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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)!”

Sigh.

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!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. “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?”

    A good summary of the ‘temperature’ of Alberta residents regarding the topic of weather. Yes, it’s ironic that as a society we spend a decreasing amount of time actually outside, yet we talk non-stop about the weather. Before we purchased our second car I was biking, running and busing to and from work all months of the year. I dare say I did consider this a badge of honour, but I found it particularly ironic that my co-workers talked more about the weather than I did during that time. Sure, I complained bitterly when the weather was extreme and I still made it to work. But often times the weather is not near as bad when you dress appropriately and get some exercise while being outside. The coldest I’ve ever been was sitting in a car in -40 degree weather waiting for it to warm up. I know I’m strange, but I’d rather be outside in a parka walking and generating some body heat rather than sitting idly by waiting for my blood to freeze. One guy I know in Lethbridge has been running to and from work for over 20 years all year round and he’s the first guy to say “Hey, isn’t it a great day out here?” He’s learned to be an active shaper of his life and the role of weather in it. He’ll laugh off a miserable day, knowing that he survived it to enjoy the other beautiful ones. I miss my time commuting without a car and how it connected me to the natural world and made me appreciate a warm shower and hot tea or an early morning sunrise. One day I will return to that world and be reconnected to that great force called the weather.

    Also, on the comment of ‘bad weather’. We have to look no further than the pine beetle to appreciate our November cold snaps or look to tropical diseases and how our cold winter prevents them from spreading to the north. Our cold weather has many benefits we rarely consider.

    November 5, 2011
    • Yours is a perspective on “the weather” that I aspire to! Thanks for this.

      November 6, 2011
  2. Larry S #

    Ryan – you get to wait for a blizzard that will shut everything and give you an excuse to do ‘nothing’ but …. spend time with your family and perhaps some other special friends playing board games, drinking coffee and snacking.

    Some of the best memories I have of Alberta are times spent like in this way. Locked down and given an excuse to do ‘nothing.’ Here on the wet coast – we don’t get excuses like that.

    blessing

    November 6, 2011
    • Looking forward to that blizzard :).

      November 6, 2011

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