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How To Survive A Prairie Winter

Animals with massive fur pelts tend to thrive in, perhaps even enjoy, subarctic climates. However, if like me, you’re of a species not born with a rug of hair covering your entire body, then you may have a harder time embracing our Prairie winters. I attribute my distaste for cold weather to the following incident.

I was the seventh child in a batch of eight, and I made my appearance in the fall, just as my parents were building a new house to accommodate their expanding brood. (At some point during the course of history, three kids per bed was considered cruel and unusual punishment so the shack had to be replaced.)

My first real crisis on planet Earth happened that winter, when I was a mere wisp of a creature, barely tapping the three-month mark. By the time winter rolled around, the frame of the new house was up but the only part finished was the basement, so for a few months we all had to live down there like a family of badgers. As the story goes, my little crib was safety tucked away, right up under one of the basement windows — so in other words, I was their draft blocker. My mom insists it was so I would receive my fair share of fresh air. Note: There’s nothing fresh about air when it’s -20. Now as you all know, those old windows can get pushed in very easily, and when not latched properly, they certainly won’t withstand the snowstorm of the year. Well my friends, on that fateful night, the howling winds blew that window wide open, and covered my helpless wee body in a blanket of snow.

As my older sister likes to recall, apparently I resembled one of those ramps that you launch a snowmobile over. She’s pretty sure I was covered for at least a few hours before anyone figured out where the mewling was coming from; my mom swears this isn’t true. According to her, I was covered for a few minutes,at most, before she responded to my wails of terror. They’re all suspect in my mind.

So how do I handle the cold now? By avoiding the outdoors as much as possible. I despise glacial temperatures, and you will never receive an apology from me for that statement. And yes, I was born here, grew up here, choose to live here, yada, yada. But guess what? That doesn’t mean I have to proclaim my love for a wind chill that will freeze my face in under two minutes. My mom will often call up and say wildly hilarious things like, “Oh, what a beautiful, crisp day today! Have you taken the kids out yet?” To which I reply, “Hmmmm. Right. Is Manitoba, like, 55 warmer than Saskatchewan today? ’Cause last time I checked, it’s not fit for humans outside.” To which I get, “Oh for heaven’s sake! It’s only -25. That’s not even cold. Bundle them up and get out there and enjoy some fresh air. They need some vitamin D. Plus, it’s good to see kids with healthy red cheeks!” Yeah. Here’s the thing. That healthy red is also known as the onset of frostbite. As for the vitamin D, it now comes in drops. And lastly, for the record, here’s my definition of too cold: if today you decided to wander outside for a stroll, in your leisure wear, would you be dead inside the hour? Yes? Then stay inside.

She also informed me that I should pick up a hobby, do something with my hands, as this would help pass the time and stave off arthritis. The last bit scared me so I decided to sit down with her one evening and learn how to knit. Actually, truth be told, we started with crochet, however, we aborted that mission shortly thereafter. I couldn’t really see what she was doing, and she couldn’t seem to slow it down to a pace where I could make heads or tails of what the hell was going on (translation: stop and hold for several hours so I could take pictures and make notes). It’s rather embarrassing to admit but I have this thing where I can’t figure something out unless it’s right in front of me, and I’m looking at it from the angle at which I’ll be attacking it. Like if I’m holding a map, I’ll turn it in the direction I’m actually driving, even if this means the whole thing is upside down. My husband has kindly informed me that this is odd, rather disturbing, behaviour. (Perhaps it’s a form of brain damage as a result of lying frozen in a snowbank, left for dead by my entire family, when I was no more than 12 weeks old. Oh, sorry… did I mention this part already? Just saying.) Needless to say, watching my mom crochet from across the couch was completely useless so I had to go and hover over her shoulder. Apparently my garlic breath was disruptive.

We then moved on to knitting; according to my mom, I keptdropping the stitches, a term that doesn’t even make sense to me. If something doesn’t exist in the first place, then how does one go about dropping it? Either way, she suggested I use larger knitting needles. She then whipped out a set that were large enough to roast a coyote over an open firepit. But still, the task proved too formidable for these hands of mine, and after inadvertently cursing like a pirate and spearing my torso multiple times, I threw in the yarn and called it a day. My quest to make a scarf ended in a chorus of muffled sobs; mine as a result of my dire absence of ability, my mom’s from the sheer entertainment of watching me sweat. At one point, she asked me point blank if I was pulling her leg, like, faking the whole thing. Faking what exactly? Domestic incompetence? A complete and utter lack of skill? That kind of ignorance is hard to fake. I tried to save face by suggesting that I would love for her to teach me how to bake bread. I think I even successfully faked a look of complete interest. This statement brought forth a fresh set of tears; she has yet to stop laughing. But when she does, I’ll secure a date with destiny and report back to you on what will likely be my finest hour in the kitchen. Really, how hard can it be?

JanitaVandeVeldegrewuponafarmnear Mariapolis,Man.Sheholdsabachelorof sciencedegreeinagriculturaleconomics fromtheUniversityofManitoba.Shelivesin Regina,Sask.,withherhusbandRoddyand theirchildrenJackandIsla.Herfirstnovel, PostcardsNeverWritten,wastherecipient oftheSaskatchewanReader’sChoice AwardandalsolistedbyCBCasoneofthe topfunnybooksin2009.Formoreinformation, ortoorderherbook,visitherwebsite at www.janita.ca.

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