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True Winter Tales: Today's pick

Take me Back by Brenda Brooks

I walked out on winter 14 years ago and never looked back. I wanted to run, but those late January Toronto streets were tricky and slick, so I bought a ticket at Union Station and let the train do the running for me. 

As we lurched and squealed out of the station, I stared out at the steaming faces of the bundled-up suckers who were too stupid to get on the train too, wondering how long it would take the tears to freeze on their blue cheeks. No more toques for me, I thought, rubbing the feeling back into my hands. 

And then began the long glide toward the west coast and its warm, wide-open arms. In four days I might be wearing a Cowichan sweater, and the ducks could have my downy, feather mitts back. I stumbled three cars down to the Bullet Lounge to toast my new, frost-free life.

The next morning we were still (could it be?) making our way through Ontario. From the dining car I looked out at the muskeg and watched the dark beaver ponds go by. The snow fell and drifted over towns and settlements that seemed to be built right into the Canadian Shield: Capreol, Longlac, Sioux Lookout. On and on we went, deeper into winter. The rocking motion of the train soothed me into a sort of tranquility, even peace, though I couldn't see how that could be when I felt such loneliness and sorrow for the inhabitants of these cold, forsaken places. 

In Manitoba we made a brief stop at a rickety grain elevator on a bitter, snowy plain next to a scattering of houses. I didn't get out, even though I'd been born there. I stayed in my birth and watched a passenger try to light a cigarette while the stinging prairie wind tore at his clothes. Out here the winter wind turns everyone into a blur I thought. I squinted far out, past the memory of my first pair of hockey skates, into wave after wave of nothing.

Eventually we pulled into the station in Vancouver. I took a ferry to the Gulf Islands and tucked myself into the rainforest's arms for good. Now I wear a Cowichan sweater the whole, green winter through. No mitts. No toque. Our snowfalls are mostly mild and disappear in two days. 

But every now and then we get a true, old-style snowstorm that socks us in for days. And next thing you know I'm standing in the middle of an empty, forlorn country road while the wind howls and tears away at me. And I squint up at the snow speeding past the streetlights and think about every fine thing that's ever been lost to me, and beg winter to take me back.

Brenda Brooks is from Saltspring Island, BC

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