Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Beauty in the Cold and Dark

We have been stuck in a deep freeze here in Saskatoon lately, and I'm not going to lie, it's really affected my mood. Normally, I like the deep cold of -40 and sunshine and blue sky but this year, I'm not sure why, it's felt like a slap in the face every time I went out of doors. It's as if the air and the cold were conspiring to beat me down before I could muster any optimism for the beauty it also brought along with it.

Despite the cold, there is an incredible beauty that comes with the plunging temperatures. It's hoarfrost on absolutely everything, turning ordinary objects like the patio table into a display of crystal layers and intricate lace designs. There is something that happens when the moisture in the air freezes that though it dries everything out, it does it with such a dazzling brilliance like a million particles of diamond dust filtering through the sunlight. It makes a mockery of the word "breathtaking" because it really, physically takes your breath away and no Slurpee in the world can replicate the brain freeze of a sharp wind taking you to -40. It pokes at every piece of exposed skin and causes your jeans to freeze and stiffen, scarves are encrusted with ice as every exhale freezes in place. Eyelashes become laden with ice and stray hairs become icicles...and yet...we live here. And work here. And even play here.

Just before New Year's, on the coldest night of the year, with warnings out all over the media, we drove ourselves to Manitoba for our annual family gathering with Jason's family. We left after work which meant it was already dark and the already frigid temperatures were plummeting even lower as we drove km after km, for 8 hours. The inside of the windows of our car were crusted with ice and the heater seemed to only stave off the chill for those seated in the front. Our Charlie, supposed to be staying in the hatch of the car, had had enough of the solitary confinement in the cold and clambered into the back seat which she "shared" with Easton and I. Under blankets and with a dog on for warmth, we continued on through the night, unable to see anything save for out the front defrosted window.

As we left Virden, MB, still some hours away from where we were heading, I took over the driving and therefore, had a heated seat and some blowing warmth. It was incredibly dark in between towns and there were few others on the road, even the professional drivers pulled their rigs into truck stops and idled for warmth. We pushed on and as I drove, I could see so many stars dotting the night sky. I wanted to see the northern lights and then, as if on command, there appeared a green smudge in the sky to the north. I watched it, wondering if I was imagining it but it slowly began to brighten and replicate until the northern sky became a waterfall of green phosphorescent glow. There were moments where they all but disappeared and then moments where the lights seemed to touch the earth. The guys were sleeping or listening to their iPods and completely uninterested in my calls to see what I was seeing. Even if they could have...they were separated from the spectacle by an ever thickening wall of ice on the inside of the car windows.

I drove for about an hour before I turned southward to our final leg of the journey, and it was probably one of the most incredibly intimate displays of beauty I have experienced in a long time. The cold weather can isolate us and beckon us to abandon play or travel or community in an effort to avoid the discomfort...and yet, if we venture out, we are sometimes the solitary witness to an act of beauty that should command the attention of a wider earthly audience. We knew that warmth awaited us at the end of our journey, just as we all do, but I had dreaded the cold and the darkness of the journey itself, not knowing that that was what would make it worth the while.