopi look so sad out of their usual oceanic context. Some of us try desperately to throw them back into a brine that often fills even the tallest of black rain-boots.