No, I mean, it is really, really cold (pushing -40 before the wind chill and has been below -50 with it, for those who are wondering). Up until the past few days, I’ve been quite comfortable playing outside with sufficient winter clothing on, but the mercury has dropped in the past couple of days to the point where the cold has become a Trojan Horse of sorts, finding new and clever ways to blast through my previously impregnable defensive shield of goose down, merino wool and facial hair. It’s not so much that my skin is cold, although the few exposed bits I had definitely felt the burn as I meandered across Great Slave Lake to a friend’s houseboat for breakfast yesterday. Rather, it’s more of an inside-out cold. Each of my trips into the elements in the past couple of days has started off by old man winter (who I’m convinced, by his unapologetic disposition of late, must be a disgruntled Packers fan) simultaneously punching me in the stomach and vacuuming the air out of my lungs. Indeed, this sort of weather will put hair on a man’s chest, which is completely unnecessary in my case (as any impressionable and horrified young visitor to Camp Sheldrake during the summers of 2001 - 2003 will be able to tell you).
And while the weather's been so gnarly of late that even the locals have been complaining (which has become my rather reliable thermometer), the subarctic chill is something I’ve embraced for what it does to the people up here. Here's the thing: the two realities of life during the Yellowknife winter are that, 1. The days are cold, and 2. The nights are long (and also cold). Sure, one could isolate oneself from the outside world for the close to seven months of winter a year and wait things out under the comforter, but that would get mighty lonely mighty quickly. Instead, people seem to take that extra step to enjoy each other's company. There's something to be said for making the winter a solo mission that you tackle head-on, but there's a camaraderie I've seen in the few weeks I've been here that I think is mandated by the mutual understanding that we're all in this unforgiving environment together for the next little while, so we might as well eat, drink and be merry while the storm passes.
I blew out birthday candles in the past week, and my evening of celebrating sums up what I think the nature of winter in Yellowknife is all about. For an hour or so after work I borrowed my roommate’s husky dog and went snowshoeing across the lake for an “under the full moon” experience that was idyllic almost to the point of being over-the-top (see the self-portrait below). After a sufficient workout (and when my beard was well caked in ice), I went home, showered, thawed and then met some new friends for a couple of hours of merriment. Upon thanking some of them for coming out to help the “new guy” celebrate his birthday, I was told with utmost sincerity, “Hey, you’re not the new guy anymore, you’re a friend of ours." I can't help but think that the warmth they shared with me wouldn't have felt quite so fuzzy inside were it not so damned prickly outside.