Rehearsing tough

There is a line that I draw, and redraw, and redraw, between what is tolerable and what is not. It shifts with my expectations, my confidence, my priorities. It shifts with my mood. It shifts with the seasons.

In Winnipeg, we always talk about the weather. Are we special? No, every place has its own set of atmospheric vagaries that shape our movement, fashions, habits, routines.

What’s exceptional about our weather (as much as it pains me to write those 5 words, which, standing on their own, read as the most mundane declaration in the prairies, but stay with me, please!) is the yearly range, the distance between extremes. Well past 30 above in the summer, often beyond 30 below in the winter. But we don’t jump about too much, we adapt in little shifts.

As we descend, each 5 degree drop comes with a twinge and a resigned sigh. Last week, in the mid-teens, I replaced screens with storm windows and packed up all the open-toed shoes. Today I pulled my hood up to defend against tiny hail droplets, but took comfort in the fact that we hadn’t yet moved into full-on hat and mitts territory. The cold approaches and I retreat at first, scaling back further into my house and piling on blankets. Then I acclimatize, re-bundle, and wander out again, smiling at the sun on my face even as the wind blows more and more bitterly.

It’s not winter yet, but it will be. And I know that when -30 comes, I’ll look back at these flirting-with-zero days with a mix of envy and desperation. Winter’s approach feels certain; Spring can’t ever be trusted.

Here, we complain, joke, mythologize the weather. Our city’s rich music scene, often credited to the months spent in half-hibernation. The warmth of our personalities. Our resilience.

I worry that strength and resilience are misread into a much harsher reality: Expecting the cold, and facing it with a sad, cynical smirk. The blunt bravado behind what won’t kill me will make me stronger.

This strength comes at a price, as it always does. To steel my cheeks, unflinching in the face of 60 km/h hail-speckled wind, may lessen my suffering for the dark months, but it’s harder to just flip the switch back come July: The air is kinder, it’s time to feel now. It’s more than the weather that seeps deeper inside, reinforcing a kind of permafrost.

After spending the longest part of every year rehearsing tough, it takes more than a short spurt of relative warmth to truly thaw.

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13 comments

  1. I love every word but this is just shiny brilliant stuff: “It’s more than the weather that seeps deeper inside, reinforcing a kind of permafrost.” Makes me think of my favorite poet, Adrienne Rich, and this line from “Storm Warning”: “These are the things we have learned to do /
    Who live in troubled regions.”

  2. I don’t envy you one bit. It’s gets blistering hot here in Texas, but I’d take it over -30 any day. Great bit of writing.

  3. Loved this. Made me think, if you replace weather with how others treat us, could explain why those whose spirit is constantly crushed eventually struggle to show kindness.

  4. “After spending the longest part of every year rehearsing tough, it takes more than a short spurt of relative warmth to truly thaw.” Ah northern winters, and oh the winters of our life. You made me think of both with this piece. Beautifully written.

  5. I converted Celsius to Fahrenheit so I could fully understand these temperatures you speak of and oh my goodness, no. I struggle with the winters here in NJ and what it does to me. But there’s so much more to this post than that, which is what I love most about it.

  6. I’m starting a feature over in yeah write’s coffeehouse about inspiration. I’d like to use your essay as an example of taking an every-day subject and crafting it into a meaningful piece. I think you did that beautifully here. Do you mind if I analyze a little how you did it and then suggest a writing exercise based off of it?

  7. Hey, friend. I really, really, really enjoyed reading this. While it does not get nearly as cold here in Virginia, we heat exclusively with wood. So, there is a real preparation for winter that goes far beyond simply pushing a button or turning a dial. Winter is a year-round concern and always in the backs of our minds. It’s turning cold next week and I am eyeing the woodshed and planning on brushing out the chimney this weekend. Our woodstove was affectionately named “Big Nancy” by our youngest child and right now, she is dusty and flanked by many combustibles. Next week, the same area will be clear of everything but wet shoes and bodies craving warmth.

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