March, a time of hope. March contains the first day of spring, the Feast of Saint Patrick, the last parts of Mardi Gras, and is the hexagon awareness month because people need to be aware of all six sides of things.
At the beginning of March, in most places in the world, the first sprouts of vegetation are poking out through the soil with the promise of budding flowers. The urban wildlife scampers about, building nests and digging up the food they buried last fall. Children take over the parks with makeshift baseball games and Frisbee competitions.
By the end of March the golf courses are packed, the farmer’s markets are bustling, and homeowners are cursing at their lawnmowers.
That is, unless you live on the Canadian Prairies. March in Canada is a time of misery.
Here, March is full of disappointment. It begins with cold dark days and ends with cold slightly less dark days.
In the morning at the end of February, our commute starts with a sliver of light cresting on the horizon, the light of dawn making its early appearance. A light at the end of the snowdrift so to speak, and it fools us into thinking that the sunrise will be there when we wake up every day from now on, making our trips into work more bearable. We get lulled into thinking that mornings of complete darkness and temperatures of -82ºC with a windchill of awful will be coming to an end soon.
We stand at the bus stops, looking up at that sliver of morning, as our morning cup of coffee freezes, longing for the warm temperatures that are sure to come. We sometimes even get an hour of above freezing temperatures and we hear the dripping of melting snow and ice, and we are filled with hope like the rest of the world.
Then March and daylight savings time takes away that morning light and we are plunged once more into darkness, and usually a blizzard. So we continue to wait at the bus stop, chewing our frozen coffee, and fooling ourselves into thinking that it’s not so bad.
At the beginning of March in Winnipeg we have already suffered the brutality of five months of prairie winter, and have at least one more month, possibly two to go, and it’s a whole 6 months away from next winter. People start making plans for the spring months and the summer weather that will arrive on July 3rd and the fall weather that will arrive on July 5th.
By the end of the month, the days start to get noticeably longer and the citizens of this prairie city shed the outermost layer, of their fourteen layers, of winter clothing. The city finally starts to see above freezing temperatures and the huge piles of snow start to melt. It’s the thaw, or at least the start of it.
But at anytime, a squall could come through and dump another few feet of snow and refreeze the liquid into ice. Weather reports make promises of warmer temperatures in the coming days, but it is more to stave off suicides than to accurately report on the environmental conditions of the future.
Because of the excruciatingly frigid temperatures of the Manitoba winter, those gigantic snow drifts have been subject to sublimation and don’t actually contain much snow. Instead they are a honeycomb of crystallized ice, gravel, sand, and salt. This contributes to some of the ugliest scenery imaginable. It is as if the city is made of grime.
You can’t get away from the filth of it; it’s everywhere, because it hitches a ride on the boots of pedestrians and is tracked into businesses, restaurants, offices, theatres, outhouses, markets, brothels and saloons. Entrances to buildings are saturated by the ugly brown water that pools rapidly, as janitorial staffs desperately try to keep up with the accumulation. When the hallways dry out, we are left with the grit of sand and a ring of salt. The floors of the city busses look as if they will never be clean again.
During this time, clothes collect mud and need to be washed more often, sidewalks are avoided due to the splashes from speeding motorists, and the five second rule is suspended until further notice.
It makes everyone wonder “Why in God’s name do I live here? Why does this city exist?” It must have been founded by somebody who arrived on the two days of summer in July and they didn’t know about blizzards or darkness or filthy transit floors. They just saw a lot of grass and a couple of rivers and thought “This looks good, I’ll live here”. Then they were snowed in and their morning commutes were filled with darkness, drifts, and frozen caffeinated beverages, and they just never left.
I’m told that the European settlers came here to trap and trade in furs. Which explains a lot. Everywhere else, in February, a groundhog would poke its head up and predict how much longer winter would be. Here in Manitoba, the groundhog would poke its head up and then be made into a hat… so no prediction was made.
The original First Nations inhabitants of this area would hunt and fish and thrive in the spring and summer months. Then, when winter would hit, they would migrate south where it was warmer. They wouldn’t stay here during the coldest months while their coffee froze because they were not stupid!
“Dude! It’s starting to snow and my latte is starting to ice over.”
“Ok, let’s go south. I hear they have good Bar B Cue.”
“Sounds good. Hey… look at that pale guy, is he actually going to stay here?”
“Well, if he does, he’ll probably freeze to death and we won’t have to worry about him anymore.”
“Ya, more Bar B Cue for us.”
I’m paraphrasing, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it went.
Ah well, April is almost here, and the thaw can really start to begin. As the snow recedes it will reveal all the stuff that was buried under the drifts during the winter. The lawn mower, the car, our keys to the car, the odd dead body, and many many hexagons. It’s a month where temperatures can rise to a balmy +2ºC and we marvel at how warm it is, as visitors from other places tell us how crazy we are and return to their native Siberia where they can warm up.
Although a snowstorm can still hit us at any time for the next two months. We could be buried again under a blanket of snow and have to wait until May to find our lawn mowers and hexagons.
However, the searing +3ºC temperatures might hold, and it will be nice to wait at the bus stop and actually drink, not chew, my coffee and have nothing to worry about except severe flooding, giant sinkholes, mosquito borne diseases, and tax returns.