Winter has changed here in eastern Ontario, a place where I grew up and now am raising my own family. Winter is changing in many places, but let me tell you what I see here.
I remember these things about winter very strongly from when I was a girl; they seem like simple truths somehow lost.
1. Winter was long and cold, cold and long, no two ways about it.
2. We kids got outside into that cold, as that’s just what you did; I spent hours upon hours at the little skating rink at our local park and when I came home my hands were so cold and numb that I’d have to place them under my mum’s armpits to warm them up.
3. Winter was almost always here in full force before Christmas. Holiday weather was often fierce and even hazardous; I remember a number of years when we were hit with ice storms and ‘skating’ on foot for a family walk down Elgin Street in Ottawa on Christmas Eve (after a wonderful meal at my aunt and uncle’s in Centretown).
4. For me, the taste of almost-frozen marshmallows and raisins is inextricably bound with family skiing outings. My parents had me on cross-country skis from the age of three and we had many an outing to local ski trails as I was growing up. The year my Dad took a funny spill and cracked his ski in half on a tree stands out – I’ve always worried about breaking a ski since then, though I’ve never seen that happen again.
5. Winter was a tease, a flirt who could never just bring herself to go at the end of the season. After a big melt and the first signs of spring had appeared, we knew we’d be walloped again by another storm, another few weeks of winter. We knew to expect a bit of a long, drawn-out dance as winter finally retreated for another year.
I took a brief respite from winter when I lived in England and started my family there. The huge ice storm of 1998 that battered the part of Canada that I’m from was reported to me by family and friends and received through a blissful fog of impending motherhood. I know people who finally bought a generator after that storm, but they haven’t really had much need of it since then, as winter has been changing so very much.
We moved back to Canada just as our older boy was turning two, in February of 2000. Oh, did he love that winter. It snowed so much that we ended up with a mammoth snow hill in our tiny back garden, which he scaled and conquered. We put him on skis nice and early, and then did the same with our younger son when his turn came (he’s five years younger). But by then winter was already becoming milder. Around the time my youngest, now almost nine, started skiing we had a special winter getaway in January to a cottage, also here in eastern Ontario. We all have extremely vivid memories of sitting outside in the hot tub, marvelling at the strangely mild weather. That’s the year that I remember when winter didn’t start until well into January; we were on this weird hiatus and didn’t know when it would end and winter would finally begin. Since then, too, it seems it’s been the exception for winter to get properly underway before Christmas.
Each winter in my children’s lives has been different from the last, but the amount of snow we’ve got seems to have lessened pretty considerably overall, the season has contracted and become shorter, and the whole experience has just become odd and hard to predict. Winter has changed from something that I feel I knew and could define in many ways, and now…who knows?
It’s March 24th today, and I’ve already been cycling to run errands and get around town every day for a week. My kids have been in shorts and t-shirts. A couple of days ago I trudged across our fields and up the hill to our house and thought ‘holy hell, it feels like July’. I had summer clothes on, my hat to shield my eyes and face from the sun, and I was perspiring. My body felt the way it does when it’s infused with summer heat.
Winter is changing, of that much I am certain. And it’s changing how we experience it. I’m very aware of how few opportunities we had to ski this year, something we love to do as a family. We don’t go to groomed trails where there will always be reasonably good conditions, even in unpredictable weather (as long as there is indeed some kind of snow cover, some kind of cold), so we really notice the change in conditions. My kids grab opportunities to go sledding, as they can’t be sure when they’ll next get to do it. I planted my seeds last weekend to grow indoors until they are ready to go outside later in the spring, but it isn’t even winter outside. Winter is teasing us again, but it’s different this time.
My older son took most of these photos when we went for a winter ramble in February at a lovely conservation area near our home. He was still convalescing from his bout with mono and a gentle walk was just the thing. I’m struck looking at these pictures again now at how little snow we had for February, the month when we normally should be in the thick of things.
I’d love to how you are experiencing winter where you are and how it has changed.