Ode to the frigid joys of a frosty evening

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I must admit, I have never been a big fan of winter. Now that it is upon me, as inevitably as a snow plow in a nor’easter comes to wreck the foot of my driveway after solid hours of diligent shoveling, I am loathe to sing its praises even to my impossibly cheerful grandsons and granddaughters who need only toboggans and cups of hot chocolate to keep them deliriously happy.

I am more likely to cleave to Shakespeare (“Now is the winter of our discontent”) or Robert Byrne (“Winter is nature’s way of saying, ‘Up yours’”) than to Paul Theroux (“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation”) or, heaven forbid, William Blake (“In seed time, learn; in harvest, teach; in winter, enjoy”).

Yeah, well listen up Billy B., I ain’t half done me own learnin’, let alone harvesting. And don’t even talk to me about enjoying anything. I’m far too young for that fatuous folderol.

And yet. . .

A year ago to the day – this day – my wife and I were scheduled to fly into La Guardia and then commence what was to be a wonderful, middle-aged adventure exploring lower Manhattan on foot.

Only, winter got in the way. Flights from Calgary to Halifax were canceled. Every airport along the northeastern seaboard was, for days, shut down, covered under blankets of snow and sheets of frozen rain.

In fact, last winter turned out to be the longest, coldest, most intractable in 50 years (or so the cab drivers in Moncton reliably informed us as they rushed, almost daily, to our rescue).

I cursed the fools who boasted about their snow mobiles and blowers – the ones who couldn’t stop chattering about the next, big blow from the polar vortex, the ones who took perverse delight in the worst possible weather.

I steeled myself to the unavoidable, grittily clearing my walkways and paths of ice and crunch, believing that my labours would somehow presage an early and blessedly warm spring, full of green shoots and buds.

Then, one atypically bright day, my eldest grandson arrived with his father for a visit. They surveyed the product of my efforts and concluded that the banks I had created around the house were sufficiently high to embark on a classically Canadian wintertime project.

“Poppy,” the young one said with the fearless certitude of every five-year-old on the planet, “We need to make a snow fort.”

“Well,” I moaned, slightly, “maybe later, okay?”

“Oh no,” he insisted. “We have to do it now, before it all melts.”

I looked at the outdoor thermometer. It read 10-below. But I also knew I wasn’t going to win this argument.

And so we began with shovels and buckets and breaks for juice and water. We dug and plowed and burrowed until the sun went down and long after.

His Dad helped with big, lurching heaves of icy boulders and fine, craftsmanlike carvings into the walls of the forming network of latticed snow caves.

When we were done, long after everyone’s bedtime, we lay there for a piece under the ceiling our efforts, hope and imagination had created under the great black bowl of the Milky Way.

Then, it all came down on us in one great, calamitous bump. Snow, once the enemy, had become the blanket that covered us all as we joyfully shoved chunks of it down the fronts and backs of our parkas and ran like wild animals, screaming into the dark, suddenly soft and warm night.

It’s 2 am as I write this, and I am looking at the spot where we built Casa Bruce last year. The ground is frozen, but snow is conspicuously absent. I check my weather app, which tells me that Christmas, this year, might well be green.

Still, I don’t mind, as I wait to welcome my grandchildren for the holidays. We’ll make do. We’ll have fun. That’s what they always manage to teach me.

After all, as Anton Chekov once said, “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

As for me and Albert Camus, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

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