Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

1/7/2005

Snow day

File under: 1000 Words, Home And Native Land, Talking To Strangers. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 5:09 pm.

It snowed 25 centimeters in as many hours between yesterday and today - a middling tally by my Ontario hometown’s standards, but a veritable bounty in Island terms. My town has its share of immigrants and transplants from out east, but it’s easy to pick out the ones who grew up in Vancouver or on the Island: they’re the ones who freak out when the weather changes. The student from last term who asked if classes would be cancelled when she saw three snowflakes hadn’t been east or north of Vancouver in two years; I suspect something was similar was true of the middle-aged man who eyed me scraping the ice off of the windshield of a rental car last month. “You’re going out in this?” he asked. “It’s below zero.”

Most of the employees of the town’s biggest cab company, in all likeliness, were born and bred Islanders. I opted not to attempt, bootless, the 15% grade leading from the bus stop to my apartment last night, so I phoned a taxi. “Most of the others went home early today,” said the driver, “and a lot of the rest - they called in sick.”

School was cancelled today. The public library was closed, and the weather channel exhorted people not to drive unless they absolutely had to. The snow on my street was fresh, and four young boys were sliding - quickly - down the snow-covered pavement on a plastic sheet. I ventured outdoors for a walk, and encountered a young father with a small child in tow. The kid held a mittened palm upward, and examined the white flakes in his hand. “‘no,” he pronounced.

Across the street, people were shovelling their long, steep driveways. In Ontario, driveway shovelling - and winter in general, once the week or two of novelty has been replaced by the deep freeze - is a burden; here, people were lifting heavy piles of snow with what appeared to be a sense of awe. One woman, who could not have been more than five feet tall, had nearly completed the task, and as I passed by, energetically called out to me in an Eastern European accent: “Perfect day! Perfect!”

“Absolutely,” I agreed.

“Never seen anyting like dis here,” she said. “Never.”

“Me neither,”I said, “Not here. But I grew up in Ottawa, and it snows like this all the time. It’s the only thing I miss about the weather back east.”

“Ottawa,” she said, “Last time I see snow like dis. When my plane landed, first time in Canada. Nineteen-ninety-seven. In April. Then I move to BC.”

I remembered the storm of April ‘97: my cousin had had his Bar Mitzvah in Montreal that month, deliberately scheduled two months after his February birthday, so that our Florida relatives wouldn’t have to contend with a typical Canadian winter. They did anyway.

“We land in Canada, with snow like this. I asked, is it winter in this country in April? But no. Just nineteen-ninety-seven.” She propped her shovel up, and repeated, “Perfect day.”

I don’t know if she was referring to today, or to that day in April 1997. I didn’t ask.