Living in small-town Canada (aka A funny survival guide for US expats, eh?)
Chapter 4 : Winter.
It’s winter 8 months out of the year here. We (Sundre) are on record as the coldest spot in North America, second to Antarctica.
Yet, you can do some fun things in Winter, like put a tray of water outside and watch it form ice cubes.
If you’re short on refrigerator space, you can put stuff in the garage to keep it cold.
If your front door gets snowed in, you can put bottles into the pile and use it as an extra beer cooler.
When you park your car, your tires deform looking somewhat flat as they cool off. Don’t worry, it will go back to normal as they warm back up.
The humble toque (pronounced like “too” with a “k” at the end, not “took” which sounds different, lol) — When you see these beanies (aka watch caps, knit hats) they say “Canada” — a toque is a round knit hat which has been made with ear flaps and braided cords dangling down from either side (somewhat resembling pigtails?) and usually a small pompom on top. The purpose of the ear-flaps will help keep your ears and cheeks warm, though the braids and pompoms originally eluded me, I was told that this comes from a Norwegian hat, and the tassels are tied under one’s chin when it gets particularly cold, which will hold in the heat and keep more of your face warm. The pompom helps keep heat from escaping the top of your head, as traditionally knit caps have pleats which gather at the top, this construction forms a small hole at the top, thus the pompom covers said hole as well provides additional flourishes .. uh .. decorative .. erm .. bits 😛 — you need to be brave to wear a toque because they can make you look pretty silly depending on the colors or amount of tassels you have dangling down.. but hey it keeps my head warm so I don’t care how it looks 🙂 A common superstition says you can’t wear a toque until the temperature drops to minus 2 C (about 28 F) or below, else you would encourage snowfall and cold.
I’m not sure what the rule (if any) is regarding long johns (aka thermal underwear), gloves or scarves, but as it gets colder, on comes more stuff to keep you warm.
For the diehards, there are aviator style hats which look even more Canadian in my opinion .. I haven’t had the pleasure of owning one … yet.
During the colder part of winter, in addition to my usual socks, briefs, and t-shirt, I generally wear boots, long John underpants, and a second button shirt or sweater over that. When going outside I have a toasty yet light boating jacket, gloves, toque, and a scarf for colder days. If it is going to be near -30 C, I’ll add that long-john shirt to my normal ensemble. As it gets closer to spring, I lose the long-johns and swap the boots for “runners” (aka “sneakers” or “tennis shoes” in US)
You will learn how to use a snow shovel for 75% of the white stuff, a broom for sweeping the fluffy powdery stuff, and a ice pick, which may resemble a cross between a garden implement and wood chisel, for the stuff that melted and then froze before running wherever water should normally go.
“Chinooks” are an interesting anomaly. I never heard of them until moving up here: In the sky you may see a huge bow-shaped cloud bank, which has an edge to it, as if someone came by and chopped half away, then carried it off somewhere. They signal a break in the cold weather, temperatures suddenly rise from -20 C to well into the pluses, as if the weather forgot it was Winter and decided to give us a day or so of blue Summer skies. This is when snow melts, roads clear, people get out and happy, motorcyclists get to fire up the bike and go for a ride, that sort of thing.
“Flurries” were something new to me as well, it’s like wind mixed with snow, and can resemble shifting sand blowing across coastal highways, except that it’s cold and icy of course, and not so fun to drive in.
Fog in California can be thin, thick, or like driving through split pea soup. The nice thing though, you see it coming and it’s a gradual effect of going into the fog, growing thicker, then thinning out, and eventually it clears and you’re out of it. Fog lights do well in that sort of fog. Sometimes you feel as if you are moving through the clouds, and the fog is like that; Grounded clouds.
Alberta is completely different. The fog here is like thick sheets suspended in the air, bam you hit them and are in thick fog, then whoosh you are out of them and it’s open sky again, you can actually see the edges as if someone hung the floating gossamer in the air. Once through the little fog sheet, it stays clear until you hit the next one, a very surreal experience until the novelty wears off.
I like the sound of walking on snow.. Crunch crunch crunch crunch.. Sometimes when walking over paved sidewalks, you can hear frozen ice cracking beneath each step.
Walking along, you often see glittering ice crystals, much like those “birds-eye view” aerial shots of night-time sports you see on TV, where the camera looks down upon thousands of tiny flash cameras going off, fans in the stadium seeking to capture a moment. This glistening effect must be inspiration for many a poem or song about Winter. Or blog entry lol.. I like the sparkly stuff.
I also enjoy the sublime stillness of Winter, the quiet sound of silence. Sometimes as you are standing or walking along, you can sense this..
The air is crisp and clean, you notice the absence of insects, hibernating perhaps. No flies. No mosquitoes. No bugs. No ants attacking your picnic. Imagine that.
Yes there’s a few birds, like ravens and crows, though most of your summery tweety singing birds are gone.
Rodents, who knows where they go, but they seem to be gone too. We have some feral cats around, though no more absent than they are when it’s warmer.
Sure, I could go on and mention snowmen, snow angels, igloos and winter sports, snow blindness, removing your snowy shoes when entering a home, winter driving techniques and more, but those topics seem a misnomer, so I will close the article by saying I love Winter, I love the snow- it’s the ice and extreme cold I don’t quite care for..
Stay warm, cheers!