Back home in Winnipeg, the seasons changed so fast that if you stopped to blink during this time of year, you were likely to miss fall altogether. As the temperature began to rapidly drop in the prairie city, one day the leaves were green, the next they were yellow, and after that they were gone. Here in Vancouver, the seasonal change is a bit different. From the public transit to Safeway grocery clerks, everything about this city seems to take its time: including fall. Over the last couple of weeks I have watched the colours on the leaves change and rather than plummet, drift slowly to the ground.
It was not until this last month that I truly appreciated how much the physical climate of a space affects the psychological and emotional state of its people. In Winnipeg, the dreadful thought of minus thirty was the specter that loomed over everyone’s head throughout the year. As soon as the first frost hit, it was if every pair of eyes in the city seemed to say the same thing: this is it, the cold is here. On the West coast, it is the rain. Since relocating here in June, every day it seems as if in one way or another I have been warned about the wet months ahead. “As soon as the rain starts in October, that’s it, you can kiss the sun goodbye” … “You haven’t experienced the winter yet? Well its’ not minus thirty but it can still be just as damn depressing.”
This last week, I got my first taste of what it feels like to live in a shadow. Each morning I woke up to the same patter of rain and shade of overcast skies. The first day of showers I tapped to work singing, the next I walked humming, and the third I hopped a bus swearing. Sleeping in later and later, I discovered that I had to turn on all the lights in my apartment before my body felt it was time to get up. Paralyzed by the same stillness that minus ten brings with it, I thought about Destiny’s Child and then I thought “I don’t think I can handle this.” But then, it happened.
Last Saturday night I went out for a drink with a friend after work. We huddled under the same umbrella to her car, watched the windshield wipers whip by, and then ran across the street into the pub holding our jackets over our heads. Settling into the cool warmth of a couple of pints, we drowned ourselves in conversation as the rain beat down outside. With nowhere to go and no rush to get there, we relaxed into last call and talked until at last there was nothing left to say. Jogging back to the car afterwards, as the lights flicked off behind us I felt this is it, this is how you survive winter.
There is a magic to minus thirty that you will never know until you live through it. It is a magic that shapes your experience, colours your memory, and enchants every one of your senses. It is how the coffee tastes first thing in the morning, when the sky is still black and the snow is lit by the moon. It is sprinting from the car to the restaurant, warming your cheeks with your hands, de-fogging your glasses, and then taking a seat with a bottle of wine and the best friends you could ever have. It is drifting off with the exhaust that spirals from the top of each downtown building, and then being brought back down to earth by the firm grasp of a loved one. It is the magic of winter. And I think I may have found it here.