Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Canadians Talk So Much About The Weather

National Identity

Spring-Like Day: Today’s photo shows a northwestern view from my sixth-floor balcony, taken on the afternoon of April 15th. As for the weather, it was partly cloudy and 15°C (59°F). The only green evident are from the evergreens of G. Ross Lord Park; this should change in a few weeks, when the maple, oak and ash trees start to bud and form their generous leaves.
Photo Credit & Source:
©Perry J. Greenbaum; April 2015

People generally talk about and complain about things that deeply affect them, but feel powerless to change; this explains why Canadians talk and complain about the weather; it might be the same reason why Americans complain about taxes and the political process, Brits about how things were better in the past and the French about everything, from banks to boyfriends to poor restaurant service.

Returning to Canada for a bit. It was a particularly cold winter, one of the coldest in memory; the Farmer’s Almanac, which first published in 1818, said in August 2014 that this winter would be severe (they claim 80 per cent accuracy in their forecasts, certainly no worse prognosticators than Environment Canada, our national weather service).

Winters in Canada are generally cold and snowy; most of the country, with the exception of southern parts of British Columbia, Canada’s California, sees winter arrive early in November and stay late: five months is the average. then there is a transition period of non-winter, which arrives around April 1 and lasts for three or four weeks, or so; the weather is unpredictable and iffy, and one has to keep both winter clothing and spring clothing easily at hand. It's a familiar ritual.

The month of April might be the most difficult to bear, and it might be “the cruelest month,” as T.S. Eliot said in the beginning of his 1922 poem “The Waste Land”:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
—Section I: The Burial of the Dead
Eliot was here referring not so much to the temporary and transient destruction that winter often provides, but to one that is man-made: war, and in this particular case, The First World War, and its many losses, including those of the old order and its familiar and understood ways. Yet, taking poetic license, it is somewhat true that Canadians view April, or at least its beginnings, this way, that is, as cruel; and Eliot in all fairness could not understand, given that he was an American residing in England, and never to my knowledge had ever visited Canada.

Still, the poem is full of depressing and disturbing imagery that speaks of a lost time. Time and memory form a strong bond, it becomes more important when you have less, and we speak of better times, quality time, time well spent, having a good time and good times remembered. For many here in Canada, winter seems like a waste of days, and summer like fleeting fun; I do not go this far, as winter serves a purpose as a precursor to the regeneration of the land. But the complaint is understood, if not appreciated.

After so much complaining and words like “tired,” “exhaustion” and “unfair” get used over and over gain, it ends, winter, that is. It not so much leaves quietly with dignity, but in frustration and anger like a house guest who has overstayed his welcome. You almost feel sorry for winter.

Spring finally arrives at the end of April, or early May, and it might last for about a month, before the hot weather of summer arrives at the end of May or early June. If we are fortunate, we have three good summer months, before another one-month transition period of non-summer arrives in September; and October is Fall or Autumn. And so begins the true cycle of Canadian seasons.

I have seen it snow here in Canada in every month except for July and August.

Five months of winter, three months of summer, two months of transition and one month each of spring and autumn (or fall). That’s Canada, and that's what we Canadians talk about.

The weather today (Sunday the 19th of April, when this article is being written) is for a forecast high of 15°C (or 59°F); it is expected to be partly cloudy. The rest of the week, the forecast calls for temperature below normal—reaching no higher than 10°C (or 50°F) and much rain. Nothing like a cold rain to dampen your warm-weather spirits, which no doubt in the minds of Canadians confirms April’s cruelty. Oh, well, it looks like a week indoors, where I can catch up with those pile of books on my bedside table. 

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