Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mon Pays, C'est l'Hiver

Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
My country is not a country, it's winter

Gilles Vigneault's* lyrics have always resonated deeply for me, and never more than after our recent visit to Quebec City. Winter is my favourite season. Gazing over a pure white blanket of snow glistening in the sunlight lifts my spirits.  Cozying up by a fire while fluffy snow gently falls outside soothes my soul. Walking in a blizzard is completely exhilarating. And there's no more pleasant sound than the gentle swish of skis on crisp new snow.

Ice slide on Dufferin Terrace

As a Quebec City girl, I remember the pre-salt days when you could have a sleigh ride through Quebec's snow-covered streets. And I remember my terror as a kid hurtling down the big slide on Dufferin Terrace. Nothing's changed; they're still screaming down the ice trenches where the toboggans run. (It's higher and scarier than this picture captures!)

If you care for more peaceful enjoyment of winter, you can cross country ski on the groomed trail around the 100 acre Plains of Abraham park, which overlooks the magnificent St. Lawrence. Or simply walk along those paths.

While I was rather disappointed in the dull snow sculptures at Carnaval (I remember being dazzled as a kid), I was really taken with the vast array of winter outdoor activities at the Carnaval site: a miniature ice slide modelled on the Dufferin Terrace one, sliding on inner tubes, taking a dog sled ride or a sleigh ride, learning to snowboard, skating with Bonhomme, ice fishing in a small pond and having your trout cooked for you on the spot, having a soak in an outdoor hot tub, bumper cars on ice, outdoor bars and grills with benches and warm-up fires, and a sugar shack. All the Carnaval activities were testimony to how much fun you can have outdoors in winter.

In case you don't know what happens at a sugar shack, let me tell you it's diabolically sweet. You boil maple syrup until it's treacly thick, then pour it over snow, let it sit a while until it starts to harden, roll it up on a stick and eat. Heaven.

Why are people such wusses about winter?

I have a theory; people feel cold because their brains tell them to.

My special scale for measuring temperature ranges from balmy, to pleasant, refreshing, brisk, cool, cold, very cold, bitterly cold, and frigid. Psychologically, I think people start to consider that it's very cold, when the temperature dips below zero. In the 'old days' of the Farenheit scale, this meant people didn't start to acknowledge it was very cold until the temperature hit what is now -18 in Celsius. So we all used to take temperatures between 0 and -18C in our stride, thinking it was merely cold because they were all positive temperatures in Farenheit. Now that they're negative temperatures, people's brains tell them it's very cold. This would be an excellent study subject for behavioural scientists to see if this theory has any merit.

As you get to what even I would admit was a bitterly cold day, like the -30C on the day of the canoe races (see a report on that here), even that feels colder, because it would have been a 'balmy' -22 in Fahrenheit. Then, to make it worse, we've invented the concept of windchill. So that day of the canoe races was announced as -42C with the windchill. No wonder people felt justified in calling it frigid!

Maybe we could just rename winter temperatures, dress warmly and start enjoying. 

*Although I am adamantly anti-separatist, I can admire the poetry and songs of that ardent separatist Vigneault.

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