Whenever I’ve had the chance to go somewhere warm in the winter, I’ve wondered what it would be like to live, all the time, without cold and snow.
We’ve escaped to Florida and Mexico a couple of times. A few years ago, we took a wonderful family holiday to Ecuador, spending Christmas at a rented farmhouse near a small city called Ibarra. Ecuador, of course, straddles the equator, meaning the weather doesn’t change very much all year ’round. And certainly not by our standards.
It was a week of no boots, no toques, no mitts, no snow-blower. We lived in our shorts and t-shirts, admiring the lush greenery, riding horses up one of the nearby volcanic mountains, reading in the hammock, playing with the farm’s numerous rescue dogs, cooking our own meals, and building a fire outside most nights. Occasionally, we would saunter into town. And there were no bugs. Pretty idyllic.
But would we want to live there? I’m not sure. There’s no skiing, no hockey, and as Dianne pointed out, no curling.
The closest I came to escaping four months of snow and ice was living in Vancouver for two decades – before climate change rendered things topsy turvy. I never put my bike away. But the rain! The city is a delight for eight or nine months: lush, green, with the ocean, the mountains, the beaches, Stanley Park – and no mosquitoes. But when November rolls around, and the mist from the low-lying clouds obscures the mountains, a penetrating chill descends on the city, and it drizzles for days at a time, well, that’s a test for the spirits. No snow boots, no snow-blowers, but… The saving grace is that it doesn’t last long; when early March arrives, sure enough so does spring. There are always a few magical times when you can ski and golf on the same day.
When Dianne and I married and moved to Montreal, I had an inkling of what we were in for. We bought winter clothes, got rid of our car, and rented an apartment close to a Metro stop. The cold, the ice, the snow didn’t surprise me; I grew up in Ontario, she was raised in Manitoba. But the light, the sun reflecting off the snow! I hadn’t remembered that.
On one especially radiant day, when the in-laws were visiting for Christmas and we’d been cooped up in our small apartment for too long, I had the inspired idea of taking us all for a calèche ride in the Old City. I didn’t check the temperature.
We bundled up, drove to Place d’Armes, climbed out of the van and into – surprise, surprise! – searing cold and wind. I’ve never been so chilled. The worst part, you see, is that my in-laws grew up on farms in Manitoba. Unlike me, they’d been on a horse and cart before, and in the winter, too. In fact, my father-in-law used to drive a horse and cart to school in Neepawa when he was a kid. So you can imagine the look on his face when we hit the sidewalk. “You couldn’t pay me $25 to ride behind that horse.” We went back to the apartment and turned up the heat.
If I grow weary of the cold here, I know I couldn’t live in a place where it gets too hot. On work trips I found myself in places like Washington, D.C., in August, a city built on a swamp. Cairo and San Antonio in the summer are dry at least, but so dry that if you’re not constantly drinking water you get dizzy, even sick, from the heat.
The grass is some places may be greener at times, but I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that I like the change of seasons, even if one of those seasons is a tad cruel. As often as I’ve seen the autumn leaves around here, I still find them stunning, especially during those early mornings when the rising sun casts a golden glow on the trees across the river. I wouldn’t want to miss that. And you have to wonder whether the late-spring sun would feel so good if we hadn’t been shivering for the previous few months.
I suppose I like the variety, riding my bike for a few months, then giving it and my bum a rest, skiing for a few months, then letting the knees heal in the warmer months.
But there is a price to pay. Another snowstorm is coming. Time to ready the snow-blower.