If memory serves me, it was that ignorant douchebag T.S. Eliot who once fatuously proclaimed April to be the “cruelest month.” Yeah, right. Look, I will level with you: owing to the misfortune of having made a little bit “too merry” last night, with several shakers-full of dirty martinis in celebratory anticipation of the end of Dry January, I don’t have the mental wherewithal right now to dig into a whole lot of in-depth biographical research, so I have no idea where in the world that twit T.S. spent his formative years. Perhaps it was in an elite British boarding school, or some far-flung antipodean realm in which the seasons are all topsy-turvy. But I know it sure as hell wasn’t on the prairies or in northern Canada.
Here in Winnipeg, for instance, April is, at its worst, “the most underhanded month,” or possibly “the most passive-aggressive month”. Sure, it will deliver the occasional flood or other calamity, but rarely poses the same level of psychological and existential threat that the boreal winter hammers us with. For serious levels of weather-related nastiness, even October and November can be far worse. In this, the blue, frozen heart of the continent, however, January and February offer up some truly Hannibal Lecter inspiring levels of climatic cruelty.
Of course, some prairie dwellers, suffering as we tend to do from short-term weather memory, will claim that it’s “really not so bad,” and will fondly recall that one winter when they didn’t lose any digits to frostbite. This season, they will point out, has actually been quite mild so far. To those woolly-headed fabulists I say, “just wait.”
At this point, I won’t even get into the “Polar Vortex” (a term only slightly less ominously apocalyptic than “Sharknado,” or “Götterdämmerung”) swiftly approaching from the skies above Siberia, where it has generated some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded on the planet. No, instead I will simply point to anecdotal evidence from the recent past.
For instance, there is the well-reported story from last January, in which, during a blizzard involving gale force winds, a group of ice fishermen were chased across Lake Winnipeg by a pack of starving wolves. Perhaps you will recall seeing the disturbing photographs of the men and beasts, all frozen solid, posed as if they were artifacts in some grotesque ice sculpture garden, drawing curious crowds until well into March.
It is a not-uncommon sight at this time of year to find an entire murder of crows frozen to the branches of a tree like glittering gothic ornaments. And this year, with its unpredictable cycles of freeze and melt, has made things even more perilous. Just last week, whilst taking my faithful dogs, Fear and Loathing, for a midnight walk along the Red River, I spotted an eerie light glowing from beneath the ice. Clearing away the snow, I could just make out the shape of a snowmobile that must have recently fallen through a patch of thin ice, and briefly continued its forward momentum. The helmet- and visor-clad rider could be seen, still gripping the handlebars, the cyclopean headlight still shining, canted poignantly upwards.
Lost in melancholy thought, I wandered homeward beneath the otherworldly dance of the northern lights, stepping over the brittle bodies of assorted woodland creatures, contemplating, once again, the savage beauty of this wintry, enchanted land.