Discovering Winter

Shunpiking, December, 1995, Volume One, Number One


Nova Scotia beds down gradually for the winter, in stages. A little fog, a little rain. And slowly pulled over us, from north to south, a fluffy white blanket. We like to be covered and snug for Christmas. But there are vagaries, mostly between the Fundy/Northumberland and the Atlantic sides of the province. Some areas stubbornly refuse the blanket -- Metro, eastern and especially south-western Nova Scotia at times and Brier Island more often than not -- but by January most of the province is under wraps. Three winters ago, it was great. We have temperate, mild Maritime winters, with gradual changes, unlike the extremes of Newfoundland, Moncton and Amherst at the head of the Bay of Fundy, or the freezing sleet of Canso, which is another story. Seldom a winter without two or three mid-winter thaws. Then there was last winter's "open winter"; we were the mildest province in Canada -- the lakes didn't freeze, hardly any shoveling ... good for the driveway public, not so for the kids, ski-trekkers and ski-dooers.

snows woods habourThat first snow changes everything. It is as if all the clutter in our landscape has been swept beneath a rug. The horizon is clearly defined and the sky seems to expand with the cold. And while much is hidden by winter, much is also revealed. Without leaves, trees and homes reappear with stark intimacy. Our maintains seem higher than squat. Flowers, grasses and weeds lie back and the true lay of Nova Scotia emerges. One sees so much further. At times we look over great seas of white. As the temperature drops, the scent of pine, balsam and salt air intensifies. The moon hangs in the sky illuminating the brilliance of Orion and Sirius.

Do Nova Scotians change in the winter? Out-of-doors, under an astonishingly varied collection of heavy clothing, personalities recede. There is less small talk and a brisk formality takes over; conversation is clipped in the cold, clear air. Yet indoors, winter can be the most cordial of times. The warmth we share, created specifically for our comfort, thaws our reserve and encourages our conviviality. In the deep drifts of blizzards, we rough-house, ignoring the cold. Nowhere is this more true than in the hearth and homes in the country. We think the people of Nova Scotia reflect the landscape ... similarly, yet somehow different in winter.

Unlike society, it is seemingly beyond man's control, the source of pleasure, inconvenience or, as with the Ocean Ranger, avoidable tragedy.


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