Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Storm Warning

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!)


Janet said...

Ah, the National Pasttime of Canada - discussing the weather!

Heard you guys were knee deep in the stuff. I hope everyone has stayed home and not ventured out - you're right about folks giving no thought to traveling when the roads are bad or they're advised not to. Not me - I stay home. I would rather miss an important event than risk my life!

Not sure if the writer in me is concerned with location - but I know the 'me' in me is very much a water person. The Prairies where I was raised are beautiful in their own right, but it is the call of the ocean and the tang of salt in the air that settles my soul. I am so happy to be residing on the East Coast - although I miss my friends and family very much.

Great post, Helena. Keep warm and happy writing while you wait out the storm and the subsequent digging out!

DebH said...

Hi Helena
I hope you are still toasty warm and safe from the weather. My mother grew up on the plains of North Dakota, so she taught us kids the wisdom of winter storm prep even though we grew up in the big city of Denver, Colorado.

I do think where you live does have a bearing on your writing - but more so is the encouragement from family to be creative.
My younger brother lives in a rural area and has purposely limited his children's access to television and video games, instead encouraging them to read. As a result, both children have very active imaginations and can, in his words, entertain themselves for hours with a couple of sticks and rock.

Again, I think family/parents encouraging creative thought plus the environment can foster creative success in writing and other craft professions.

Karyn Good said...

I'd like to think I could write anywhere, make the best of living anywhere, be happy anywhere. But the good thing is I don't have to test that theory. The Prairies, this province - this is where my heart is. The skies, the wide open space, the sunshine, the seasons, and even with the sometimes crappy weather, this is where I strive. I love to visit other places but this is my safe place - my home.

My daughter's having a snow day today. Not so my teenage.son, he has end of term exams so he's off to school refusing the very idea of wearing winter boots. The horror! So yeah - no real appreciation for the elements there. Yet!

And I can put up with a lot of nasty weather days in a row if the sun is shining. It's easier to smile when the sun is beaming :D

JoanneBrothwell said...

Storms to me are scary, especially after the storm of 2006 when a few people died. I grew up at the beginning of the new attitude that life should go on as usual despite the weather, and I recall my dad ski-dooing to his business five miles away!

I was more than willing to stay home from work today, I think we should go back to the days you wrote about when we bowed to the power of nature.

Helena said...

'morning, Janet. It's so ingrained in me that I didn't stop to think that I was perpetuating the Canadian stereotype!

You've mentioned before how attuned you are to water, and I think it's interesting how many prairie people do feel an affinity to the ocean. Apparently lots of prairie boys join the navy.

I hope I didn't sound too flipping happy about storms. I woke up this morning to hear that there are many people in the south part of the province without power; it's definitely not a laughing matter.

The digging out began earlier this morning, making me a little late in answering comments. Several feet deep in places, hard enough to build igloos with because the wind really packed it, and I will need the guy with the bobcat to come and open up the ridge at the end of my driveway that the grader left. There, that's the end of my tale of the storm. I'm still not going anywhere -- lots of snow on the roads.

Just happy to have many hours of peaceful writing time!

Helena said...

You're so right, Deb. I was listening to a radio program yesterday about "reluctant readers" and the books that are available with high interest / low vocabulary for those young people. It was mentioned that studies show that the single most important element in encouraging chldren to read is a parent who reads. Providing a good example is a powerful tool. The point was also made, tho, that kids are doing a lot of reading in various ways nowadays, even through all the material that comes to them through electronic or graphic sources.

Because reading is so important in our development as writers, that family influence really does trump all those other things that have an impact on us.

Thanks for joining in today. Glad to know you also have a background in 'storm.'

Helena said...

And I hope the sun will soon break through, Karyn.

Lots of cancellations today, I hear -- school and bus, etc. altho I guess nothing stops those final exams. And nothing will ever change teenagers. In my era, it was bare legs in winter. We were not allowed to wear slacks in high school, but the sensible girls wore them under their skirts (it would be tights nowadays) then removed them when they got to school. My grandmother used to say we'd be sorry some day when we suffered from rheumatism!

Glad to hear we are kindred spirits in our love for the prairies, Karyn!

Helena said...

Hi, Joanne. I was really glad to hear your response, to know there are still some pople who respect the elements. I painted a black and white scenario, but it is a concern.

We are also far more dependent now on networks of power and heating than we were in 'the old days' when we had a wood cookstove in the kitchen, and our own generator for lights. We were more self-reliant, so it may have given us a better sense of how far we could push our luck. Today it seems there is more of a feeling that it's someone else's responsibilty to keep things running for us.

As for writing, I suppose that you can build the worlds in your stories regardless of where you live, but do you find inspiration through a geographical place, or does it come entirely from your imaginative core? Or is it too nebulous to track?

Glad you've got some 'home' time today, too.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
As I write this the wind is howling at my window. Rural schools are closed and buses are cancelled. I have drift forming in my driveway.

Thanks for sending the storm this way, Saskatchewan!

I'm feeling a little cranky because it never fails; whenever my husband is scheduled to go out of town, it storms and I get stuck shoveling! His taxi could barely make it to the airport but the plane took off fine.

That said, I'm a Prairie girl at heart. My husband would gladly retire somewhere warm but I can't imagine living anywhere else, at least not permanently. So I guess I'll just have to get out my shovel.

As far as the envirnoment influencing how you write or what you write, I think it does. I can research differnet locations and different ways of life, but I understand the prairies. I understand cold better than I understand heat; I understand blizzards more than I understand hurricanes. I'm sure those feelings must seep into my writing.


Suse said...

Hi Helena,
As I mentioned at Janet's Journal today, I am having a snow day - first time ever. And the only reason our campus is closed is because there is so much snow people can't even drive on to campus. (I guess that's what we get for being on the edge of the city.)

I don't think I need a particular place to write, but I'm like Janet. I love being by the ocean. I could probably retire somewhere with a beach.

Although as Jana mentioned, I too am familiar with cold and blizzards, not so familiar with heat and hurricanes.

I'm so glad I didn't have to go to work today, but my day is not without worry. My soon-to-be 24 year son went to Swift Current this weekend with this girlfriend. They planned to leave Friday evening but we were able to talk them out of that, but they went Saturday in the light of day, knowing that the forecast was not good. Of course, they couldn't drive home yesterday because of the blizzard - the highways that way were closed until this morning. They planned to leave at noon today. I'll be close by my phone until I know he's home safe and sound.

Speaking of other young people not making good decisions about winter. My husband's cousin, who had grown up in Victoria, had to go to a conference in Winnipeg in January. Having not grown up in the prairies, he didn't realize that he may need to pack warm clothes. He told his mom later that he thought he would die the couple of blocks he had to walk from his hotel to the conference hotel. He only wore dress shoes and a fall jacket, no mitts, no toque.

When I was reading your story, Helena, about being snowbound at school, I was thinking this would be a good scene in a novel or would make a great essay.

connie said...

Hi Helena
First - Suse is right on. Your school story would make a great short story. In the SK stories perhaps? Two stories are happily accepted.
Canadians talk about the weather because it is an undeniable part of all of us, wherever we live in Canada.
I grew up in southern Ontario. Generally, the weather was less severe as it is here, but every late Jan/early Feb there is always a major storm that makes skyscrapers sway (they are built to sway eight feet in any direction). The weather there comes from the west, so storms cross Lake Erie before they dump serious amounts of snow. I didn't just shovel out at the bottom of the car. I have been unable to find mine for snow on occasion. One- story houses near the lake are frequently buried in some really bad storms.
Does it affect my writing? No.
Weather in the west may have a slight effect on my writing but only in that I am aware people can die here easily. There is a sharper contrast in weather-related experiences here than in places with constant warm temperatures I believe.
I will never forget an emergency drive from Brandon to Winnipeg in which a couple died 50 feet from a gas station. The highway was invisible and I was eventually forced to stop, with a very sick baby in the backseat and a toddler in the front.
Knowing of a woman who tried to walk a very short distance in dress shoes and later had toes amputated made me an exceptionally cruel mother. BOOTS. MITTS. HAT.
Western weather is not often funny, but it can be excruciatingly beautiful. I choose here, though I do miss the crashing wave of the Great Lakes and the fabulous coloured leaves of home.
I have always carried warm clothes for everybody in the car - along with emergency items, including a romance novel! I always insisted the kids do so whenever they went out on a winter night (novel not essential). The recalcitrant who wore running shoes undone now carries extra clothes for his children etc.
I told folk tales in all the schools they attended until the last one passed grade 3. I later did this on my own tv shows. Maybe that helped, but none of them were much into reading until in their twenties. Now, they all read voraciously but only non-fiction. Go figure.
I read to my grandchildren every chance I get and I carry a violent purple tote full of varying art and craft materials. Both are great hits and they always want me to leave everything behind for them. One is learning to knit, one to cook and the 13-year-old producing animated stories for the internet with a facebook friend. They play video games, but they also fight over books.
Old fashioned but adaptable, me. If it is bad weather, you can reach me at home unless there is a medical emergency.
Although major writers in the
prairies favour areas they know, and are excellent writers without a doubt, there are, per capita, as many fine writers in every part of Canada, affected by their geography or no.
Meanwhile, I will be home until Wednesday, when I have an appointment to have my eyes - not my head - examined

Helena said...

I didn't try to evade the fact that the storm is heading east from SK, Jana. So sorry Manitoba is on the way.

A geographical location is a lot more than just the climate, but so much of the culture of a place is determined by weather. Think of the slow pace of the hot countries with their siestas, compared with the vigour of the temperate or cold climates. I think a sense of place is reflected in some writing, but it's definitely not always a defining factor, nor does it need to be limiting.

Hope the shovelling went well. I did quite a bit and then got rescued by a bobcat operator for the rest.

Helena said...

Thank you, Suse. The storm-stay experience was memorable and no doubt it will pop up somewhere in a future story.

I certainly hope your son made it back okay. The anxiety while you are waiting to hear can be pretty tough -- an emotion that can add punch to a story, and is so much more credible if you have experienced it yourself.

Don't tell me we could lose another prairie girl to a seashore somewhere!

Helena said...

Wow, Connie -- you covered a lot of ground in your comment! I must say I certainly unleashed a huge torrent of weather stories today.

It's great to have grandchildren, isn't it? I'm headed out to Alberta to spend some time next month with both families -- five grandkids in total, ranging in age from 20 down to going on 6. Quite a variety of activities and interests.

Thanks for sharing our mutual storm-bound day today.

Suse said...

I'm glad to report Michael made it home safely this afternoon.

You never know, if I can talk hubby into retiring to somewhere with a sea shore, we might be gone. It would all depend, of course, on our parents and our children.

Suse said...

I'm glad to report Michael made it home safely this afternoon.

You never know, if I can talk hubby into retiring to somewhere with a sea shore, we might be gone. It would all depend, of course, on our parents and our children.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I tried commenting a couple times today without any luck - hoping this time lucky...

Yes, the boys were home from school today because buses weren't running. Hubby has a 4x4 and kept getting stuck. I took a photo of his truck and the front hubcaps are snowcovered but not the back. And it's so hardpacked! After driving for an hour on gravel roads you woulda thought it'd have shaken loosen.

I've lived in many different houses both urban and rural, prairie and forested. And I've written both above and underground while I was a shiftworker in the CAF. And I've found it easier to write in a rural setting without the traffic or white noise.

Good blog, Helena.