Gilles Vigneault is a Quebec poet/songwriter who composed a song that became almost an anthem in Quebec.
The title is Mon Pays c’est L’hiver / My Country is Winter.
Although I never embraced his politics, I did take his song to heart. Winter defines my Canada, too, although like most of us, I do everything I can to escape it.
It was not always that way.
Up to a certain age, I considered myself a true descendant of the early settlers, weather wise and contemptuous of wind and snow, blizzards and wind-chill readings. Our forebears had to be tough to tame this land. It might be more accurate to say they survived this land.
Many of our readers grew up in far colder climes but in places that left us with the warmest of memories. In my case, it was Montreal, one of the snowiest cities in the world.
As a child I was almost impervious to cold, ignoring frozen hands and feet, burning cheeks. Snow meant snow banks and they, in turn, meant snow forts and caves. The latter we fitted out with flattened cardboard boxes for a floor, sometimes adding a scrap of cloth for a door and with the addition of a purloined candle, we had a place of dreams and schemes, Aladdin’s cave for a Canadian kid. More practical parents (killjoys) forbade overnight stays despite our anguished pleas.
In my middle age we were exhorted by our government not to fight the winter but to join and enjoy it.
Many of my contemporaries bought cross country skis, skates and even snowshoes and bravely went into the snowy wastelands telling themselves that they were true Canucks, hardy and undaunted by the elements.
Always practical to a fault, I bought a Toro snow blower. It was love at first sight, bright red, steel sturdy and with a low growl of an engine. A real man’s toy. Unfortunately our two sons loved it as well and weeks would pass without my having any playtime with it. The boys made thousands of dollars in their high school years cleaning neighbours’ driveways so it was hard to exercise my right to have equal time.
Early this winter I bought a pair of sturdy boots, the kind I always wanted but never had as a kid.
They cover the ankles, have long rows of eyelets and at the top of each boot, four cunning little hooks that somehow add a certain dash to them. In addition, the thick soles have a tread that would make a Tiger tank proud.
I felt I could easily climb Everest in them.
But I had forgotten one thing; I am no longer a teenager, sapling supple.
The boots are located away down there at the end of my legs, the tiny hooks are practically invisible, to hook the laces around each of the four is an exercise in patience and luck especially when I’m bent double. By the time I accomplish this, I’m sweaty, short of breath and my heart is racing.
I have just come to realize that the reason I take the exercise is to get my heart rate up and improve the whole cardiovascular arrangement.
Since I have already achieved all this just by the effort of putting the damned boots on, I can take them off, throw them in the corner of the garage and go to my den, smugly secure in the knowledge that I have done my exercise for today without the bother of braving the elements.