As I write this, the forecast low for tonight is -8C. So much snow has fallen here over the past few days that tree branches aren’t able to bear the load of the uncharacteristcally sticky white stuff, and so they are falling. Branches are falling onto sidewalks, onto power lines and onto cars. City crews have been constantly busy keeping up with the aftermath, and until the snow melts, we won’t know the damage that has been done. Those details alone are odd, but it doesn’t stop there. Today is September 10th, so we are still technically within summer. My kids built a snowman in the back yard today, and when they were done, it looked around and said, “I’ve been sadly misinformed about summer.” Not only is it this cold now, but it was 25C on Sunday morning. I was sweating at the pulpit, and I wasn’t event talking about sex or money. The five day forecast for this coming Sunday is 21C as well.
Still, these temperature fluctuations and the concept of snow in September aren’t unheard of in this part of the world. The altitude, the jet streams, and our Canadian citizenship mean that we locals should be used to this. I’ve only been here for four years, and I’m barely phased by this. Still, a lot of people are doing what I refuse to do, and that’s complain.
It isn’t that I’m entirely unaffected. My walk to and from my daughter’s school left me with wet socks and shoes and stiff muscles from navigating the slush and the ice and the hills. There are tree branches and whole trees down in my condo complex, on the streets and in the parks of my town, and all along my commute to my office. My winter hat, boots and brushes were hard to find and will now be in the way for the next few months before it snows again, and it isn’t worth fully putting them away in the meantime. We had to turn the heat on yesterday, and my forecasted utility savings will have disappeared. Still, I won’t complain, and here’s why:
1. It isn’t actually that bad – I’m guessing if you are dealing with the same things, you’re probably looking at this list and asking why that isn’t a good enough reason to complain. But, if you are reading this in another place or even in this same place a few months down the road, it will look like a pretty pathetic list. These are minor things for us.
2. It sets a bad precedent – If we all complain about this storm now, then when there is a freezing rain storm in Saskatoon in October or a hail storm in Kamloops in November, or a swarm of lucusts in Houston in December, then they will be just as insufferable then as I want to be now. And if you’re using your good weather as an excuse to tease people about their bad weather, you’re inviting that much more ridicule and that much less sympathy when your storm comes.
3. Our ability to tolerate weather isn’t a contest – If I make a big deal of this storm, and then someone in a warmer climate without snow infrastructure is impacted by a less intense storm, my comments now will make me much less sympathetic then. Plus, it will also invite unsympathetic comments from people who deal with similar storms more often than I do.
4. I see the big picture – One isolated storm does not serve as proof or counter-evidence of anyone’s understanding of climate change. If that was the case, larger scientific studies wouldn’t need to be done, and my wet socks would be the equivalent of a Master’s degree in science.
5. I’m not that important – I can handle a longer commute or even a day working at home. If I miss a meeting, someone can email me the minutes. If I miss an appointment, it can be rescheduled.
6. Other people have it worse than me – I’m not even talking about people in a poor country far away. If you’ve got 160 acres of barley sitting under 3 inches of snow at the beginning of September, you could be in trouble. A tree damaged car pales in comparison to that kind of agricultural economic impact.
7. I choose to be content – Dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives is a pretty lousy way to live your life. I’ve got a great family, a good job and I’m relatively good health. It’s going to take a lot more than climate fluctuations to bring me down.
Now, I get it, this is light-hearted enjoyment for some people. It’s fun to complain. I’m complaining about complainging right now. Some people argue that there are therapeutic properties to it even, but that’s really just a “two wrongs make a right” kind of philosophy. The concept that your negative attitude about negative circumstances can somehow produce a positive outcome is theoretical at best. But if you have the mental capacity to choose to be happy, you should give it a shot. Somebody else getting bad weather won’t cheer you up (and it shouldn’t anyway), your own weather improving won’t always cheer you up either. So if you can’t find your happiness in weather, you shouldn’t find your sadness there either.
One of the family traditions that we are trying to start is regular camping trips to familiar campsites. This year we visited three different campgrounds; two of them were national parks and one was more locally administered. We hiked, we ate smores, we splashed in the water and we took pictures. Except for when we got rained on, the kids did remarkably well. The people around us varied quite a bit, some were younger and some much older, some lent us things we needed and some needed to borrow from us, some had more luxurious RVs and cabins than us and others … I don’t know, can you get any less comfortable than a tent?
We had blow up mattresses and extra blankets, so we were fine, but I was personally surprised at the number of non-Canadians who were tenting it. And I don’t mean that I walked by a campsite and could tell that they were cooking curry so I assumed they couldn’t be Canadians. No, I talked to people who were visiting from various other countries and had chosen to spend their international vacation sleeping on thin foam mattresses on rock hard ground. Don’t get me wrong. I love camping, but if I’m crossing an ocean, I expect to sleep in a bed.
And these weren’t isolated cases, there is a whole industry around this. One couple rented a kit with a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove and anything you could think of for a camping vacation. Another group had a tour guide that camped with them and lead them on hikes and little daytrips from their campsite. I don’t know if being this kind of professional camper would be a good job or a bad one.
I asked a few of them why they had come all this way to sleep outside with only a synthetic fabric protecting them. Their answer was simple. “Because camping is the best way to experience all of this.” And they would gesture around at the mountains, the forests and the lakes. It was obvious.
It struck me that these people were camping for the same reasons that I was camping. They knew that if you just wanted to see the mountains, you could look at pictures on the Internet, but if you wanted to experience the mountains, you have to sleep in their shadows.
These people loved the mountains as much as I did, or more, and had sacrificed more to experience them. And maybe they were in fact more Canadian than the people who live here but have never seen the sunset behind the moutains or the morning mist lift from a lake. This was a reminder to me that the insiders often have as much to learn from the outsiders as the other way around, especially when it comes to appreciation, love and even worship.