Monday, February 11, 2008

Thirty Below: A Welcome Relief

It certainly wasn’t my intention when I started the blog for it to be a weekly update on Yellowknife’s weather and its consequences, but to be frank there hasn’t been much else of note lately. I was expecting cold when I came up here, but for most of the past three weeks, the weather has been around twenty degrees below normal for this time of year. Twenty degrees below normal when you’re in the Subarctic in the middle of winter is a crippling cold. I am clinging dearly to the romantic notions I had in my head when I decided to move North of a stoic, parka-clad version of myself skiing across Great Slave Lake with nary a hint of humanity in any direction. I’ve acted on this fantasy a few times since my arrival, but the reality of the last three weeks is that it’s been just too cold to engage with the outdoors on a recreational level.

Indeed, the lungs of a European-Canadian don’t do so well when it gets into the –40 or –50 ballpark. That said, neither do his Western conveniences. Propane gels, diesel freezes and plastic becomes brittle. Simple tasks like emptying the mailbox become cringe-inducing when bare flesh brushes against steel that has been indifferently soaking up the cold. The past few weeks have marked the first time in my life that I’ve had prolonged exposure to a weather that you can’t escape from. My frozen pipes and faulty heater of last week served as humbling testaments to the notion that a modernized Western city with modernized Western lifestyles maybe isn’t always meant to function as well North of Sixty as it is down South.

And as modern technologies refuse to adapt once the mercury passes a certain floor, so too do the human emotions become affected. The elements have, on more than one occasion, had me cold-bound: hunkering down with book and dog has been a frequent alternative, not only to individualized outdoor recreation, but to venturing out the five or six blocks to meet up with friends. Staying inside to get cozy is an enjoyable exercise when it’s a choice, but can breed a certain kind of loneliness when it’s mandated by a season that has been relentlessly putting you in your place. I’m a fairly resilient, Winterized Canadian, but the dictated isolation I’ve been experiencing of late has long since lost its charm.

Thankfully, things are changing. On the walk to work (which is no longer in pitch black) this morning, the thermometer in the center of town read warmer than –30 for the first time in quite a while, and we’re supposed to have an unseasonably warm –13 on Friday. I was eyeing my skis a few minutes ago, and within a couple of days should be back to playing outside and living the life that I had started to when I first arrived up here, before the wind chill so rudely jerked the recreational rug out from underneath me. Throughout town there seems to be a collective notion that we’ve put the worst behind us: scarves have been lowered just enough to share smiles with strangers as we bustle around on our daily business, and even though today was only Monday, inquiries of “Hey, what are you up to this weekend? Want to go snowshoeing?” could be heard throughout the city. Old-timers might scoff at my musings about how the past few weeks have been tough, but I definitely feel like I’ve had a taste of the worst of the season in the Northwest Territories. At this point, I can only hope that the elements don't force-feed me seconds.

6 comments:

Your mother said...

People were saying how cold it was in Ottawa yesterday. They need to read your blog to know what cold is and what cold does. Beautifully written, Hart.

Chris said...

I have read his blog and it was really cold here!!! But not that cold... Man I don't know how you do it, I won't go outside if it's -15 or less anymore..

fotoman said...

cold enough to knock your socks off...for those who wear socks!

Cara said...

Once again, you have put into prose such a story as to make those of us in the balmy south feel like we are with you...thanks. PS - I have actually installed an RSS feed program to my computer just to get updates from your blog. That's almost celebrity status.

Rod MacIvor said...

Wish I could have made you some meatless lasagna to warm your innards! Aunt Nancy

Rachel said...

A benefit of the cold you're enduring (though surely not news to you?)
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/north/story/2008/02/15/arctic-ice.html

There's an upside to the extreme cold temperatures northern Canadians have endured in the last few weeks: scientists say it's been helping winter sea ice grow across the Arctic, where the ice shrank to record-low levels last year......