Tues 12th December. That’s when winter arrived in Montreal this year. A thick heavy curtain of snow fell, and within hours the face of the city had completely changed. There are no half-measures here. When it happens, it happens fast and hard. Fresh clean snow swiftly blanketed all surfaces. The temperature dropped. And dropped. The forecast predicted 20cm of snow in the next couple of days. Then another 20cm. Winter was here, and here to stay. It was time to come to terms with the idea that we wouldn’t be seeing bare ground or green grass again for quite some time.
They do winter well in Montreal. There’s no question of life screeching to a halt when snow appears. Speedy little machines spring to life and race up and down the main footpaths, flattening and pushing fresh snow to the sides. The streets are gritted and cleared day and night. Instead of construction noise we have the bright headlights and grinding scrape of snow ploughs clearing all through the night when the snow is at its heaviest. There’s not much else that can be done. When the wind blows strong you can only wrap up well and limit your outdoor activity. Once you’re mobile on two legs there’s nowhere you can’t get to regardless of the weather outside.
Our youngest is not fully mobile yet. Indoors, yes. Outdoors, no. It quickly became apparent that the big comfy stroller would not be taking any further excursions. Time to haul it up the stairs and pack it out of the way. A proper winter babywearing coat became essential for getting out and about with a toddler.The first few icy blasts in his face finally convinced him that it’s best not to keep removing his hat. I would have been happy to shelter from the initial snowstorms in the apartment, but the eldest’s last outdoor adventure camp afternoon was in the midst of the worst snowfall. For the last time we made the cross-city journey. Our first time with the sling instead of stroller. All of us wrapped up as best we could against the harsh winds.
It wasn’t ideal. Laden down with baby and bag I also had to drag my son along as the wind stung our faces and blew ice crystals into our eyes. Visibility was limited, though thankfully the roads and paths were well-gritted. Still there were snow-drifts on either side to fall into, and dirty grey snow-clumps to trip over where paths met roads. Plenty of pitfalls for the unwary, or careless. Once we reached the metro it was time to strip down. The heat in the underground is intense after the cold outside. We baked in the smell of damp and sweat for half an hour as the train trundled through stations.
The worst part of our excursion was the trek from the metro to the camp itself. Woken from a cosy slumber, the toddler screamed and wailed as we fought the bitter winds to make any progress. Clouds of snow were blasted off roofs and came whipping around corners, pushing us backwards. I held on tight to my son’s hand through our cumbersome gloves. The untrodden ground us was piled high with pristine white drifts hiding treacherous bumps and holes in the terrain. Our footsteps were the only indentation on the smooth surface now as we made our way to the meeting point in a small clearing of trees.
We were the first to arrive after the instructor, who was barely recognisable under thick goggles and layers of clothing.I left my son being dragged about on a rubber dinghy –shrieking with fun– and retreated with the toddler to the nearest cafe. I felt a tinge of jealousy that I wasn’t wrapped up as warmly. Nor was I unencumbered by other responsibilities. Oh to be free to spend the afternoon running and jumping in a newly created winter wonderland without a care in the world. Instead four hours of entertaining an over-tired toddler with little but a bread roll and a couple of toys lay ahead of me.
We watched the swirling snow dance past the windows, glittering under a yellow sun that was rapidly moving towards the horizon and end of day. Eventually we ventured back out in the cold, scurrying along sheltered streets just long enough for the toddler to retreat deep under my jacket and back into sleep. Then I chose another quiet cafe with a couch where he could be laid out, padded suit unzipped, and finish his nap this time. I sipped a warm drink and thought of the start of term when the days had been twice as long and we’d sheltered from the heat instead of freezing temperatures.
I trudged back through darkness to see snow mountains and tunnels carved through them that the kids had created. They still frolicked, full of energy, enjoying the novelty of the abundance of snow free for them to play with. Then it was time for a sad farewell to the end of term. The warmth of the metro ride home leeched the energy from our bodies and my son now looked ready to hibernate after his intense period of activity. The winter term is too much for us to endure the weekly journey, but perhaps we’ll be back in the spring.