Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Northern Exposure - Calgary Sun Column - Jan 26, 2013

By Stephen Lautens

Last night I sat next to a friend who was sporting an unnaturally healthy glow. I say that as someone whose own skin colour has been compared to the belly of a brook trout.

My friend’s skin was deeply tanned in a way that can only be achieved through long-term exposure to that seldom seen object known in Canada as “the Sun”.

“I just got back from Florida,” he explained. “And I’m headed straight back there tomorrow. Can’t take this winter.”

I was taken a bit aback, because earlier that day I was idly thinking how much I like winter.

I must be the only person in Canada who isn’t currently flipping through the travel section of the paper looking for a cheap all-inclusive to some impoverished Caribbean island that serves drinks with little umbrellas behind barbed wire gates.

Not to put a damper on the sunny south’s tourist business, but I’ve rarely found those winter vacations worth the effort. Your vacation usually starts in some empty airport at 4:30 in the morning waiting for your charter to assign you a broken seat and trying to figure out what to do with your bulky winter coats since all the public lockers have been pulled out for security reasons.

Your first two days in the sun are spent recovering from your flight and putting sunscreen on with a trowel to protect your pale and easily burned hide. You start to relax on a beach crowded with your fellow countrymen just in time to head back to the airport and a Canadian winter, which always seems ten times colder than when you left.

The week after coming home from a southern vacation is spent complaining about the weather, turning up the thermostat and toting up the ridiculous cost of a week in the sun. Every day in the shower you see your tan lines fade a little more and the bottle of duty-free rum you carried back on your lap mysteriously evaporate.

Slush, salt stains and six layers of outerwear are not in my top three favourite things, but I don’t mind the cold so much that I feel I have to escape it. Even though I’m not a winter sports person, there’s something about a walk on a brisk winter day. “Brisk” is of course defined as between -5 and -25 degrees. “Fresh” is between -25 and absolute zero.

Maybe it’s because my mom (bless her) was told as a new mother some 50 years ago that there was nothing better for a Canadian baby than to be bundled up in the dead of winter and being left on the back porch for an hour or two. Something about an old wives’ tale that the cold air was good for babies’ lungs.

This was apparently done with me, although now you’d have the Children’s Aid at your front porch faster than you can say “hypothermia”. I can’t say there were any lasting medical benefits, except my continuing fondness for the cold weather. That and I still clutch a blue blankie when I go outdoors during the winter months.

I don’t dream of living in a tropical paradise. I’d miss the change of the seasons and that sharp, cold air filling my lungs on a frosty morning.

True – it starts to wear a little thin around March when you know there are still a couple of good snowfalls left and you’re ready for Spring.

But until then I’ll proudly retain my naturally bluish-green skin colour and enjoy the cold. 

© 2013 - Stephen Lautens