Prior to moving to Montreal, Hollywood movies had reliably taught me all I needed to know about a true North American winter. For example, they educated me that the best weather conditions for confessing one’s love for another is during rainfall. Though, while I am well acquainted with never-ending bouts of rain (thanks Melbourne), I learnt that snow is an even better alternative for setting the mood, i.e. Bridget Jones’s Diary (sometimes it snows in London, too). Snow ignites joy and optimism: “everything is magical when it snows,” Lorelai informed me on Gilmore Girls. For Edward Scissorhands, snow brings happiness to his true love when he creates snow from the shavings of an ice sculpture crafted by his bare hands. And don’t forget all those Christmas movies that convince us that these festivities would not be complete without snow. After five months of a Montreal winter, however, I noted that The Day After Tomorrow would have been a more apt choice for a 101 rundown on winter. A little melodramatic, but nevertheless, winter was not as I had expected.
My experience with snow began as a romance. I thought: it’s funny when people slip, like they’re sliding on banana peels. Look at this beautiful golden-brown sludge upon the footpaths. How impressive, this pile of snow is twice as tall as me. The novelty phase was glorious, and I’m not at all intending to belittle the fact that snow can indeed be very beautiful. Even on the negative side, a Montreal winter really made me appreciate the small aspects of spring and summer that I had long overlooked.
6 things a Montreal winter has taught me never to take for granted again
- The sensation of the wind and sunshine against my limbs. Sounds stupid, but for the first few months of 2015 I couldn’t walk outside without wearing two or three pairs of pants (I was ridiculously under-equipped of winter gear) and a coat that resembled a puffy feather-lined sleeping bag. On the first day of “spring” it was a warm eight degrees and sunny. I danced down the street in jeans and a t-shirt with a newfound happiness I had never before experienced. The ability to flail my limbs and frolic freely outdoors had become a luxury.
- The ability to simply walk out the door. Let me elucidate. To prepare oneself for combat with a brutally bad day outdoors in February one must layer themselves with multiple pants and jumpers. Don’t forget a warm hat, gloves, a scarf and maybe earmuffs. And for those of you that love to accessorise, pack snow goggles. Wear the right socks and strap on your heavy snow boots. If you hate what winter does to your skin, bring a chapstick and moisturiser. By this point it’s been over five minutes, you’ve missed your bus. I learnt the hard way: it’s essential to look at the bus times (you don’t want to stand outdoors for longer than ten minutes). It’s now May and it’s been a steady twenty-plus degrees; I can walk outside in my pajamas if I wanted to.
- The ability to just hop in a car and drive. When I first witnessed my friend get on her hands and knees with a shovel (and even lie on her stomach to access the underneath of her car), I then knew that driving, and parking, would not be an easy endeavor. Lines and lines of cars are disguised by snow, making it virtually impossible to find your own (especially when it has been towed and relocated by the snow removers). When the ice freezes your car in, there’s often no other solution than to just wait it out.
- The sound of nature. When the birds came back I noticed that the only wildlife that had been present over the winter was seemingly only the humans cooped up in the barricade of their own homes. Chirping birds signified the beginning of everyone coming out of hibernation.
- The beauty of an unfrozen body of natural water. Having only lived in homes that were no more than five minutes away from the beach, I wasn’t accustomed to the inner-city life, let alone one where all the local lakes and rivers were frozen. When my friends insisted that we take a walk to the Saint-Laurent River I had thought, surely it couldn’t be anything special. But when I saw it, vast and flowing in April, a rush of reassurance overcame me. Montreal had been revived.
- Generally just looking and feeling alive. Never again will I take for granted the ability to breathe in fresh air. Attempt to inhale a big gulp of icy winter air and you’ll choke. I don’t know how people go for jogs in the snow, but they do it, and it’s impressive. Secondly, the cold is so drying that moisturising becomes a must. And lastly, there’s no such thing as sunbathing. So most people (I speak for myself, at least) end up looking pale and pasty. It’s a flattering time of year.
Hollywood movies (minus the thrillers) had presented me with a glorified version of winter. They convinced me that snow was an easily navigated, romance-inspiring, fairytale-like symptom of winter. For the most part, winter is the most inconvenient, pain-inducing (hollah frostbite) killjoy of weather scenarios. I love you Montreal, but let’s be honest, peak winter isn’t one of your highlights.