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True Winter Tales: Today's pick

By Sheila Peters

December 23, 1980. I'm in the departure lounge at the Vancouver airport waiting for the flight to Smithers, 500 miles due north. I'm terrified. In my arms, wrapped in a mohair blanket, sleeps a five-pound, six-week old baby boy. Yesterday they finally let me take him out of the intensive care nursery at Vancouver General. Not just out of the nursery, but out of the hospital. The apnea monitor had pretty much stopped beeping and he was nursing well. When I came in to find a nurse washing away the remnants of the cast an overzealous resident had put on the night before, mistaking a vein for a fracture in his tiny leg, I insisted it was time. Time to go home to his eighteen-month old brother, to his father, to our cabin in Driftwood Canyon, even though the cabin was pretty much a shack: it had no indoor toilet, not much insulation and in those days, winter temperatures often dropped to forty below and stayed there. 

Winter in Vancouver means darkness. All the streetlights, traffic lights, and headlights only underscore the blackness of rain-washed streets and dank vegetation. I'd grown up in that winter. There's nothing seems as empty as the ocean on a December night. 

Moving north, I'd discovered winter light. When the snow falls on frozen ground, it stays. It wraps itself around your fragile shelter and settles in to tell a thousand winter stories: the grouse's escape, the fox changing his mind, the wingprint of an owl marking the abrupt end of a mouse's tracks. At forty below, the night sky flings open the windows to the stars in a way that reminds us how laughable the layers of clothing we wrap around our tender and breakable bodies really are. I had come to love these reminders of our smallness, of all the stories going on without the least thought for us. Reminders that now made me afraid for that five-pound boy wrapped tight in a mohair blanket. 

During our time in Vancouver, I'd sewn Christmas stockings. Stitching 'Michael' onto one was a leap of faith. He'd tried to escape when I was three months pregnant; at 28 weeks, he punched a hole through the amniotic sac. I leaked water for 10 days before going into labour. At 30 weeks gestation, he was born weighing just over three pounds. And for the next five weeks he struggled through a collapsed lung, a terrifying infection, and finally, a fake fracture. Was I crazy to take him home into winter?

Not at all. Winter became his season. In his second year, he slid down canyon walls on his bum. That spring he waded barefoot in meltwater. As he grew, moonlight lit his dazzling snowboard jumps. I write this on his birthday. His wife is 30 weeks pregnant, the child due the same day he was, thirty-one years ago. Their first child, our first grandchild. They have moved home - to winter. The snow is already on the ground.

Sheila Peters is from Smithers, BC

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