Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. The Winter Traveler

Well, there’s not much denying it: it’s winter. The telltale signs of a snowy yard, an icy sidewalk, and a bitter howling wind have all arrived in my neck of the woods. Forget the technicalities of December 21st and its heralding in of the winter months. Let’s be realistic: for many Canadians, winter is already here. And when winter arrives, so, for many of us, does the impulse to escape, to travel to warm southern climes, to immerse ourselves not in snow and cold, but in sunshine and warmth, beaches and coral reefs. We’re known as snowbirds for a reason, and many, even those with little cash to spare after school, kids, holiday shopping and the expenses of just plain old living, likely feel that urge to flee.

But flee to where? As wild a proposition as this may seem, my last article of 2003 focuses on winter travel within our own realm — on escaping not to some distant foreign land, but to the beauty to be found in our own country at this glorious, albeit frigid, time of year. For uncrowded vistas, unhurried relaxation, and escape from it all, there is not much that can beat Canada’s winter holiday destinations. I know; even writing it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’ve travelled Canada in the winter, and it has a peace and beauty not to be found at other times of year, and not likely to be found in many southern destinations at this time, when the entire rest of the northern hemisphere is looking for exactly the same thing: warmth.

As lovely as being at the beach in a bikini or surfer shorts may seem as you sit in your living room staring at those never-ending falling flakes of snow, it is most likely not the snow itself that you resent, but the confinement, and the endless routine that winter seems to place on us each year. Remember when you were tiny? How wonderful did the snow seem? So fluffy, so perfect for sliding down on toboggans, for making snow angels, and for snowball fights. The ice frozen so perfectly on the pond, every tree in sight looked just right for planning an ambush: your friends wouldn’t be able to avoid a snowing this time!

The winter only becomes a burden because of the responsibilities we still have to carry out despite its presence. Getting to work means shovelling the driveway; getting the kids to school means spending half an hour yanking on two-foot thick articles of clothing, having friends over means de-icing the sidewalk and front stairs… But imagine a bit of winter without any of these cares? Imagine that fluffy perfect snow, the fun of being bundled in snowsuits, the toboggan rides and skating: you won’t get that in Mexico. Imagine also a train ride to Churchill to watch the polar bears roam the wide-open north, a day of cross-country skiing on Cape Breton’s glorious trails, or skating, twirling and knocking about the puck on a perfect Saskatchewan pond; then a return to a hearth fire with a mug of hot apple cider and your favourite sweet thing. What could be better than enjoying what our country uniquely offers? You’ll never feel so at home, so immersed in where you live as if you rediscover the joys of winter.

You don’t need to stay at home; if you were planning to splurge and go south, why not still splurge? Just turn 180o and you’ll find yourself in some part of Canada, in the coziest B&B you could imagine, surrounded by practically no one except those wonderful people you’ve chosen to bring along with you, by silence, by peace, and by those winter things we all loved when we were young.

If you need a flash of colour, be brazen and head out to BC’s southern coastal forest: the emerald green of the moss on the forest floor is not be believed, nor witnessed at any other time of year. It is at its prime in the winter months, and the forest may never look so lovely as now. Or if you need that feeling of adventure, head to the waters of the east coast; watch those waves crash and tumble, absorb that stormy wild ferocity, and be reminded of where the concept of drama was born. If awe is what you’re looking for, nothing can compare with the West’s snowy peaks, with the immensity of the mountains, and the sheer power contained in every bit of the landscape. Have something more peaceful in mind? Northern Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, with their snowy forests and blanketed rocky crags offer a silence and calm so profound that life’s daily cares dissolve and become surprisingly easily, utterly meaningless.

But no matter where you choose to go, I have one bit of advice: avoid your car at all costs. Think about the main difference between being young and loving the winter, and being ‘more mature’ and detesting it: it’s the car, the cleaning, the shovelling, the de-icing, the concern about whether it will ever turn on in this temperature. Did you think about these things as a child? Forget about the car; leave it at home. Or, if necessary, use it to get to your destination, then leave it be. Get yourself to a place that has everything you need within walking, skiing, snowshoeing, skating or hiking distance, and feel the instant difference in how you perceive our longest and most defining season.

So with that, my wintry friends, let’s go merrily forth to our favourite wintering grounds of old, or to new parts of our blustery northern nation that offer fun and calm unique to our own landscape. Let’s enjoy it, love it, rediscover it, and then maybe it won’t seem so damn long.

Happy Holidays, everyone…See you in January!

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