It’s the sort of cold that may have people scalding themselves in an effort to become YouTube sensations – as the boiling water they’ve tossed into the air fails to vaporize instantly (or even cool off substantially) and instead falls to earth, splashing across the pale ribbon of exposed flesh between glove and cuff.
Yeah, it’s pretty cold; we broke some records this week. I think we may have made the Weather Network.
I’ve used the word “wind chill” more in the past six days than I have in the past the 30 years. But Coldmageddon? The Big Freeze? The Day After Tomorrow? I think not.
It has been cold enough though that even the shorts-all-year-round guy at work is wearing long pants and a sweater. Like the rest of us, he has become a walking Tesla coil of static electricity – forever in search of a metal object upon which we may ground ourselves and deposit an electrical charge before our children are afraid to ever touch us again.
Even some of the hardiest cyclists who will bike to work through monsoon rains and gale-force headwinds and tell you “it’s refreshing” are detaching their panniers in resignation and striking out for the bus stop.
Which really is the spot where people look most pathetic when the temperature drops. The inalienable right to their own mobility reluctantly surrendered, they huddle in clumps – hands in pockets, tuques pulled low over their foreheads, shoulders raised to prevent their necks from being exposed. They bend at the waist and lean forward over the curb, heads tilted as they look up the street, hoping against hope that the next one doesn’t pass them by.
It’s a dry cold, which is something we’re not used to here. A dry cold carries with it not just the aforementioned static hazard, but also dry, itchy skin, chapped lips, a flaking scalp and unruly hair. It’s hard to look very good in a dry cold.
The dermatological symptoms are only made worse by building managers who think they’re doing you a favour by heating your workplace or apartment to match the temperature on the surface of Venus. More moisture loss, more chapped skin. Oh, look, now I’m bleeding.
Those of us with small children face the special challenge of trying to persuade children born and raised in Vancouver to keep mittens on their hands, tolerate boots, and to please stop licking their cracked and burning lips. Five-year-olds are famously terrible managers of mittens, by the way. And once the fourth pair is lost, there’s no replacing them, because the stores have long ago restocked the shelves with spring and summer wear. Which is why you now have to wear a soiled and floppy pair of Daddy’s four-year-old souvenir Olympic mitts, which I have tied together with a length of yarn threaded through the sleeves of your coat. Yes, we used to call it an idiot string, but we don’t use that word any more. Because it’s mean, that’s why.
All of these may be minor inconveniences but they are indications of how completely unequipped we are to deal with weather that for now is just slightly out of the ordinary.
The dry cold, of course, has its advantages. There is no need to scrape off the car in the morning.
There is the sun, which is usually shrouded in cloud this time of year, but is now with us for a solid nine hours a day. At midday the sudden and unexpected warmth of a pillar of sunshine between two buildings can feel like new-found love. There is the night-time sky with the crescent moon and Jupiter, Orion and the blue-white gleam of Sirius.
There is the hush that descends on the neighbourhood after dinnertime. No one is going anywhere, it seems. It’s the sort of quiet usually reserved for the day after a snowstorm or Christmas Eve.
And there is the fact that finally it feels like we’re part of Canada.
After two months of news network graphics telling me Canada was in a coast-to-coast deep freeze, or that a polar vortex has wreaked havoc nationwide – and with national radio programs asking me how I’m coping with the cold and how it’s affecting my pets, I finally feel included.
It won’t last long. By the middle of next week, when it’s still minus 18 in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, and still snowing in Ottawa and Toronto, we’ll be back to rain and seasonally moderate temperatures.
Then we can all go back to being smug.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.
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