Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I miss winter

My house in winter: a source of inspiration.

Ever since I read Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, I’ve wanted to write about the power and majesty of winter. Helprin wrote about images of frozen lakes, mountains of snow, impassable drifts and sharp, bright stars in a sky frozen to crystalline clarity.

I remember similar images from my childhood in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario: snowbanks high than my head along residential streets; fighting for dominion over hills of snow in the schoolyard until the teachers yelled at us to come down; snow-spray kicked up by my boots as I walked to the bus stop, glowing golden in the light of an approaching car.

I’ve written before about how I find a lot of inspiration from the world around me. I don’t have to create a new world to write fantasy — the world out my window is filled with wonder.

But with global warming, I am losing one of my favourite and most evocative sources of inspiration.

When I was a child, riding in the family car across the prairies in January, the snow covering the prairies would be polished by the wind and shining golden in the slanting winter sunlight.

Today, as I rode along the Ottawa River, the world was gray: lead-coloured sky, soft gray ice on the river, soggy gray slush on the fields, dark gray slush along the sides of the gray roads, gray, leafless trees ...

Winter has no majesty anymore. It’s warm, only minus 4 degree Celsius. (That’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit for US readers.) A couple of days ago, the temperature in Ottawa reached plus 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit)!

I remember snow squeaking and crunching as I walked outdoors. Now, it slushes and splashes.

Ottawa has a reputation as a winter city; in the American imagination, Canada is home to winter, source of cold winds that freeze the US from December to March.

It’s just not true anymore.

We have lost winter

I know there are some people who think that would be great. The people who moan about every snowfall, who pray for early spring, who prefer January rain to February snow.

But I love winter, and I know I’m not alone. I love the feeling of cold air on my face, the blue that only comes to a cold winter sky. I love winter sports, too: skiing downhill or cross-country, skating on an outdoor rink or frozen river or canal, tobogganing under a starry sky.

There is no blue like a clear winter sky.

I love walking through a snowy forest under the moonlight. Just looking at a snowy yard through my window sparks an urge to write, brings forth images and stories and even sentences. Now, I fear that’s all going away.

My problems may not seem important compared to those of polar bears, which depend on the shrinking Arctic sea ice for their lives, or for countless other species whose habitats are being destroyed by the increasing temperature of the planet.

But the loss of winter as a source of inspiration is indicative. There has been no denying that the world is warming for decades, and now the fact that it has been caused by humans and our industry is just as undeniable.

Except by the humans who perceive that their wealth and short-term livelihood derive from those world-warming industries.

There are solutions, dear readers. If you want to conserve something that shapes the world we know, there are steps we can all take. We can use less energy. And no, it won’t cause an economic collapse.

Let’s face it: we let the people who put economic growth ahead of every other possible consideration, including health, the non-human part of the world and even fiscal responsibility, run the economy and every industry, and they managed to bring about an intractable economic calamity with every tool and freedom they asked for.

Can we let them to the same thing to the world we need to live?

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