Me sharing my insights with interested parties.
I’ve been paying attention to Canada. The impending arrival of friends from a different culture has me looking for easy ways to break down societal basics. Last week at the gas station, I stumbled on to something.
Beautiful day, isn’t it? said the man at the cash.
Lovely, I said. And it’s been the nicest fall.
Hasn’t it? he said. He looked at his monitor and waited. The gas is still pumping, he apologized, You can’t pay yet.
That’s okay, I said. I just came in to stay warm while my husband pumps. No sense in two of us being cold out there.
Yeah, said the man. It’s just miserable out there today, isn’t it?
Dear friends from afar,
Canadians aren’t cold: they’re reserved. Except when they really are cold. Then you’ll find them quite warm. We bond here in bad weather. If you’re lucky your first winter, you’ll be to be trapped somewhere with a bunch of cold people. By the time you get out, you’ll be best friends with everybody.
Weather is the gold standard of Canadian verbal exchange. It works with hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, and hope I never see you again. Discussion of windchill, the chance of precipitation, and road conditions are appropriate when making friends, looking for a job, asking for directions, buying a hot dog, or offering condolences on the death of a loved one.
Think of conversations about weather as a kind of social interaction Band-Aid. The temperature on your porch when you got up at 3 in the morning can tidy up an awkward moment with ease.
You don’t have to speak coherently about the intermingling of warm and cold fronts. The points that matter are:
1. It’s cold. (Even if it’s not, just say it is. Being cold is part of what makes us superior to the country south of us. It doesn’t matter that they have areas typically colder than southern Ontario. #Americans have the film and music industries: we own the weather.)
2. It’s hot. (You only get to say this for one or two months so practice more on the part about cold.)
3. It’s snowing.
The most important thing to understand about weather is that it’s personal. Frost might have killed one person’s plants and only dusted another’s. People might know it was windy, but they don’t know how many branches fell on your yard. Snow banks are best measured in relatives. Your kindergarten son’s waist or your Aunt Myrtle’s head.
Whatever else they teach you in your ESL class (English as a second language), make sure they tell you what you need to know to talk about weather. When you first get here, people might try to tell you how long the winter is going to be, or how bad it was last year. People especially like to talk about the worst winter disasters they’ve lived through. If that happens, they’re not trying to scare you. What they’re trying to say is, welcome to Canada; you’re one of us now.
You can see at least a few of the bodies here.
The business of bees nags at my brain. I want a sugar alternative, I want kids on fire for living things, and I like us learning whenever possible. People tell you to expect nothing for honey harvest in year one, while simultaneously telling you how much honey their uncle Harold, neighbor Frieda, and son, Billy, got their first years. We did not become a story like Billy; our first year we got zero.
I discovered in early January that the winterizing of the hives had not been done properly. Exits and ventilation are as important for bees as they are for people. One hive seemed ok. The other had both entrances inadvertently sealed. I removed hundreds of dead bodies and ice and settled into hopelessness. I mentally pronounced hive A dead and the hive B potentially terminal.
February broke all kinds of weather records for average cold, most consecutive cold days . . . This past weekend saw warmer temperatures. Despite the sunshine, I walked with heavy steps through snow higher than my boots (or knees) to make myself look at the hives.
“Good news!” I told my husband afterwards. “There were dead bodies all over the snow.”
I had hoped to see a bee or two fly out into the sunshine (they use the warm days to relieve themselves). I didn’t see that, but I did see a lone bee fly. Granted, she flew straight to the snow and committed frozen harakari . . . but before that she flew.
“It’s kind of weird,” said my husband, “when you say, ‘good news,’ because you discovered dead bodies and witnessed a suicide.”
But good news it is. Dead bodies on the ground mean the girls inside are alive and cleaning house. Should the buzz continue into spring, I’ve made some resolutions in celebration of hope’s resurrection:
- We’ll buy better bee protection. Winterizing would have been done better if we weren’t so sick of getting stung.
- I’ll give up expecting the boys to own the bee project. We all find the bees exciting. The boys are willing to work and willing to get stung. For the foreseeable future, they aren’t going to carry the emotional burden, initiate anything, or wake in the night with what they’ve forgotten to do. I can own the project or we can quit. I can be bitter about what my bee men aren’t doing or be happy for what they are.
With dreams of project watching gone, I am officially the project manager. May the eventual honey sweeten the gaps in working style among the partnership. I’ve got the ability to make myself do what I don’t feel like doing at a particular moment because it needs to be done and the notion that the pursuit of ongoing knowledge is required. The boys are actually much more comfortable handling the bees than I am. We could do worse for a combined skill set.
Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.
I have embarked upon a death by degrees. If I could work in an unheated laundry in the early morning hours with my hands raw from the scrubbing, or make cheese to sell with the milk I had squeezed by hand from the last drips of every neighbour’s cow for five miles, if I was doing something along those lines for my children’s education, I imagine a sense of pride would accompany my labours. Instead, I am nailed to a car for a very extended Lent.
If points A, B, and C, lie on a crooked line, we live at point B, with three of the children requiring taxi service to C, and the child of a thousand activities requiring taxi service to A. By week’s end, the chilly laundress and the determined cheese maker both have something in their hands that proves what they have accomplished. By the sweat of their brow they have obtained their children’s education. While it is true that my children could not attend their places of study without transportation, at the end of every single week, there is nothing to prove that I have done anything. My back aches a bit, my right leg is stiff, my toes at times numb, but only the laundress can decry her chapped hands. It’s not quite the same to say you’re achy because you went from B to C to B to A to B too many times this week.
An early Ash Wednesday is catching me up short. The cold of mid-February amplifies the monotony of duties and begs the question of their meaning. I am hesitant to hope for Lent’s promise. Afraid to believe that Easter will dawn in so short a time. Soon the weather station will have to invent a synonym for polar vortex to keep things interesting. Many days are cloudy, but not all. I went out the other day to almost brilliant sunshine. I turned my face to the sun as I walked and pulled the scarf away from my skin so that light could touch more of me.
Perhaps Lent in deep winter is good. Perhaps the effort it takes to believe on cloudy days that the light will come back builds something for which we have no proof. On Ash Wednesday we bow as a claim that what we bow to is bigger than our moods, disappointments, or even our dreams. Faith needn’t be felt at all times. Ash Wednesday accepts it wrestled to the ground, hogtied, and held by a large rock drug from the backyard. Bags of cat litter would also suffice. Light was and is and will be whether we see it or not. A thousand clouds of dull grey today, but tomorrow the sun will tear once again with ferocious glory through the skies.
We may need to jerry rig this year’s Easter dresses with battery powered sections of an electric blanket, but we’ve got forty days to sort it out. Ashes to remind us from whence we came. Ashes to pull us silently up, out of our forgetting and into a grand awareness of Divine transportation. Tirelessly ferrying us from B to A to B to C and back to B again while we learn our lessons largely oblivious to the driver.
Unheeding of thank you’s neglect, Ash Wednesday comes. With Love’s arms open wide, we are invited to march toward Easter’s hope.