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The Oz Journals Entry 8 - Winters of Discontent

 article about The Oz Journals Entry 8 - Winters of Discontent
2005-05-31 16:07:25
It is the beginning of the season the locals refer to as "winter" here in Perth. And yet the coldest day I have so far experienced could quite easily beat out an overcast mid-summer day back in Toronto — if you had to decide which one was a better day. The swimming pool in the back of our complex, although heated, has been full of water but empty of humans for a week now. Outside on the Esplanade, less people are going for walks, and those who do wear long pants and sweaters. People roll up the windows while driving. The beach is vacant, except for the occasional early morning fisherman casting a line in the surf.

What is it with fisherman anyway? The world over they cheerfully go out in any weather to try to catch fish. The same Western Australians I overhear complaining about the cold would no doubt find it incredible that Canadian fisherman walk to the centre of a frozen lake, sit in a wooden hut for hours on end, fish in a hole cut through the ice, and wait for a bite. They joke about it:

"Any bites, Stan?"

"Only frostbite, Lou."

"Catch anything Jean-Claude?"

"Just a cold, Henri."

You get the picture. The laughter never ceases in these little ice-fishing huts. You can hear it in the wee small hours echoing across the frozen lake country, like the cry of a loon.

I was asked by a friend if I wanted to accompany him ice-fishing. I said no. I am not much of a winter person, which may be why I love the Australian climate so much. I tried ice-skating a few times in my youth, and found that I could get going well enough, but every time I tried to stop I would wind up in the emergency room of the nearest hospital. So, unlike many rosy-cheeked Canadian lads, I never played ice-hockey at all.

I once paid a fair bit of money to rent skis and buy a lift ticket to try downhill- skiing. As soon as I reached the top of the mountain, I thought better of the idea, and unfastened my skis, walked back down the slopes to sit by the fireplace, and drink whisky. [B

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I tried crosscountry skiing but only got as far as Mississauga, Ontario. And what can I say about tobogganing? Sure, its fun, but it's as dangerous as hell. Just stating that toboggans are not equipped with air-bags should sum it up, I think. Going down a steep icy hill full of pine trees on a narrow piece of wood or sheet metal at speeds exceeding thirty kilometers an hour—with only a woolen toque to protect your braincase—and a piece of rope to steer, is just as extreme a sport as base jumping, if you think about it. The possibility of serious injury and/or death is staggeringly high, yet parents in northern climates purchase these death machines for their children to play with! Why not just give them the car keys and tell them to go play on the highway?

My brother-in-law has two (!) snowmobiles. A snowmobile is more or less like a motorcycle on skis. He and my sister apparently enjoy going out into the bitter cold on sleds and bombing around through fields and forests. Every year there are reports of snowmobile enthusiasts decapitated by wires strung tightly across unmarked trails. The wires are invisible to the sledders traveling at speed, or glare from the snow reflecting on the visor, or possibly because they are pissed to the gills. Whether or not these lethal wires are placed by landowners to mark property boundaries, or deliberately fastened by homicidal whackos intent on causing carnage, is anybody's guess. Every winter, come snowmobile season, you can count on it: Heads will roll.



Winter outdoorsmen (and women) in Canada also affix oversized wooden and catgut tennis rackets to the bottom of their boots and leave the comfort of their warm homes. They discover to their amazement that they can walk across huge, deep snow-drifts, and that without them they would be engulfed.

We have the Inuit people to thank for this remarkably innovative way of traversing the frozen land without becoming ice sculptures for future paleontologists to marvel over. The Inuit people puzzle me greatly. (Side note: it is no longer politically correct to refer to these gentle Arctic folk as Eskimos, which translated means "Your mama wears mukluks"; evidently a bit of an insult) I cannot fathom why they remain living there. Surely they cannot enjoy that kind of weather. They have six months of summer, but summers up there are like Buffalo winters. And then they have six months of winter, which I imagine would be like spending a year on the dark side of the planet Uranus. It must be hell on your body clock if you work the midnight shift in "the land of the midnight sun".

There is a common misconception that the Inuit still live in igloos. The only reason an Inuit person will construct an igloo nowadays is when he is unable to locate his home after an extremely heavy snow storm. Apparently, the aluminum siding business does a roaring trade up Tuktayuktuk way.

They seem to have all the amenities; they have McDonalds too. Go to Antarctica and you will no doubt find the Golden Arches. I can only imagine the food at an Inuit McDonalds. I would lay odds that eating a McCaribou sandwich with a small pemmican on the side has to be healthier for you than eating a QuarterPounder with cheese and a small order of fries. The Inuit even have satellite television, which means they must know; they have to be aware there are more comfortable climates on this planet to reside, and that these places aren't really so far away. And yet they stay.

Why do they stay? How can a race of people clever enough to come up with snowshoes be so stupid when it comes to geography? I think it is either some manner of chemical imbalance in their brains from eating too much walrus or just sheer laziness. Or maybe they just honestly enjoy the cold. A great many people do, it would seem.

There is a famous and popular hotel in the Lapland region of northern Sweden, constructed entirely of ice. The walls are ice. The floors are ice. The desk clerk gives you an icy stare as you check in. Can you blame him? He is freezing his ass off in there! I am told there is a waiting list just to get on the waiting list. I wonder if there is an ice cube dispensing machine on each of the floors like in the Motel6?

So many people around the globe enjoy winter activities that we created a separate Olympics for them. The rich and famous enjoy skiing on the slopes at St Moritz as much as they do sun-baking on the isle Mustique.

Children in climates with and without snowfalls pray for snow on Christmas Day. I admit that I will miss looking out the window on winter mornings in Toronto, streets blanketed in snow. But these magical moments are soon blown away by a frosty Yankee Clipper when you find yourself knee-deep in the stuff three hours later, trying in vain to shovel your driveway, nostrils frozen shut, ears so cold it hurts. Snow can be pretty but it can also be extremely heavy. It is, after all, partially frozen water.

My wife was advised, when in Moscow's wintertime on business, to be careful. Every thaw in Russia many injuries and fatalities are reported due to huge icicles plummeting from building ledges and roofs, landing into the street and impaling unlucky Muscovites. Yes, Virginia, there WAS a Santa Claus, but he is unable to deliver toys this year because an icicle the length of a javelin dropped from a high rise building and went straight through his skull. Ho, ho, hospitalization …

There must be a reason why homo sapiens migrated from his origins in Africa and settled down in areas with harsh winters. Perhaps our earliest ancestors traveled north due to a scarcity of food, or because rival tribes or man-eating carnivores moved in and scared them off. I have a theory: I think early man ended up in these frigid climates because, like modern man, he had lost his way and was too proud to ask anyone else for directions. Now, does anyone feel like a nice cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows?





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