First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
When people find out I moved from the subtropics of Australia to Toronto they stare at me and ask, “But why?”
I have to admit that back home in Brisbane, swimming laps in our pool, I was intimidated by the thought of the Big Canadian Winter. Now, after spending the equivalent of an around-the-world plane ticket to replace my flip flops, swim suits and cotton dresses with thermal leggings, merino-wool tops, mitts, hats, scarves, a long winter coat, boots for -40 C and winter tires for the car, I’m starting to love winter.
“I keep forgetting you’re still in the honeymoon phase,” a friend jokes. She’s a hardened city snow-wrangler. She scales icy sidewalks and towering snow banks in her strap-on crampons while sipping a double-shot latte on her way to work. I have only used crampons mountaineering in the Himalayas and not once did I tuck them into my Kate Spade handbag after I summited.
My ex-husband, a French surfer I picked up during my Paris years, hated Canada in the winter. “C’est trop froid,” he complained, refusing to relocate to Toronto or anywhere in Québec and taking a job in Mali instead. I may be Australian, but I was born in Canada and even though I never liked the cold, returning after almost a quarter-century in France, the United Kingdom and Australia has changed my mind.
Just as you learn new languages and cultures when you immigrate, you also need to embrace a new climate. This is my second winter and I’ve still got a lot to learn about navigating temperatures of -29 C. One thing I have learned is that the joy of winter exceeds any expectations I had.
“I thought it would be cold and snowy and we’d have to stay inside all day and be bored,” my Aussie daughter says. “It’s not. It’s lots of fun!”
Tobogganing, shovelling snow, relearning to ice skate and driving in winter conditions has been invigorating. While I could do with a little less adrenaline-inducing thrill on the highways, there is an intrinsic excitement built in to winter because I never know what’s going to happen next. The cold tingle on my skin makes me feel alive and the silence of fresh snow blankets the city in calm.
With winter, I appreciate the passage of time more than I did in the humid summers or dry months of Queensland, which boasts the tag line “beautiful one day, perfect the next.” The problem with perfect weather is that continuous warmth and sunshine with only a slight change of season compared to Canada had made me complacent and a bit dopey. Here, winter and the clear passage of seasons adds an urgency to my days, a desire to accomplish more. My life clock has taken on a tangible ticking.
While I sense my body would like to ease into a gentle hibernation, winter has cleared my head. My mind is more settled in February than in July and I seem to think more deeply, perhaps because I have to slow down to navigate ice and puddles and roads white with salt, to put clothes on and take them off every time I step through a doorway. Whatever the reason, it’s easier to focus in cool weather than while I was sitting in my underwear sweating in my home office in the subtropics. Even our inside heating temperature is set at less than the 24 C that the air conditioner struggled to maintain in the midst of summer. For me, a writer, a book is far more appealing to read, an essay more interesting to write, when it’s snowing outside than when the sunshine beckons me to the ocean waves or to the lounger waiting on the veranda.
In Brisbane, I couldn’t wait for the dense air of summer to lift, the sun to lessen its grip on my skin. There I would return from a 5 a.m. run, sunscreen sliding down my face, dripping off my chin and nose. My UPF 50+ long-sleeved top would be slicked to my torso. Here, all I need to do is run a couple of kilometres in the cold and I feel invincible. Unlike some people who watch summer and fall disappear with a sigh, I look forward to the crisp step of winter, enticed partly because I know it won’t last forever. While others become tired of snow and lament “another winter,” I’m out chopping at ice on my driveway, getting my exercise and tasting the anticipation of spring.
After a few innings of snow-rain-ice, a new friend apologized for the weather of February, March and possibly April, for “the cloudy days, the filthy snow, the gruelling cold, the icy sidewalks.”
“But this is precisely why people here, on the first sunny, warm day head outside to patios, sidewalks and parks and start smiling at everyone else,” I tell her. “It doesn’t happen like that in the subtropics. There isn’t this blossoming of humanity.”
“Ah yes,” she reminisces, “opening the windows to the first smells of spring.”
I’m not sure what those smells are yet and, yes, I miss the ocean, the purple jacarandas and the crazy cockatoos, but I hope to hold on to this honeymoon phase of winter for as long as I’m here.
Kirsten Fogg lives in Toronto.