The warning on The Weather Network website has been there for three days now. Monday promises to see the end of it as it moves further east. In the southern part of the province the warning bears the dreaded word: Blizzard! More wind, more snow, colder temperatures. These terms are defined by Environment Canada if we care to check the details.
The forecast over the last week predicted the approach of some form of active winter weather. Those innocent-looking little icons indicated snow would fall, whether a few flurries or a major dump remained to be seen. A worrisome factor (for me) was the unseasonably mild weather we have had recently, bringing the temperature dangerously close to melting. Would we get freezing rain, bringing dangerously icy conditions to the streets and highways? Turns out it was a combination of all the above! The snow is piling up, with more to come, and the wind has whipped it into marvellous shapes completely blocking my front steps and driveway. I will not shovel until the storm has passed.
This is a link to a storm picture that someone sent on the weekend to The Weather Network. Listen to this to hear a winter storm.
This is winter on the prairies where I grew up and lived most of my life. Now in my retirement I still live here. By choice. When I was a child, winter weather was respected and we bowed to its dominance over our lives. We did not expect to travel in stormy weather or intense cold. The sensible thing to do was stay home. And we loved it.
We lived on a farm, and there were special occasions, such as Christmas get-togethers when relatives from the city would travel to visit us. This always made my father nervous because he was convinced that city folk did not know how to prepare properly for winter travel. He scoffed at the people he encountered venturing from the city into rural areas wearing low shoes and lightweight coats, lacking warm gloves and hats, and without emergency supplies in their vehicles. He often simply parked his vehicles in the garage during the winter months. But even with this attitude, he sometimes was fooled by sudden changes in the weather.
I remember one winter day my father went to town on business, a distance of about ten miles. By early afternoon, a winter storm had blown up, and it was too risky to try to navigate his way home over the country roads. So he phoned to tell my mother that he would stay put until the storm blew over. I was eleven years old, the eldest of three school-aged children in our family. There was no way to get us home from school, a mile and a half away. The teacher in our one-room school was a relative, and she lived with her family in the teacherage in the schoolyard. Being storm-stayed overnight turned into an adventure, with lots of new snow in which to dig caves and make forts, and in the evening we learned to play canasta. It was more worrisome for my mother who was alone on the farm with my baby brother, less than a year old. The next morning dawned sunny and bright, snow plows cleared the roads, and my father picked us up at school as usual at the end of the day.
I still find a winter storm an event of great proportion, but I don’t fight it. I am happy to stay home, hunkered down keeping warm, curled up with a good book or watching a movie, or better yet, I take it as an opportunity to write! But I have noticed that the prevalent attitude these days is to try to carry on regardless of the weather. The old rural-urban split in this matter doesn’t exist now. People everywhere expect the games will be played, they feel that shopping is essential, and their planned trips must be taken – so bring on the snow plows NOW. Of course, major roads must be cleared in case of emergencies, but I’m talking about the incidental, not the absolutely essential, activities. I also fear that too many people venture out unprepared. They are used to stepping from a warm building to a warm vehicle and back again, without thought of what might happen if they get stranded on a lonely country road or slip off an icy highway into a ditch. We hear too many tragic stories in the winter months.
On a not entirely unrelated note, some people have wondered why the prairies produce so many good writers – W.O. Mitchell, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Lorna Crozier, Rudy Wiebe, to name but a few. Others have attempted to answer. There is a history of support for the arts in general here, which has produced a culture that nurtures artists, including writers, all of whom benefit from programs and grants that are available. But it may also be explained by a sense that something inherent in a population that faces harsh conditions and other adversity results in a survival mentality with an impulse to create. This might be traced back to the pioneer settlement era, but it continues to this day in what is a unique connection to the land and the sky by a community of diverse people who share a strong, common bond.
So, people of Blogland, do you believe your creative impulses are shaped by where you live? Is it important to you as a writer to live in a particular place, or type of geography? How do you deal with the winter climate? Unlike me, do you yearn to get away to a warm place in the winter months? Or do you revel in all the seasons? (I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon. Please excuse me while I check whether I can open my door, or whether I have to shovel through a snowbank to get out!)