Winter has its charms, at least for those who’ve acquired a taste for it, but it must be acknowledged that, in spite of its lovely parts (the crunching and cracking of snow underfoot and the blintering* of the stars above on clear nights), winter also makes life more complicated. It takes a long time and an unreasonable amount of energy to don the almost uncountable number of layers required these days to venture safely outside. It is dangerously cold out. The snowbanks are so tall now, they display distinct geologic strata.
I ventured out for a haircut last week. The receptionist at the salon and I shared a laugh over how going outside, even for a few minutes, results in snotty noses we can’t feel because our faces are frozen. I mentioned how nice it would be to at least have the option of hibernating; she looked at me blankly, so I had to explain hibernation. I was initially appalled that a grown-up person wouldn’t know the definition of this word but reflected on the fact that she was very young, but more significantly, obviously from a Caribbean country where winter means something else entirely than it does here.
That got me thinking about what it would be like to live somewhere where hibernation would be an abstract concept found only in foreign books, films, and television…it turns out, I find it fully impossible to imagine being warm all year long. I can, however, pretty clearly imagine fattening up for a long nap om a cave, then to wake up months later, skinny, angry, and very, very hungry–and not just because there may be something psychologically similar between this and graduate school.
I began writing this in my office, with the space heater at full blast near my legs, while wearing long johns under my jeans, a hoodie (hood up) over my sweater, and with the house thermostat jacked up (but only relatively speaking, it turns out). My fingernails and lips were blue. (Which reminds me…many years ago, I worked on the circulation desk at the main Dalhousie University library. One day at work, I was wearing a blue sweater that amplified the startling blue of my hands; a student with his pile of books–at the time, I thought he was flirting with me, but now suspect he was a medical student–loudly and with much concern noted the absolute wrongness of my nails being that colour. I said it was fine as they’d always done that in the cold…which was true, but it’s funny no one ever had before that moment suggest I see a doctor about it.)
Besides turning blue sometimes when winter is being exceptionally wintry, my hands also begin to display the condition I call Crone-Hand. I see the incredible narrative possibilities for this neologism for high fantasy fiction (curses, spells, legends, myths, dark histories, mysterious afflictions, sword-fighting technique…). In fact, it merely reflects all the hand-washing I do to avoid catching or spreading the flu, the way furnaces dry everything up into dust, and the extra dish-washing I do to warm up. These wintertide realities make my hands look increasingly like whispery, wrinkly, old paper, in spite of the buckets of hand cream I apply to them. (This is the other reason, besides basic comfort when going outdoors, that warm mittens are so important: no one should have to look at the shriveled paws attached to my wrists.)
When I began writing this, it was very cold; now it is extremely, horribly, shockingly, goddamn cold. The difference, ironically, is that as I type these, my most up-to-date, words I am uncomfortably warm. This is because now the thermostat is really jacked up. You see, today, our pipes froze. We’ve spent many hours blow-drying and otherwise heating the pipes in question (no, no open flames or blowtorches!), in a house with a current temp of 27C. I still have the Crone-Hand, but now my fingers are a post-festive red instead of a mid-February distressing blue; my hair is wilting like it’s a hard summer day and our cats are regretting their fur coats.
Yet, there is more; it’s really been a banner day for winter here in Toronto. Before we discovered the frozen pipes, I had to get Brook to come home early from the gym because the front door to our house was frozen shut! I have experienced frozen pipes once before: almost exactly 4 years ago, Brook was in the Caribbean being sunned while I was here crying and ineffectually wielding a much hotter blow-dryer than the one currently in play. I have never before experienced the special experience of being utterly powerless to open a door because of cold, a fact made more dramatic and terrible by my being outside, not inside, that door. I can check this off my Nihilist Bucket List! One down, an eternity of painful events yet to come!
It’s not supposed to warm up till Sunday. I don’t know what that means for the time between now and then. I suspect the progress we’ve made today (we have hot and cold water downstairs, but only cold water upstairs as of this moment) with this indoor sauna will be undone when it goes down to -25C (before windchill) overnight. We obviously can’t leave space heaters leaning up against pipes and walls while we’re asleep and dreaming of warmer days, or we might wake up dead and that would be no good at all.
If this inconvenience remains an inconvenience and doesn’t turn into another plumbing disaster, I’m going to reaffirm my previously expressed positive view of winter. After all, as my friend G. says, there is something essentially and compellingly epic about winter; I don’t want to add exploding water pipes to my Bucket List of Supreme Grief, Wailing, and Gnashing of Teeth. I know, I’ve changed; this is what being an adult does to you.
*I learned this delightful Scots word while reading Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks, a book boiling over with delicious words, including “beetle-scrunchers” which is a fond (I think) way of teasing someone who has huge feet; my friend A. has size-15 beetle-scrunchers, but I don’t think he’d take it well if I offered him this etymological tidbit.