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Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

Winter’s waning has brought me the same sadness that often accompanies the fade of summer: the change in sunlight, a twinge of nostalgia. Arguably classified as the annoying sibling of the seasons, winter will not be missed by all. Its end means no more shovelling and no more clearing ice off the car. Nevertheless, the end of winter means the end of good things, too.

I have come to love this blistery season when the world is shrouded in a snowy layer that quiets the busiest streets. Indoors, a mug of something warm and the underside of a blanket induce a level of coziness that can only appear with cold weather beyond the windowpanes. Outdoors, however, is where the magic happens. No other season dips tree branches in icy jewels and turns them into frozen chandeliers, illuminated by afternoon sunbeams. Entire fields of snow sparkle like a royal trove of diamonds. Even the cold, which notoriously freezes my fingers and electrifies my cheeks makes me feel alive.

Perhaps my love of winter started when snow was a means of play. Honey-Maroc Mountain, my childhood neighbour’s pile of driveway snow, brought about hours of sledding, for example. Or maybe this affection sprung from my thankfulness for snow’s arrival as a sign that climate change has not yet won. Winter also used to declare the start of Sunday skating at the nearby arena, a gateway drug to a years-long relationship with figure skating. However this love started, it solidified when I moved up North. For two years, I lived in a Cree community on the coast of James Bay, and there I experienced winter as it should be: no rain, no slushy, grey snow, only copious amounts of white over kilometres of territory, decorating tamarack trees’ bare limbs. The cold where I live now, in Montreal, seeps into your bones like a wet rag but the Northern winter is dry. Despite temperatures negative enough to strike fear into one’s heart, I could settle into that moistureless air. Only a bitter wind on my face would remind me of the thermometer’s reading. Winter began and stretched for months and months. It was glorious.

My weekends consisted of snowshoe treks with my buddies. Eyelashes whitened with frosty mascara, we sported the season’s trend. A good sweater and a bit of movement kept the cold at bay. We walked the area surrounding the town, venturing over rocks and lakes, what would be a complicated feat in the summer. We waded through deep snow on hills and crossed over crusts of snow on the river, burnished by the wind from the bay. My first snowshoe walk surprised me. My feet sank deeper than expected. Breaking the trail meant snow crept onto my snowshoe and weighed me down. But the walk delivered a blood-pumping workout under blue skies radiating sunshine or under clouds twirling like a Van Gogh painting. The clouds came as feathery wisps or low-hanging layers that simultaneously encompassed tones of sepia and black and white, rich enough for a Joni Mitchell song. Any tension from the work week escaped like the whistle of a kettle as I put one foot in front of another.

With cold air in my lungs and blushing my cheeks, I fell in love. And I don’t mean the love I had for the blue-eyed boy I I met up North. I mean with Old Man Winter and his gales of frost.

When I left a few years ago, a piece of my heart stayed up there. People who hate winter should experience the season up North to see what it is meant to be. Winter in Montreal is often a shadow of a Northern winter. A rainier, warmer version of what history tells me these months ought to be.

Yet, I again found a rhythm in this winter’s short season. When snow arrived, I was ready. I tried something in which I had not engaged since I was a kid: cross-country skiing. At first, like Bambi on ice, I couldn’t get the glide. A sense of humour came in handy. But before long, with some pointers from veteran skiers, I had the movements down. Lunge and extend through the leg. Arms chug as if on an elliptical. It’s a full-body workout with full mental benefits. In a nearby sanctuary of trees dressed in gowns of snow, my legs and arms moved along the ski trail mostly in synchrony. It felt good to be moving in winter again.

Recently, the snow has been slick or even worse, icy. Melted snow, warmed by the sun and rising temperatures, makes the cross-country trails extra zippy. As I snowplow downhill on my skis, the surface of the snow stretches. There is no more powder on top. My ski-mates and I suffer in the white stuff’s stickiness. It clumps to the bottoms of our skis like winter not wanting to let go.

The forecast I check incessantly threatens to cut this winter’s lifeline for good. A transition out of layering – sweaters, blankets, socks – is upon us. Spring brings sprightly hope with its wafts of wet earth and shoots sprouting green neon signage, but dear winter, I look forward to your return.

Vera Wagner lives in Montreal.

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