Now the cold has come back

January 23, 2012

A silvery sky dropped feathers of snow covering everything with a blanket of down. Shrubs and furniture were hidden by marshmallow lumps and humps, projecting an inviting roundness. Only the naked trees showed their sharp sides and even those were mitigated by a rime of white.

Under the Manitoba maple, a fat rabbit cleared away the snow from the spot where sunflower seeds had fallen from the beaks of marauding jays, careless in their greed. The rabbit looked as though he had been enjoying this bounty for quite some time, his round girth almost too much to fit through the slats in the fence through which he had entered from the park.

It was very cold outside, truly winter at last. The day before, the mercury had fallen to -27 C, much to the chagrin of some but to the joy of others. All the ice fishermen felt pulses quicken. Now they could venture out on the lakes and the rivers without fear. The skaters could hardly wait to hit the skating trail down the Red River. The isolated folks in the north breathed a heavy sigh of relief. A few days of this cold and the winter roads would open so trucks could haul supplies to their communities. There’s a lot at stake for them: diesel to run their heaters and generators being one of the big ones. Forced out of their once nomadic way of life, they have stripped the surrounding landscapes of firewood in years when the diesel ran out, as it often does.

But here in my peaceful back yard, there is no hint of these hardships. The rabbit hopped away, hesitating before he squeezed through the fence, his footprints the only evidence of his visit – that and the small clearing on the ground, now devoid of sunflower seeds.

The brilliant winter sun came out the next day, smiling on the rosemary and parsley in my kitchen window and banishing all gloomy thoughts. It creeps into every corner of the room coating all in shades of happiness. Outside, the air is crystalline, cutting with the intensity urged upon it by the wind. A face will freeze in one minute, intones the warning voice of a broadcaster. How they love to insert darkness into a sunny morning.

The cold is all right with me. It makes me feel alive and I cuddle into my long furry coat feeling gratefully warm, although the cold will penetrate even this if given enough time. It’s not real fur, after all.

We northern people need this cold. Already eyes are brighter. There are smiles and friendly greetings of, “Cold enough for you?” Or some might say with ironic understatement, “It’s a bit chilly out today, isn’t it?” Chilly or not, there is a spring in the step that wasn’t there in the sloppy above zero weather that ruined pants legs and long coats, and that turned all cars the same muddy gray, regardless of the paint underneath. That too benign weather filled us with a kind of nameless anxiety.

The sky is silver again today, but no bounty fell from above. The wind was still there, but it carried a heaviness of humidity, stinging faces and fingers with freezing dampness. The streets are sloppy again as we scan the weather forecast, looking for lemon sunlight and a return to the purity of the cold, dry air that sets the heart singing.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is launching our 21st New Music Festival this coming week and this year our partners are the folks from the Icelandic community of Gimli and environs. They understand the imperative of winter; it echoes in their music and their wonderful poetry. I will be reveling all next week.

This morning, I announced that we have been invited to New York by Spring Fest to play at Carnegie Hall in May, 2014. I will be relieved by then of my five long years as president so that I can go along and think only of the music.

Life is so glorious.