Talk About the Weather
It’s November 4 and snowing in southern Alberta. Not a lot of the white stuff is expected over the next two days and there will likely be little trace of it by Sunday, but it’s still snow. And it’s still only early November. And it’s still a reminder of a harsh prairie winter ahead.
Having spent the last six years on the west coast of Canada, a prairie winter will undoubtedly require some re-acclimatization on my part. I’ve grown used to green grass and wet, grey days throughout the winter months. There was the occasional snowfall, of course, and these rare blasts of winter tended to wreak havoc quite disproportionate to the conditions themselves amongst those unaccustomed to it, but overall winter is much milder and more manageable out west.
There’s a saying in southern Alberta: “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” It is simultaneously a complaint and a somewhat paradoxical badge of honour. We like to complain about the volatility of the climate around here—massive temperature swings within a single day, wind that will take your breath away and knock you off your feet—yet at the same time there is often a barely concealed pride that we are among the hearty few who can take it. Our position toward the weather changes according to our psychological temperature. The weather is either our cross to bear or a feather in our caps as hearty prairie folk.
As I look ahead to winter on the prairies, I find myself in somewhat of a strange state of mind. On the one hand, I am apathetic. Part of me finds our endless chatter about the weather wearisome and banal. We don’t know what else to talk about and have seemingly lost the capacity to speak of more meaningful things, so we talk about what is universal and safe and non-threatening. The weather will do nicely, it seems.
Predictably, we complain about the cold, we express our admiration/barely-concealed jealousy for those who get to spend winter in warmer locales, we compare temperatures with friends and relative across the country, ranking ourselves according to the temperatures we enjoy relative to others. We brag if it is three degrees warmer where we live. We poke fun at those facing snow and cold. We listen to radio broadcasters prattle on excitedly about the weather forecast and whether or not we might “achieve” our daytime highs. Perhaps we will set a seasonal high today! Wouldn’t that be something?! As if we had anything to do with it.
On the other hand, though, I am defiant. “Bring it on!” I feel like saying. I can’t count how many times in the last four months or so that I have heard some version of the following remark upon learning that our family moved (on purpose!) from Vancouver Island to a small town on the Canadian prairies: “Oh… really?! Why would you ever leave?! You were close to the ocean! Are you ready for the winters, here? I bet it’s going to be a shock for you. You don’t have to shovel rain (followed by smug laughter)!”
What I often do in this situation is smile awkwardly and say something like, “yeah, it’s going to be a big change.” What I often feel like saying is this: “Yes, I’m aware that it snows here, and that snow has to be shovelled. I realize that it’s cold and brown and windy and wildly unpredictable. I realize that there’s no ocean here. I spent the first thirty years of my life here, so I actually have a pretty good idea of what I might expect over the next 4-5 months. I am not under the illusion that Alberta magically been transformed into a tropical paradise during my six-year absence!” Global warming still has some work to do, evidently.
I don’t say any of this, of course, and it’s probably better that I don’t. A bit of playful banter about the weather surely needn’t be repaid by such sarcastic missives. But perhaps underneath all of this, there are hints of a serious point to be made. What is it that determines the quality of our lives? External forces like the weather and the environment we inhabit or internal dispositions and attitudes about how we will be in our environment? Do we act or are we acted upon? Are we passive recipients of phenomena and experiences or active shapers of them? Can we cultivate the discipline of seeing what is good and life-giving and beautiful in all things—including “bad” weather—or must the conditions be perfect for us to live lives of gratitude, trust, and peace? Interesting questions to be provoked by a bit of snow, perhaps, but take them for what they are worth.
And now, I’m off to brave unprepared city streets in what has become a winter wonderland during the composition of this post. Bring it on!