When is Cold , Cool?

circa 2004 The Light

The thermometer outside my kitchen window indicates 10, but then a voice on the radio announces that because of the wind, humidity and a fast-moving front from Quebec it will soon feel like 56,000 degrees below zero. And I thought that our February blizzard was the end of winter for 2004.

It is mid March and I have already packed my winter attire away. Put away deep into my closet go my lightweight gortex boots, my thermal long sleeve shirts, my cold compression fleece tights and my prized micro grid, yuppie approved mittens. In addition to this I hope that I’ll have no further need for my winter approved Stanfield boxers.

Yes it certainly has been a harsh winter. Can we now expect that conversations at Foodland will focus on the fact that spring could be just around the corner, I doubt it?

Let’s be honest, as Nova Scotians we take delight with the thought of foul weather on the horizon. It would appear that when asked “How cold is it” the majority of us don’t simply say, “Boy its cold out today” no; we conjure up memories of blizzards and frigid winds that would have halted Franklin from setting on his voyage in search of the Northwest Passage.

Buddy down the road is like of many of us, he has a woollen mitten full of Boy was it cold back then stories.

“Between the wars the snow was so high I couldn’t find the barn, I didn’t see to the cows for days. We finally dug a tunnel to barn to do the milking but the milk froze the moment it hit the bucket. Winter back then was cold, real cold.”

I too have been known to tell tall tales of snow drifts higher than telephone poles and ice so deep on the lakes that it didn’t thaw until mid August. When I was a teenager I was fortunate to find work washing dishes on the Halifax to Montreal CNR run. On one such December trip I was offered an extra trip to Winnipeg. Now even a kid from north end Halifax knows that Manitoba winters are something to be feared.

Having left the shelter of big city Toronto it didn’t take long for the mercury to drop to levels that would freeze more than your breath. On our arrival at Sioux Lookout, Ontario, the conductor told the crew that we couldn’t leave the train because it was 56 below Fahrenheit. “Can’t stay long boys, the train will freeze solid to the tracks” he informed us. That train didn’t but during my next trip to the Quebec City, we were held up for 8 hours due sub zero temperatures and high winds off the St. Lawrence.

If the weather was so much colder back then, how did we manage? On television this winter the A&E network featured the true adventures of Ernest Shackleton and his British Antarctic expedition. Ice bound and trapped for the winter Shackleton simply walked off into the cold in order to find help to rescue his men. He endured high winds, constant cold and limited rations but he survived, as did his men. He had no Columbia sportswear or LL Bean yuppie clothes to keep him warm. He simply had determination and a lot of luck on his side. Sadly as history reminds us, many are still frozen in the polar ice.

As for me, well I managed to keep warm both in and out of doors this winter, despite the record snowfall of February 19. My favourite memory from this winter will be of a very cold day at Wentworth Ski Hill. I was covered from head to toe and ready for the frigid challenge. On my first run I stopped to assist a young student who had fallen on the slope. As I approached her I notice that the ring in her lower lip was frozen and that her Madonna look alike mid drift was turning a non flesh like color. I advised her that the temperatures were far too cold for such limited attire. She seem annoyed and advised me that she wanted to be cool and that she certainly wasn’t cold.

Quietly Retired on Waugh’s River

Edward C Sampson

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