Faint are the memories of my childhood. Thankfully there are pictures, as the one above firming up that it was real and not some romantic dream. (Above I’m ice fishing in the dead of winter on Sturgeon Lake in Northern Alberta. I think I was about seven or eight there?)
Romantic, ha! Crazy how we look upon our childhood through fogged memories that often have the emotional and physical content lopped off. “Oh it was so fun to walk in the snow to school!” Again, ha! It was a small northern town where winters were bloody cold. Walking to school was an experience in endurance!
One particular morning (likely in November or December) in grade nine I believe, it was around 35 below with a wind chill I’m sure of minus 50! Bundled up to the eyes for a 25-minute walk. Not sure why I didn’t take the bus, but I do remember times when it was too cold for the busses to run. Found out later that the busses usually couldn’t run below minus 35, good idea right? Except the schools never closed until minus 40! Lovely. At this time I had glasses with a metal bridge and I remember feeling a burning on my nose the hike to school. Ah, arriving to enter the warmth was wonderful, but my glasses would always fog up so I’d take them off right? But this time they didn’t come off so easily and it wasn’t until I looked closely at the metal bridge I found a chunk of frozen skin. I ran to the bathroom and sure enough, a red torn patch of skin at the top of my nose where my glasses sat. No blood, no pain. The rule of thumb (in the era before helicopter parents) being that if there was no pain or blood it didn’t matter. So I didn’t do anything about it.
One of the more ideal illustrations of my wintry childhood. And how long they would last! From first flakes in late September until, until, until, until May when consistently warm winds would defrost us all. Eight months out of twelve! A sure reason why I now live in one of the most southern parts of Canada.
The only kind reprieve from mind and body numbing cold: the Chinook.
Chinook are more frequent in Southern Alberta, but up north, if they came at all, it would usually be towards the end of February and through to May. In a day the temperature could go from minus 9 to plus 15. Melting a significant amount of snow! I am sure during those long cold walks I often prayed for those warm winds.
When they came, it would often be sunny and everyone would be outside joyfully taking in the faux spring day. Ah, here are the kinder, truer romantic memories.
patches of thawing snow
patches of discoloured
matted, waxen grass, happy I imagine
finding sol’s warmth early
softening, springy beneath my feet
then soon reburied
from icy Siberian clutches