Tag Archives: winter

Spooky action at a distance


At this time of the year, when the worm moon greets dawn’s croaking grackles, I find myself unable to quit my weather app, which I check obsessively.

A decade ago, friends of mine from England asked what sort of outerwear would be suitable for our Canadian Maritime climate in the middle of May. I said something like, “Don’t worry your pretty little Brit heads. We’re well past the worst of Mother Nature’s seasonal tantrums.”

They arrived, happy and shiny and right on schedule, at Stanfield International Airport. Two days later, 40 centimetres of snow dropped.

Friends of mine from England are no longer speaking to me.

But, then, how was any of this my fault?

I had a weather app, for God’s sake.

“You know I actually work for a living,” a tech-savvy Meteorologist acquaintance of mine protested over the phone the other day. He was alluding to the fact that I am a lowly freelancer who prefers to scribble in his “leisure suit” between bouts of weather-induced paranoia.

“Sure, sure,” I spluttered, “but what do you make of these forecasts? How do you know what is or isn’t going to happen in my backyard 14 days from now?”

One word, he said: “Algorithms . . .The less snow that falls in any given winter, the more snow gets computer modelled and pushed to the end of the year. It’s math, boy, simple math.”

So, all of this is accurate, yes?

“No,” he sighed. “Well, sometimes.”

That, I declared, “is not fair.”

No, it’s not, he sighed. “Neither is the fact that you’re an idiot.”

Be that as it may, in the Great While North – where Spring often meets Winter for a robust afternoon of ice dancing on some cosmic frozen pond of their mutual liking – I am not alone in thinking that I have a right to understand, with a smartphone in hand, the shape of all the universe’s spooky actions at a distance.

Some years ago, under crisp and brilliantly clear late-April skies, I peeled out of the driveway of my Guysborough County farmhouse to commence the first leg of a business trip to Halifax. The coast was clear. The CBC said so.

Twenty kilometres up the highway, a snow squall forced me off the road. When it was over, I limped back to the shore through 12 centimetres of treacherous, rapidly melting muck, listening to the public broadcaster predict, “Nova Scotia will be absolutely beautiful today.”

Of course, the weather – like hockey – is one of those glorious preoccupations Canadians almost never get right. A Farmer’s Almanac item recently observed: “Before there were apps for your phone, Doppler radar or the National Weather Service, people looked to the signs of nature to prepare for what’s to come.”

The venerable source was talking about the American Midwest, but the folklore could easily apply to the Canadian East Coast: “Heavy and numerous fogs; racoons with bright bands; woodpeckers sharing trees; thick hair on the nape of cows’ necks; and pigs gathering sticks.”

On the other hand, according to my limited research, here are some sure signs that spring has sprung: Heavy and numerous fogs; racoons with bright bands; woodpeckers sharing trees; thick hair on the nape of cows’ necks; and pigs gathering sticks.

And what about that balefully glaring “worm moon” (also sometimes known as the “super moon” when it appears, as it did this year, on the vernal equinox). Scientists think it might make certain animals. . .uh. . .friskier than normal. Isn’t that also a sure sign of spring?

As for me, I continue to rely on my weather app. It tells me in its own inimitable, techno-spoken language about thick mists, critter fur, avian condo dwellers, and the porcine obsession with twigs – all that I may expect in the coming weeks.

Thank you, weather app.

Unless it snows.

Then, curse you weather app.

It’s funny how I never do this in the middle of summer.

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How winter’s bone tests us

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

We may remember the dreaded winter of 1992. Perhaps we choose to forget in the Hub City, which took the brunt of one of the worst white dumps in the recorded history of the province.

My sister was living here at that time and she remembers – so well, in fact, that she rarely sets foot in this fair town after the fall equinox and before the summer solstice.

The snow in 1992 reached the second-floor window of her apartment near Steadman Street. To escape, to get, say, milk and eggs, she crafted a makeshift bunny hill on which she slid to ground. (How she returned to her abode, I’m not entirely clear; something about climbers’ axes and pitons hovers into my long-fossilized mind).

The point is, as rough as we’ve had it recently in New Brunswick. . .well. . .it’s been rougher.

Nineteen-Ninety-Two was also the first full year of a brand, new tax introduced in a brand, new recession – the HST. As the snow continued to fall, joblessness in this province rose well above 15 per cent. Poverty and illiteracy rates were among the highest in the country. Violent crime was a daily occurrence in Moncton’s downtown core, which was, by the way, easily mistaken for certain boroughs of the burning, benighted southern reaches of London, England, where hooligans and punks roamed the streets nightly.

Last winter, one snowplow driver told Global News, “We’ve got as much snow now as we had then (in 1992). But then it came kinda all in like two or three days where this has taken a week. Then, we could not even drive with the truck with the wing down.”

All of which is to reiterate that notwithstanding last winter’s absurd “White Juan”, which seemed to last for weeks (trust me, it did; I have the pictures to prove it to my Los Angeles-based, Venice-Beach hovering, muscle-bound brother), we’ve actually had it pretty good in Moncton over the past two decades.

We’ve rebuilt our local and surrounding economies. We’ve diversified away from solitary, single industries and into integrated, diverse ones. We’ve embraced the notion of cultural and linguistic duality so completely that we’ve managed to host a baker’s dozen of major, international francophone events without materially or socially threatening anyone in this community who can’t (or doesn’t) speak and read the French language.

We have become, in effect, what we intended to become: a cosmopolitan city that welcomes newcomers with a shake of the hand and a slap on the back; an urban centre of 140,000 people that, on a good day, habitually behaves as if its region is ten times larger, as if its heart is 20 times as big, as its census data routinely reports.

We may one day remember the dreaded winters of 1992, 2015 or, indeed, the one we’re in.

In the meantime, the HST will surely rise. Toll fees will surely smack travellers on provincial highways. Income taxes might rise.

But all of this won’t stop us from inventing better tools for digging out from under an avalanche of debt and deficit. We are, in the end, remorselessly resourceful; we will outlast this particular winter.

And if we do eventually touch that rim at the edge of the world – on a hot summer day when the clouds gather over the ocean, and the sun shines through and onto New Brunswick – it will be ours to grab.

We will have sacrificed the memories of bad times to erect those of good ones, when winter’s bone does not so easily test us.


Has spring sprung early?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

It has begun; that time of the year when Stockholm syndrome grips a goodly number Canadian citizens. The signs are evident and everywhere.

Faces change from warm and friendly to feverish and intensely cheerful. Backs bow, arms curl into chests, legs shift from side to side, heads bob up and down and to and fro. And then, as sure as Jack Frost is a minor demon with a major purchase on the souls of northern climes, the speaking in all-but-frozen tongues commences.

“Isn’t it great to see winter back once again? Why, I’m invigorated. I just can’t wait to pull out the old snow shoes, stay up till three o’clock in the morning shoveling ice from the intake valves of my natural gas furnace. I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this. . .Am I right, brother? No, really, am I right, am I right, am I right? Heeeeeee haaaaaaaw!”

To be clear, Stockholm syndrome is that condition which one source defines thusly: “It’s a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.”

It’s odd, perhaps, but to my knowledge, there’s no such thing as “San Jose syndrome” or “Florida Keys syndrome” or, heaven forbid, “Tahiti syndrome”. I guess the captives in those toasty, sunny locales are too busy sipping pina coladas to worry overmuch about the indignities they suffer at the warm hands of their captors’ beach-side massage therapists.

Poor saps. They know not what they’re missing in the “Arctic Riviera”: windburn, frostbite, couch-potatoitis, scrabble-mindlessness, cribbage-rot, and three-penny poker parlour games.

Up here in the Great White North, we know how to throw down a kitchen party when the mercury dips below the freezing point of iridium.

Now, naturally, the weather auguries declare that this winter will be one of the mildest and wettest on record in Southeastern New Brunswick. That simply means we take our card games outside as we rake the leaves of autumn in January. Oh what fun can we imagine in that eventuality?

We shall build great columns of maple keys, where once spirals of ice might have stood.

We shall garnish our hats with dead flowers from the garden, where once frozen carrots might have graced the noses of our snowmen in the sub-zero.

Under these conditions (say around March 14), the Stockholm syndrome will veer observably sideways.

“Isn’t it great to see spring back once again and so early this year? Why, I’m invigorated. I just can’t wait to pull out the old roots, stay up till three o’clock in the morning shoveling dirt into the new planting beds. I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this. . .Am I right, brother? No, really, am I right, am I right, am I right? Heeeeeee haaaaaaaw!”

Over the past ten years, New Brunswick has endured federal faces that were both warm and friendly, both feverish and intensely cheerful. In the process, it has suffered the fools of office it elected to Ottawa.

Now, there are new gardeners in town, just in time for winter’s blanket of moody musing and discontent to fall. Now, though, there are new promises to keep, new vistas to explore.

Yes, it is great to see that political spring has sprung in Canada again after such a long political ice age of bleak despair for many.

Still, let’s remember in this new, ostensibly enlightened era that we, the people, are the captors of our own democracy; not the captives.

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The seasons of our discontent

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Summer came in like a lamb, and, for all intents and purposes, it settled for a long slumber from which it has yet to fully awake.

On the first day of autumn, in Moncton, the sky was azure blue, a light southwest wind blew, and the temperature was Bermuda-warm.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will remember that day because, for sanity’s sake, I must.

How else does one survive the winter that is surely to come?

There are no descriptions sufficiently accurate to capture the utter absurdity of last year’s white and woolly season – in fact “white and woolly” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

During the days just before Christmas 2014, a record seven feet of flakes fell on Buffalo, New York. In comparison, we on Canada’s East Coast had gotten off Scot-free. In fact, on December 27, the mercury didn’t dip below 16C. We could have been forgiven for believing that the rest of the winter would be just as mild. Except for the fact that The Almighty was not in a forgiving mood.

When Old Man Winter finally descended sometime in mid-January, he arrived for the duration – kicking up his feet, daily belching snow and ice, until, under some of the coldest temperatures on record, he had deposited as much as 500 centimeters (16.4 feet) on my West-end neighbourhood of the Hub City, by early April. Even the old-timers where astonished.

At some point in late June, the last of the once-incredible snow dump, adjacent to the Shopper’s Drug Mart on Vaughan-Harvey Blvd., had finally melted to the ground, leaving only the standards and flags intrepid mountaineers had planted on its peak.

Then, mercifully, came summer – one of the finest and longest on record in this corner of the Canadian Steppe.

Also, rather rudely, came Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s election call on August 6, reminding us all that October 19 is just around the corner, vaulting us all into the shoulder season that prefaces the arrival of winter, once again.

There ought to be a law, in this country, that proscribes warm-weather political campaigns – one that prohibits stern-faced candidates from invoking the certainty that our cold, dark, worried hearts are as inevitable as a February Nor’easter.

Leave that to the shovel season, when those who want to vote for “one-of-the-above” or “none-of-the-above” must work to get out of their driveways and exercise their democratic rights, come rain, sleet, ice, and snow.

As it is, signs urging voters to nullify their ballots have been showing up all over Moncton’s downtown in recent days – the lazy, hazy consequence, perhaps, of a glorious summer, interrupted by the same, old politics of division, easy partisanship, and cynical vote pandering.

Try erecting those road-sign messages (any messages) in the middle of a blizzard; see how far you get.

Still, we persevere; looking for a main chance, searching for a man or woman who will speak the truth, for once, to power, tracking the Great Dear of democracy through the September of our expectations, the snows of the impossible winters of our frozen minds, the frigid springs of our disbelief, and, finally, the summer seasons of our discontent.

As for me, I will take the last of this beatific time of the year to reflect, under the blue sky and baking temperatures, on the fleeting nature of pure joy: When the lambs and lions of the political world might finally lie down together, and contemplate building this province, this region, this country together.

After all, then, and only then, will we fully awake.

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