Winter is a fact of Canadian life. So I make the most of it
Society suggests that winter is for hiding out. But should we really spend an entire season cowering?
Have you ever paid close attention to the language we use when we talk about winter?
Words like "endure" and "suffer" come up a lot. So do expressions like "hunker down" and "seek refuge." A casual observer might think we're talking about an invasion or siege, rather than the natural rhythm of the seasons. It's as if we live in a place where we spend half the year imprisoned by axial tilt.
So, reinforced by popular sentiment, many people stay indoors, muttering about the cold, and binge-watching second-rate TV shows. They are convinced there is nothing else to do, because that's what society suggests. Complaining about the weather, particularly in winter, is our national pastime.
But just because the culture has deemed winter hostile doesn't make it so. There are just as many ways to enjoy winter as any other season. It just takes a bit of a shift in perspective.
Yes, it's true that a snowstorm in a city sucks. It makes walking a challenge, and shovelling snow is a chore. There are people who are genuinely at risk from cold weather and the mobility challenges winter can create. And it's up to all of us to help out.
But have you ever seen a child complain about a snowbank?
Probably not. Because most children haven't (yet) been indoctrinated into winter hatred, so they see a big pile of snow as an opportunity to jump around and play. Just look at any elementary school playground during recess after a snowfall, and you'll see dozens of snowsuited kids laughing and shouting.
And that's something we adults could learn from. As the Scandinavians are fond of saying, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
(In the Yukon, where I lived for five years, the climate is sometimes described as "nine months of winter and three months of bad dogsledding.")
I love winter. I love how the snow brings the sky into relief, and the way everything in nature looks and sounds more vivid. I love the bracing feeling of the cold on my cheekbones. I love activities, like cross-country skiing and skating, that I can only do in winter. Because when you're active outside, and properly dressed, you don't notice the cold. It's just part of the environment, like the trees and the clouds.
I love summer, too. But there's this persistent myth that you have to pick sides. I choose both, and think my life is better for it. The variation in seasons makes me appreciate summer—and winter—even more.
Being outside in winter also makes coming inside that much more enjoyable, too. The glow on my face. The anticipation of a hot chocolate. Playing a board game in front of a fireplace.
I get that winter, in the heart of a grey city like Toronto, can seem dismal. But there is still much to do: Skating under the colourful lights at Nathan Phillips Square. Sitting around a bonfire at the Brickworks. Toronto Island is exquisite under a blanket of snow; rent a pair of snowshoes and go for a walk! (Or, way cheaper, make your own.)
I'll admit, Toronto could do much better, and learn a lot from cities where winter is really embraced. Tromsø, Norway, has an outdoor film festival where movies are projected onto a wall of snow. Edmonton has patios that stay open all winter, with shelter and warmth. Whitehorse has cross-country ski trails with streetlights!
Yes, winter asks for a bit of forethought. It takes a few minutes longer to get dressed. Activities take a bit more planning. But that's a small price to pay compared with resisting our natural environment and cowering away, complaining for months on end, only to poke our heads out, bleary-eyed, in spring, hoping the snow is gone. What a waste!
Winter isn't going anywhere, at least in the short term. So why not make the most of it? And maybe instead of hunkering down, we can learn to celebrate, rather than endure, the winter we have.
Adam Killick is a producer on Spark.