One of the undeniable truths about living in a landlocked city situated at 53 degrees north is the inevitable winter that follows a summer that always feels too short. The days grow shorter and the temperatures grow colder, sometimes to the extent that we become the second-coldest place on Earth that day. Yes – we’ve been Antarctica’s runner-up. And the snow – sometimes the shovelled piles grow so high they become driveway mountains. Hoth in Star Wars? North of The Wall in Game of Thrones? I’d say those landscapes look fairly familiar, like a normal January day. Winter is coming, indeed.
Due to the wind chill, the past few days in Edmonton have had temperatures that feel like -42 Celsius. Which is the same as -43.6 Fahrenheit, according to Google. The city is buried in a thick blanket of snow and ice, the latter almost leading me to an uncertain fate on my commute home yesterday when my car slid and veered into oncoming traffic. Which is partially my fault, because my tiny little Fiat doesn’t have winter tires due to some unexplainable stubbornness on my part. My apartment, usually a little too warm, can no longer maintain a comfortable temperature; when I crank it past its current level, I get to experience the lovely smell of burning dust, which is more detrimental to my allergies than just throwing on another sweater.
Dressing professionally for work takes on a whole new level of skill when you have to walk outside for ten minutes from your parking spot. Today, I almost wore my lopapeysa to work, which I haven’t worn since Iceland (fact: Icelandic winters are, for the most part, warmer than here, and they’re named after FROZEN WATER). I wore so many layers yesterday, beyond what I usually consider ‘fashionable,’ that I tweeted that my current fashion sense was “I am COLD and PISSED OFF.”
It’s a unique sensation to experience the feeling of your eyeballs freezing inside your head. In Edmonton winter, you can achieve frosted tips without the use of hair dye, as your breath forms ice crystals on the ends of your hair. There’s no rush to get the ice cream from the car into the freezer before it melts. After being left in my car for a couple of hours, my damp yoga towel was a frozen ball.
After a while, there’s something about a place that brings you down. It levels you, makes you its equal. You cannot pretend to be above it, immune to its landscape and weather patterns, because this place will outlast you.
You can always leave.
When I travel and tell people about where I’m from, one of the first things they ask about is the weather. I’ll tell them about days like today and yesterday, or days where 30 cm of snow falls in a span of 12 hours. They’ll look at me in shock, like I have spinach growing from my eyeballs.
Why don’t you?
This is the cold of death, beyond death even, where nature cannot thrive and things cannot grow. How strong of a heart must a place have to keep beating under such circumstances?
That’s why I’m still here.
Underneath that blanket of snow is the beating heart of Edmonton. Even though we may not get as many music acts coming through here, we still have a great musical culture. Even though very few actors come from Edmonton and we’re very rarely used as a shooting location, theatres like the Metro Cinema and the Princess exist. Even though we don’t have as many museums as Paris or London, we celebrate our diversity and multiculturalism in the summertime with almost-weekly festivals. And the people who stay here are the resilient ones, who have built up a strength in surviving a city unsurvivable without modern advances for a few months every year. And these are the people you rely on, not the ones who flock off to warmer climates at first opportunity.
I have plans to leave. Big plans, small plans, many plans. But they’re all temporary plans. Edmonton, you’ve levelled me, and even as I sit here shivering in my own apartment under a wool blanket and a cup of hot tea, I don’t think I could ever leave you for good.