in the depths of winter the mind reels

Dear Uma: It is midwinter and for more than a week now I have been waking up every morning from dreams of sandy beaches under tropical skies.

Dear Uma:

It is midwinter and for more than a week now I have been waking up every morning from dreams of sandy beaches under tropical skies. I hum tropical-themed songs as I make a pineapple/coconut smoothie and I put sunscreen on my face instead of my usual handful of Vaseline Intensive Care lotion.

This would be understandable behaviour if I were, in fact, a person who enjoyed beaches, but as you know I am one to whom the idea of the ocean causes profound sensations of fear and loathing.

One of the reasons the Yukon appealed to me was its lack of ocean; though the enormity of some of the lakes was a nasty surprise; I find I am easier with bodies of water that are visibly encompassed by land.

The ocean dreams are warm and pleasant; for the remainder of the day (not much: I usually try to sleep till noon) I find myself thinking of tropics, even to the point of cooking dishes that feature tropical fruit. I watch movies that take place in tropical lands and I am rereading Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Tropical music plays as I go about my domestic chores, the calypso beat being the favourite with its strong suggestion of lively movement.

My love affair with winter is over. There is no bitterness or regret, I have simply moved on to fresh fantasies, while continuing to remark and appreciate those of the old love.

Where else does the drop box at the library freeze to the point of inaccessibility, leaving books in deep freeze till spring?

There are some buildings where one cannot park too close to the place due to the possibility of one’s vehicle being buried by a ‘snow avalanche’ from the roof.

At the one and only place in town where movies are shown, the projectionist has been known to stop the film minutes before the ending in order to give the audience the opportunity to go out and warm up their vehicles.

Pot luck dinners feature meat and carbs, lots of cakes, and things like Sex in a Pan; a green salad would be viewed with cold suspicion.

Admittedly, the harbingers of a seasonal change are apparent. There is daylight before 9 a.m., or so I am told by those who are up at such an ungodly hour. Though this has been reported as the mildest of winters, we have still had mostly days of well below zero. Some days when I get out of bed I don’t hear the furnace roaring, which gives me perilously high expectations, even with the certain knowledge they will be dashed by the sight of Arthur Mometer outside the dining room window.

Friends in Vancouver reported crocuses in their back yards more than a month ago; I told them I don’t want to hear any more about what they find in their back yards, unless it’s a spaceship or a dead body.

I know I ought to get out more, attend some of the many community events that carry on regardless of winter and, indeed, mostly because of winter, but when your mind is full of sun and sand it is the opposite of cheerful to watch skiing, curling or hockey. Besides, these community events include children, lots of children, and their behaviour in these venues is enough to make a child-free acquaintance of mine remark she was thinking of going to the bathroom and tying her own tubes.

Visiting or being visited is not a good idea either; other than my usual challenge of being poorly-equipped for polite conversation, I am now unable to think of anything other than things tropical.

The last evening I spent with a group of people was not encouraging. I had been doing some research on Very Long Baseline Interferometry, and finding it quite fascinating, I was eager to share my newly acquired information and then participate in the lively discussion that was sure to follow. After all, we are all interested in the rising sea levels, and if it weren’t for VLBI, we wouldn’t know they have been rising; we would think everything was fine, and wouldn’t that be a terrible state of affairs?

My conversational gambit not only fell flat, but I was the recipient of several glances that could be interpreted thusly: ‘I feel sorry for you, but I want to enjoy myself so I will not be engaging with you on this one. Do try again, though; I’ll give you another chance because I want you to succeed.’

‘I will pretend I didn’t hear you, remove myself to another part of the room, get into an animated talk with someone else and hope you stay away.’

‘I think you are just trying to be superior; how dare you. I resent you and think you are an asshole.’

‘Omigod! You are scary, and may even be dangerous. You make me so nervous I have to go and whisper warnings to some of the other guests.’

Faithful to the strongly worded advice you gave me after Christmas about exercising, I have been going for a walk almost every day. I have to wear Pete’s old parka (still can’t close mine, though the gap between the zipper sides has narrowed a bit) and I take the same route so as to be able my mind wander far from the miles and miles of surrounding snow. And wander it does; today I found it musing on the possibilities of a fish tank, featuring tropical fish, of course.

I became more and more enthusiastic as I read up on the many varieties of fish that could be obtained and set into a beautifully arranged tank, there to soothe and please eyes weary of a vista of snow and ice.

Then, I found the bit about potential tropical fish disease. All images of a tank full of bright, tropical, living shapes vanished as I read about “fin rot” and “dropsy.”

Fin rot is exactly what it sounds like, a slimy condition that frays and eventually consumes the fins of the fish; a slow, messy, and unattractive death.

‘Dropsy,’ for some reason, made me envision tightly corseted Victorian era women in vast skirts swooning daintily onto velvet chaise lounges. In reality, it is a condition which causes the scales of the fish to stand out from the body, giving it the appearance of a pine cone, before eventually causing the creature to die.

Both of these horrors can be avoided by a stringent regime of tank cleansing, carefully measured feeding, and special attention to water quality. Sounded like an awful lot of time and trouble to me, especially with the spectre of those gruesome deaths hovering over every moment of any pleasure to be had from living with a fish tank.

I removed all the websites from my ‘favourites,’ put away my VISA, and resigned myself to finding another way to survive the remaining months of winter.

Rather than fighting it, perhaps I ought to immerse myself in the study of it. There is a lot to learn about snow. Did you know the first photographs of snow crystals were taken in 1885 by a man named Bentley? He attached a bellows camera to a microscope and manipulated his frozen subjects with a turkey wing. He captured more than 5,000 images before dying of pneumonia.

There is a little-understood hysteria sometimes seen in people living in the Arctic that can actually result in death to the sufferer. Among the wide range of symptoms are echolalia and running around naked in the snow.

I may not be in the tropics, but at least I am not in the Arctic, and for that I will be glad.



Heather Bennett is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.