Porkpie Hat—On the Tranquility of Winter

Ah, human nature, you ungrateful thing—forever longing for what you don’t have, perpetually failing to enjoy what you do.  Too many of us live our lives like contrary children, not wanting to go to bed when we have to, not wanting to get out of bed when we need to.  This point has been brought home to me time and again this season.  I have to confess, it’s been one long fucking winter for me.  Not because of the seemingly endless string of abnormally cold days, but because of the seemingly endless griping and whingeing about the abnormally cold weather.  Yes, it is cold.  Please get over it.

Better still, get out into it.  It’s winter of unearthly beauty out there, a glittering world of crystal skies and crushed diamond fog.  Here in Winnipeg, the frozen Red River is a wonder to behold, a skating rink miles and miles long, lined on the sides by whimsical, architecturally designed warming huts.  At night, you can stop and warm your hands and feet at a bonfire and gaze up at all the winter stars and planets glowing like coins of radium in the boreal heavens.  An added Winnipeg bonus: strategize getting out there in the middle of a work day (‘cough, cough’) and you can have the entire river pretty much to yourself, the only human sounds being the distant rumbles of trains and traffic, and the swish of your skates carving the ice.

Not to worry, though, if the thought of being in the outdoors at minus forty puts a frozen scream upon your face.  In the winter, being indoors also takes on a resonant, tranquil stillness.  And, unlike the summer months, you don’t have to feel at all guilty about not getting outside and enjoying the weather.  What a blissful time this has been for me this past week alone.  Empty winter days and long winter evenings spent in the kitchen, Sibelius and Coltrane playing on the stereo, a glass of brandy close at hand, surrounded by the smells of roasting chicken, garlic, and butternut squash, listening to the banshee howling of the winds, and watching the swirling, drifting snow make its spectral progress across the buried lawn.  Late at night, reading an old Clive Barker novel in the soft light of a reading lamp, it’s possible to imagine you are a thousand miles away, a hermit living in a cabin in the middle of an ancient forest.  In these days of screaming overstimulation, it feels like a decadent luxury to be quiet and alone.

In just a few short months—beset by plagues of mosquitoes, horseflies, canker worms, and other assorted varieties of summer’s pestilential abundance—folks across Canada will be moaning and bleating about the humidity, burns, bites, and rashes that nature sets upon us.  We will complain about our favorite sanctuaries of solitude within the city being overrun by tourists and bemoan that the beaches near the cabin are so crowded there’s no room to lie down.  At night, we will crank the air conditioning to maximum, and fall asleep dreaming wistful ice age dreams—human nature being what it is.

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