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True Winter Tales: Today's pick

Out of the Grey by John Woolfrey

I've often heard people say: Montreal comes alive in summer. Maybe they like all the life outside in the streets, but when it gets to thirty degrees and ninety per cent humidity, all I want to do is leave the crowds, head for the hills and jump in the lake.

In the winter, in the city, I live for the record snowfalls. There are days and days of bitter cold when the sun shines brightly but heatless upon streets littered by hardened black slush and empty windshield-washer containers. But when a blizzard hits, my spirits soar. I love it best when it happens during the week, paralysing the city. Like yesterday.

It started in the morning about ten o'clock. The air was still, as though ionically charged. The people in my office were giddy with expectation--a big storm, the first major one of the season, had been forecast since suppertime the day before.

First a few white flakes fell gently from out of the grey sky and past the greystone triplexes onto grey streets--it hadn't snowed since Halloween, and rain had washed away that a long time ago. By noon winds whipped great sheets of snow so thick we could barely see across the street from the windows. And by the time I left to walk home during the evening rush hour, the storm, still raging, had dumped at least a foot.

A group of three people, so bundled up you could barely see their eyes, entered the lobby as I passed through it. Clomp, clomp, went their boots as they stomped them against the winter mats to shake off the guck. Tuques and gloves came off, coats opened, noses were blown and fogged-up glasses wiped. Their red-cheeked owners looked around at each other and joked about the storm. A quiet sense of satisfaction brightened the air.

I turned out the fur of my Winnipeg parka's hood and stepped out in my mukluks. A crowded bus stopped in front of me at the light. I peered in as I trudged past it. It looked still within, its riders mesmerized by the power outside, wondering how much snow will fall, wondering how long it will take them to get home. The bus's pneumatic windshield wipers hissed rhythmically as they pushed the melting snow to the side. Wet lumps slid down from above the arcs carved out of the snow and got pushed aside as well.

Once the bus passed, I leapt over the snowbank and crossed the street. The plows couldn't keep up with the snowfall on the side street, and I had to walk in the car tracks, sliding on the black ice here and there along the way. Through the muffling blizzard came the sounds of car engines and horns and tires, spinning on ice, that cried out like big angry cats.

John Woolfrey is from Verdun, QC

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