Last week, it was bitterly cold. There was a slicing wind that crept between the threads of woolen coats and slipped through the seams to send chills right to the bone. At -29 C, the outside world was an inhospitable place, especially without the sun.
Ironically, this was the coldest day of this year in Winnipeg and it was the day of the grand opening of IKEA. Some 700 people were ready to brave the cold and wait all night for the doors to open – that’s our Winnipeg. The store took pity on them, though, and let the folks inside until 7:00 the next morning, when they were sent back outside to wait another 2.5 hours before the festivities were over and they could get inside. Then for a whole half hour, people streamed in and up the escalators to begin the shopping journey amid the beating of balloons by staff and friends of the store. It was an extraordinary sight.
Today, the sun is still in hiding, but the air has softened. It is hovering around zero right now and scattered flurries are expected later today. There is virtually no wind.
There is also virtually no light. The days are nearing their shortest, but even now, this day will only be 8 hours and 24 minutes long, the longest day this, the darkest, month. From December 11 to December 31, the days will all be shorter than eight hours and 10 minutes. On the 21st, five more minutes will be lost as we reach the shortest day.
This year, weather has returned to a more normal pattern than last year and despite the relative warmth of today, temperatures are expected to plunge in a day or two to their normal depths of around minus 10 to 15. What matters now is sunlight, the clear, lemon-yellow light that usually accompanies cold weather and makes it something to celebrate. There is lots of clean crisp snow covering plants and small creatures in the pukak layer, which is well constructed this year. It should be snug down there with the temperature hovering around zero.
It is very still outside; a slight 5 km breeze barely disturbs a last leaf clinging to a branch on the cottonwood outside my window. Across the street, I can see my neighbour’s roofs with their thin layers of snow. One has a lot of melt, indicating some loss of heat and a lack of insulation. I wonder if they know.
This is a neighbourhood that loves light. Every home turns its house lights on each evening all year long and the street always looks well dressed and welcoming. At this time of year, houses and trees are ablaze with Christmas lights from dusk until dawn, which compensates a little for the lack of light during the day. It’s a bit hilly here lending itself to good views of the light- spangled evergreens that abound. Doorways are decorated with Christmas greens and wreaths. There is always a festive air at Christmas.
Soon we will buy a tree and I will spend a day decorating it and putting out ornaments around the house in the time honoured tradition. The fireplace will be readied for the Christmas Eve blaze, when a few of our special friends come and spend the evening with us.We go to Lori’s for Christmas morning and then back there for dinner.
But I am anxious for the early days of January, when the days gradually lengthen and you can feel your blood quickening as your spirits begin the long incline towards springtime. I am always so enervated during this time, beginning to think of the garden and dreaming of the lazy days of summer.