15 December 2016

Winter layers

Today is December 15. The temperature is -23C (or -34, if you count the wind chill). It has been snowing for the better part of a fortnight. Lakes have frozen. And yet, today is the official deadline to put on winter tires.

This cutoff date is obviously way too late, as was vividly illustrated by an absurd car pile-up right outside my office last week, which garnered over 20M views globally and made Montréal a laughing stock for winter preparedness.

But I understand. These are all symptoms of the same condition. Every year, at the beginning of yet another long, dark and cold winter, Montréalers practice themselves in denial. With a combination of wishful thinking and stubborn steeliness, the signs of the season are ignored. When falling temperatures finally put paid to dresses and shorts, we surrender in stages.

The first one is easy: That fall jacket may have spent all summer hanging in the wardrobe, and the airy silk scarf is a fashion statement more than anything. A Stetson hat serves but to protect against fall showers.

Soon, the silk makes way for a cotton scarf, and some leather gloves protect against morning chills. But we'll just slip on a vest under the jacket, and walk a bit more briskly.

It is the first layer of frost that makes the sidewalks slippery, and forces us to upgrade from brogues to the better grip of a trekking shoe. At the same time, with a sigh, the wool coat makes its appearance, and the ears are tucked behind a headband.

In mild years, such as 2015, this stage can last until Christmas. But normally, it doesn't. Every time, though, it takes a few really cold days where Montréalers suffer cold hands, numb toes and - swoosh - sore bums, before the inevitable is acknowledged: Amidst vocal lament, the ski jackets are brought down from the attic, the snow boots are placed on the door-mat by the shovel, and the wool scarf and tuque are reluctantly donned. Fully winterized, we traipse through the glacial city, surrendering to the fact that Jack Frost has once again begun his seasonal reign.

Today is December 15. It is the Day of Reckoning.

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