Warm Up to the City of Seasons

Winter is not always a joy . . . but it is the balance of seasons that makes Edmonton radiant.

It’s January of 2013 and I am worlds away from an Edmonton winter. Aboard a sweaty bus in sweltering sunshine, a guitarist bellows in Spanish several rows up. Soon we laze by the pool while iguanas play peekaboo. Fifty degrees hotter than home, Mexico might as well be another universe.

On our first night, the shuttle driver detours into a vacation version of Candy Cane Lane. These wealthy snow-birds, living on a golf course, have escaped winter only to recreate it. But without snow, it feels hollow. Money cannot buy what Edmontonians love and loathe. Here in Mexico, I feel something impossible. I miss the snow.

How could this yearning creep into a heart that has dreaded every first frost?

It’s mid-October and I am perched precariously atop a ladder, leaning towards my daughter’s bedroom window with a very large pane of glass. In this old house the windows and screens must be swapped every season. There is nothing like balancing a heavy window eight feet off the ground, one foot barely on a rung, to remind me that our seasons are fragile, always being exchanged.

I’m bracing myself for the cold. And you know what? I can take it. And that, my friends, is a gift Edmonton has given me.

There is something sacred about having to wait for the warmth. We slow down in these icy months and huddle together. On our coldest days, the snow sparkles.

Come January, when winter is at its worst, Deep Freeze Festival will drag us onto the ice for curling and skating and fire pits and hot chocolate. Sleigh rides and ice slides and snowshoes and frozen maple syrup are privileges of the North. It’s hard to imagine life without wild rides down a frozen hill on paper-thin plas-tic, or trying to steer a Snow Racer towards, then at the last instant away from, a jump.

Winter is not always a joy, of course. Think minus 30C and drawn out darkness. But it is the balance of seasons that makes Edmonton radiant – not any one of them alone.

The seasons beat an ancient rhythm, and we Edmontonians are perhaps the best dancers on earth.

Our winters are just horrendously, ridiculously cold. Even Frank Spinelli’s statue gets a toque from some mer-ciful passerby. But our trees adopt a special beauty, trading leaves for cotton candy snow. Edmonton summers bring glorious heat, along with festi-val upon festival. We squeeze two months for every drop of precious light and life, taking no hot day for granted.

Our spring times are short but puddle-filled and sprinkled with tulips. Our falls are drop dead gorgeous, as if God spilled a few buckets of golden paint on a river valley stroll. We get skating rinks and outdoor pools. We travel by bike and cross-country skis. We are bitten by mosquitos and frost. Our kids track home sand and snow, sometimes all at once. Our rabbits change colour!

In a world where seasons are being phased out in pursuit of the all-good-all-the-time, shopping malls control our climate. Seasonal foods are a relic of days before cheap transportation and preserva-tives. Remember when mandarin oranges were a rare treat we would get in our stockings? As presents?!

Seasons keep things special. Gifts are wrapped for a reason. There is a time for everything. And when it is all over, it begins again. And this is good. We learn the right time for soup and for BBQ, and when we have only the one we learn to long for the other. And the longing is good.

City of Champions? Maybe. But I declare us the City of Seasons, always changing. Always moving towards some short and special time.

First printed in The Rat Creek Press, December 2013 Edition. http://www.ratcreek.org