Some time into the second week of January I heard Canada’s senior climatologist, David Phillips, mention on a radio program that we were gaining two minutes of daylight per day. It was the best news I’d heard since the Christmas decorations were put away.
The extra light is noticeable at the end of the day — we’re no longer preparing our evening meal in the dark. It’s in the morning that the light takes longer to catch up. Of all the winter sights that bug me, the low-lying sun sitting sheepishly in the southeast of my office window is the worst. I’d rather have an overcast sky than be reminded that the sun is barely making an effort. If the sun can’t manage to get up, why should I?
Winter is tough. There’s even a Blue Monday (Jan. 16) to remind us just how bad it can be. At this time of year one can pick up almost any magazine that contains an article about embracing winter by taking up a sport! Snowshoeing or skating! On one particularly bitter day I sat in the warmth of the Sheraton Cavalier restaurant cupping my cold hands around a steaming mug of coffee and watching a father and his child skating at the outdoor Meewasin Skating Rink across the street. I felt I should alert the authorities.
It brought to mind the few times I skated outdoors. The first time was when I was in Grade 2 at Holy Family (now Bishop Filevich) in Saskatoon. I’d been hoping to try skating at the outdoor rink in the schoolyard, but never had the nerve (I was not adventurous, even as a child). When my dad finally brought me over to the rink the sun was higher than it is now, and it seemed a perfect day. When I stepped onto the ice I realized I’d waited too long. My blades dug in. The ice had turned to thick slush. I could barely push through the mess and ended up skate-walking across the rink as some kids ran around (sans skates) hitting a ball back and forth. In retrospect, I guess it was the perfect day because I didn’t freeze. It was probably March.
The next time I went outdoor skating was in Grade 3 at St. Augustine in Humboldt. The rink was across the street from my grandmother’s house and I was able to lace up my skates in the comfort of her entrance, as opposed to the poor kids who had to put on their skates in the shack. I remember my blades clacking on the road as I gingerly walked across the street.
The ice was hard, milky white and resisted the dull blades of a novice skater. It was cold. I was miserable. How many wobbly rounds of the skating rink does it take to make an honest effort before one can retreat into a warm house?
The next year we moved to King Crescent. It was before a building boom and the lot behind us was empty. It filled with water in the fall and flash-froze into a glass-like surface. The ice was thick and crystal clear. The weeds beneath looked as though they might undulate as they would in water, but they were frozen in time, every leaf visible right down to the darkness of the earth below. I imagined spinning like Peggy Fleming, my blades cutting spirals into the ice. I have a good imagination.
My skating career didn’t end on that pond. There was a barn-like arena in Humboldt in my youth where I’d go public skating on a Saturday afternoon. The rough wooden floor, dark and soft with age, bore the gouges of decades of people walking through with their skates. Stepping onto the ice meant being swept into a current — throngs of people skating in unison around the rink to Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz” played on a scratchy loudspeaker. The air was always fresh and cool, pinking my cheeks as the afternoon wore on. In spring the roof would leak along the seams, dripping water from a great height and plopping onto the ice, creating perfect rows of menacing small yellowish mounds. A couple of falls and the season was over.
I haven’t skated in years, and I sometimes wonder if the gentle freshness that rises from the ice would feel the same as it did in my memory.
For now there’s walking. I tried it recently on an unseasonably warm day, the kind the weather reporters rave about but just make driving treacherous. Two inches of loose snow made each step a frustrating chore. I felt like the proverbial drunken sailor. The stiff breeze bit my cheeks and made me angry. How is it that the wind on a minus-2 day feels colder than it does if it’s minus 10?
It’s February now and winter never gets easier. Still, there are ways to survive — catching up on some absorbing mysteries, the award-nominated films before Oscar time, a few Netflix series, a treadmill and some vitamin D supplements.
Best of all, though: FaceTiming with my four-and-a-half-month-old granddaughter Anissa. Her tulip-blush cheeks remind me of spring.