I go walking: Flowing

As predicted, the ice jam came unjammed sometime in the night or early morning. By the time I headed out after breakfast, masses of broken river ice were flowing down the river.iceflow 8When I was a kid growing up on the bank of the Assiniboine River, this flow of ice was a big event. Every spring as the weather warmed we placed twenty-five cent bets on which day the ice would “go out.”  My grandfather generally won. This year the weather has been so erratic that I suspect even grandpa would have been hard pressed to call it.

Standingiceflow 4iceflow 3 on the bank just south of the bridge, I watched the ice crash against the bridge supports that just yesterday were bracing the ice jam. Huge slabs of ice crumbled against the supports which, I noticed for the first time, are shaped much like ships’ prows, no doubt  for exactly this purpose. Fallen trees, carried downriver with the ice, crashed and splintered like giant toothpicks.

As a kid, I always thought of the going out of the ice as a singular event. When I observe the river’s changes now, I see that everything about it is more complex than I once believed. The ice jams, and flows, and jams, and flows again, until eventually the last of it has melted. A lot of things that seem simple when you first look at them reveal themselves to be much more complex on closer examination.

iceflow 2

 

Shirtsleeves and slush

Today’s Daily Prompt asks, “What do you love most about the city / town / place that you live in?”

It’s been a long winter.

Not that I’m complaining. Winter is a big part of the city that I live in. A big part of the constantly changing cycle of seasons. I like that I live in a place that is characterized by a blend of comfortable pattern and constant change.

One of the reasons that this has been a particularly brutal winter is that it has been too much of the same thing. Too much cold. Too much wind chill. Too much snow. Winter’s OK when the bitter days are broken up with moments of warm sun on your face. This winter has hammered relentlessly at us since late November. But today it finally felt like the worst just might be over.

Today, finally, the temperature crept above the 0°C mark. Today I left my down-filled coat at home, and went out in my fleece jacket. Today I took the garbage out in my shirtsleeves.  Today I turned off the baseboard heaters and opened up the patio door for the afternoon. The patio itself is still buried in a three-foot high snowdrift, but the air coming in felt lovely.

Today felt like spring was waking up.

One of the spring things I had to do today was put more washer fluid in my car to combat the muddy splash from the melting snow. Spring is messy here. Melting snow means slushy, mucky streets with puddles waiting for a bus to come along to splash unsuspecting pedestrians. This year we have a lot of snow, so we can anticipate a lot of slush. Spring is also all the sand that was scattered to provide some traction on icy winter streets, now piled in dirty mounds on boulevards. It’s litter–paper coffee cups and cigarette butts that were hidden under the pristine whiteness of the snow–now emerging as a soggy mess. To the untrained eye, there’s nothing beautiful about March in Winnipeg.

And yet all that muck and mess is a sign of better things to come. You have to pass through the grey slush to get to green grass and flowers. March is messy, because March is change  and change is messy.

March is, admittedly, my least favourite month. I am impatient with March. I want to be through the messy part and into the new growth of April. But I know I need to wait–need to give the snow time to melt and nourish the roots of the aspen trees outside my door and transform the grass along the riverbank into a rich carpet of green. You have to live here to really appreciate what it means to know that the bitter cold of January and muck of March will give way to the lush green of June and the intense heat of July.

Home, Frozen Home

When I set out for work yesterday morning the wind chill was -50 degrees Celsius. According to the astronomy department at the local museum, it was colder in my city yesterday than it was on the surface of Mars. So take note space entrepreneurs: if you’re thinking to pitch Mars as a tourist destination, Winnipeg is your prime market.

If you travel to Thompson to the north of Winnipeg (yes, there is stuff north of Winnipeg besides polar bears) you will be hard pressed to find a hotel room during the winter months. The population of the town swells in the coldest months of the year with car manufacturing companies on location to cold-test their vehicles. (Random thought: I wonder where the Mars Rover was cold-tested?)

Many years ago, on a tour of the canals of Venice, we learned about the risks and challenges of living on land that had been, rather tenuously, reclaimed from the sea. I commented that it seemed odd that people would opt to make their homes in such an unforgiving place. My partner turned to me with a look of incredulity and said, “Well, we live in Winnipeg.”

But honestly I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Call my crazy.

We’ve had record low temperatures in December. The streets– even the main arteries– are a corrugated mess of deep ice ruts that mean you take your life in your hands every time you change lanes. That is if you can actually figure out where the lanes are. The roads are littered with automotive debris from the unlucky ones. I’m wearing my smooshed-in bumper from my Christmas day mishap like a good-luck charm. I figure I’ve had my turn. Even so, I am white-knuckling my way through the exit ramps and intersections where the buildup is the worst. And in case the snow pack wasn’t enough, water mains keep bursting and turning streets into ersatz skating rinks.

I can’t remember seeing the roads this bad for this long. It seems to have been a perfect storm of heavy, warmish, snowfall followed by a deep freeze that has rendered the packed snow and ice resistant to the scraping of the snow plows.

But we’re still going places. Oh, I suspect that there were a few more people than usual opting for a New Year’s Eve night at home last night, but when I was still on the roads around 8:30 pm I was far from alone. It takes a lot more than ridiculous cold and treacherous driving conditions to keep a Winnipegger from carrying on with life.

Although, I have to admit at -50 I am not taking a lot of leisurely walks along the riverbank. I could, however, safely talk a walk on the river by now–that is if I didn’t mind risking frostbite and hypothermia. I contemplated suiting up and walking up to the road to take some pictures for this post, but since taking pictures requires the removal of my mitts, I decided that wasn’t happening.

Instead, I stumbled across this bit of fun from a Canadian business. This story is from Ontario, but the same spirit of thumbing one’s nose at the worst winter has to offer applies.

Falling

Snow is falling.

So far it’s melting right away when it hits the ground. And the car. And my hair. I’m not crazy about this in-between precipitation. The temperature has been hovering just above freezing all day, so everything is wet and oh so slippery.

Slippery is the one thing that can deter me from going out walking. I’m afraid of falling.

And it’s not just because of my newly minted artificial hip, although I can’t imagine taking a serious fall on my recently installed joint would be a great idea. Actually, I’ve always been afraid of falling.

Not heights. I have no issue with heights. I can drive in the mountains. I can look down from tall observation towers. I can walk across a bridge without getting the shakes. But an icy sidewalk… now that’s scary.

In fact any activity that involves even the sensation that I might fall is tough. I didn’t get very far with learning to ice skate. Even sports like broomball and curling where you get to wear boots, but still have to be on an ice surface, have no appeal for me. And you could not possibly pay me enough to convince me to get on a skateboard or a pair of downhill skis.

Once, in my youth, I gave into the pleadings of a good friend and agreed to go on a blind date. It was to be a double-date– my friend and her boyfriend, and me and another friend of theirs. Somehow– and to this day I cannot fathom how I ever agreed to the plan– it was determined that this social outing would take place at the roller rink.

Right.

My experience on roller skates to that point in my life was exactly zero. “No worries,” my friend insisted, “it’s no different from ice skating. You’ll pick it up right away.”

Great. And who exactly was going to pick ME up? I could see where this was going.

And yet I went. Perhaps because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend. Perhaps because I was afraid to admit just how afraid I was of the prospect of strapping wheels to my feet. Perhaps because hey, it was a date.

Dear Reader, I did not “pick it up right away.” The evening went something like this: my friend and her boyfriend skated graceful laps hand in hand, periodically pausing to check in on me and Blind Date boy, who was essentially having to hold me up and drag me slowly around the periphery of the rink. He seemed, to me, to be very pleased to have stumbled into a situation where the young woman he was with had no choice but to cling to him with all her might. I, on the other hand, was mentally counting the minutes until the farce could end and we could all go for coffee and laugh at me for the rest of the evening.

I did not go on another date with that young man. And I did not ever agree to strapping on another pair of roller skates.

And I’m still uber-cautious about stepping out onto an icy sidewalk.