Last year, just after Christmas, there was a savage cold snap in Toronto. Even people who can be relied upon to be resolute about the weather buckled and complained of the bitter, unreasonable cold. People in town from Winnipeg who are usually just smug about "Toronto cold" – and yes, they make little air-quotes around those words with their mocking and mockingly unmittened hands – mentioned the weather.
People from Winnipeg come to Toronto only for the joy of making fun of our belief that Toronto winters are cold. I'm convinced they're on some kind of rotation and that every single Winnipegger eventually gets a chance to live in Toronto for a time and laugh at our tepid, almost English winters while commanding attention with stories of actual winter. They seem to enjoy their day in the comparative sun, swanning about like so many brides.
Last year, though, people from Winnipeg said – as if it were costing them – "It is cold," and so there I was in my house feeling cold, and everyone and all the news outlets kept saying it was cold, over and over, and when it got colder I lit a fire in the hearth.
Soon, I wove a nest of blankets directly in front of the fire and I stayed there as much as possible, working, writing, drinking soup and tea and occasionally hot-buttered rum, and yet still I was cold – but I wasn't going to make a big thing out of it. That would be unCanadian.
When I looked up from my work, I saw that people on Twitter and on Facebook and in e-mails and texts were telling me it was cold. I was working hard and determined not to be distracted, and I was, frankly, somewhat relieved to have the problem of my actually shivering body articulated for me; it was cold, so I was cold, and I was not going to fuss about it.
I did sensible Canadian things like close the heavy drapes, and roll a towel up under the door. I piled more blankets on top of myself and, more importantly, on top of my dog, Tulip, who is a whippet and who, consequently (although in truth she may be a lightweight even for a whippet; she does tend to play the whippet card rather often) is very susceptible to the cold. She can't really be convinced to go for a walk past mid-October even with her coat on.
Tulip is very sensitive about weather, and while I believe her to be a genius, I admit that when it's merely raining and I try to put her out the back door to pee, she will refuse to go outside, and looks at me as if I'm not the genius of the two of us. She will then try to persuade me to put her out the front door – where it's not raining. She is always convinced of this.
Some days I have to show her that it is in fact raining on all sides of the house, and for this wet truth she, quite reasonably, blames me – the controller and dispenser of good things, after all.
Anyway, I put everything I had into keeping her warm, which somewhat distracted me from my own increasingly chilled state; I kept the fire going, set up a space heater by her bed, and just sat there working, writing and receiving various missives about how ridiculously cold it was and nodding wisely.
Four days into this I was dressed like a Russian peasant. I found myself in the kitchen making borscht, wearing a thick skirt and multiple shawls and woollen tights. I found that I had donned clothes I had no idea I even possessed – some of which I appeared to have woven myself.
It was several more days before a friend e-mailed to make plans and I responded with something offhand about the weather being nasty, and about the blankets and the firewood situation, and he telephoned and said, "Are you sure your furnace is working?" and I left my nest of blankets by the fire and checked the thermostat and found it was 3 degrees inside my house.
It took another four days to get the furnace repaired – my dog giving me wicked whippet side-eye the whole time and for months afterward.
"It's such a joy being owned by Susanna Moodie," her little whippet face seemed to say. "We should go winter camping."
The whippet is quite a sardonic animal.
I wish you all warmth and joy in the coming New Year.