Monday, February 6, 2012

The Winter Of Our Discontent


Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there's time, the Bastard Time.
—John Steinbeck

Looking Out My Front Window—Winter I
Photo Credit: © Perry J Greenbaum, 2012

One of the criticisms that foreigners make about Canadians, a species to which I was born, is our incessant and annoying complaints about the weather. I am about to give more cause for annoyance, but with good reason, which will soon be clear. Such linguistic dissonance might be particular to Canada, though I am not so sure such is the case. Perhaps the Finnish, Norwegians and Russians do the same. For anyone who has lived in a northern region, as I do in Montreal, weather talk fulfills a higher mental purpose. Winter is a season that many, this writer included, find difficult to bear.

I know that many, including some friends and collegues, will find my protest against winter unfair and perhaps even mildly offensive. Such persons, the outdoor types enjoy winter, with its sports such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding and skating. The winter, they say, is invigorating and cleans the air. Perhaps so. Newspapers also use phrases like "Winter Wonderland," which I have come to dread as much as I find it contrary to my views of the matter. There is nothing wonderful about winter.

When you get to my age (54), however, winter becomes a season of discontent. I am reminded of the famous lines from Shakespeare's Richard III: Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York. There is also John Steinbeck's last  novel, The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), which speaks closer to our modern times.

Even getting dressed is a chore. Then, there's driving, trying to navigate streets that can alternate between hard-packed snow and slush. That is, after cleaning, actually scraping, the car of snow or ice that seems glued to the windshield. Some of us are not fortunate to have an indoor space to park our cars. We have to contend with whatever weather nature throws at us, including hail, sleet, freezing rain, rain and snow—and that can and has occurred already this year during the course of a single 24-hour day.

But, it's mostly snow with which we Montrealers have to live and contend. Montreal receives an average of 226 cm (89 in) of snow each year. most of it falling between December and March. Temperatures average around minus 9C (15F) during the coldest months of January and February, which, not coincidentally, are the two months where the days are short. In December, the amount of daylight is limited to less than nine hours, and it takes until the end of February before daylight reaches a reasonable 11 hours.

During this bleakest of seasons, it seems that in one day of two the skies are overcast, cloudy and gray. Such is not a welcome prescription to good mental health. The combinations of cold weather, gray skies leaden with snow and little exposure sunlight is a combination that many say contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  This is essentially periods of depression, which can debilitate you or make you want to stay in bed. I wonder how much productivity is lost in cold-weather climates.

Weather might have also played an important part in the founding of religious thought. It might be more than an interesting coincidental fact of history that that three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all originated in the hot Middle East, as did others like Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism in the Far East, where the climate is agreeable and the need for durable shelter is lessened.

Perhaps the black bears have it right—hibernate through the winter and awake to a glorious spring. That's true climate change.

Looking Out My Back Window—Winter II
Photo Credit: © Perry J Greenbaum, 2012