Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Finding a little heaven in winter's frozen hell

  • Print
T.S. Eliot was wrong -- April isn't the cruellest month, as he suggested in his epic poem, The Waste Land. In Manitoba, that dubious honour surely goes to January.

For me, at least, January is always the bleakest time of year; Christmas is over, with its festive lights and trees and presents and family gatherings. Ahead lies nothing but a seemingly endless number of long, wintry weeks until March comes along, bringing with it the promise of a springtime that might -- if we are lucky -- be close at hand.

When I think of January, I'm reminded of how C.S. Lewis described the land of Narnia when it was under the rule of the evil witch: Always winter, but never Christmas.

And if that isn't bad enough, there's no escaping January's hellish cold. Which seems like a mixed metaphor, until you learn that the ancient Norse found the two to be quite synonymous. For them, the worst possible eternal torment in the afterlife wasn't fire and heat, but the same thing they dreaded in this life -- the cold. That's why hell for them was a place of freezing temperatures, while heaven was a place where huge fires blazed and crackled while the mead cup was passed and tales were told.

Contrast this with the idea of hell for the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, which originated in the hot and arid Middle East. For adherents of those groups, the worst fate in the afterlife would be to spend eternity where the sun blazes. Heaven, on the other hand, would be cool and comfortable, which may be why Muslims imagine it to be like a garden paradise. In fact, the word "paradise" comes from an old Iranian word which means an enclosed, or walled-in, garden. Muslims in ages past gave this heavenly ideal earthly expression by building elaborate gardens with enclosed courts, fountains, ponds, trees and shrubs, all surrounded by shady and cool arcades.

But maybe I'm being too hard on January, and on winter in general. In some ways, it is an excellent religious metaphor. For one thing, it's a great equalizer. We all look the same under our big winter coats, hats and scarves -- rich, poor, old, young, male and female. Before God, as before the chilling wind, we are all the same.

Winter reminds us of our place in the universe. We may like to think we are in charge, but once a stationary cold front -- a dreaded phrase, if ever there was one -- settles over the province, there's nothing anyone can do to move it. We can only endure its power.

Winter reminds us of how much we need each other. Your car might break down in July, but what's the worst that could happen? A sunburn is nothing compared to frostbite or even death. When a car breaks down in winter, or gets stuck in a snowdrift, people who might cruise on by in summer will stop whatever they are doing to help.

Finally, winter can be a time for reflection. With many activities curtailed by cold and snow, we have time to sit and think about our life and its meaning -- something best done with a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a cat or dog on your lap. As Rev. Louise Westfall of Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, puts it, winter is a time when "we humans are forced to go inside, literally because of the cold, but also metaphorically, so we can use it as a time of renewal and rest."

American humourist Garrison Keillor thinks that winter is good for the soul. Once it gets going, he says, people can pick up their shovels "and recover a sense of focus and purpose and balance," leaving behind "all of that emotional turmoil of balmy days, the romantic longings, the quest for individual identity and so forth."

Keillor's words about his home state of Minnesota in winter could apply equally to Manitoba. "Winter is what we were meant for and we welcome it," he says. "We thrive on adversity and that's just the truth. The snow shovel is the secret of happiness."

OK, that might be taking it too far. But there's no denying the satisfaction that comes from a well-shovelled driveway. Or, better yet, the satisfaction that arises from shovelling your neighbour's driveway -- and maybe even the sidewalk, too.

jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2009 B4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

J.P. Vigier’s Whiteboard: Coach Maurice’s first full season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Goslings enjoy Fridays warm weather to soak up some sun and gobble some grass on Heckla Ave in Winnipeg Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 DAY goose challenge - May 18, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  070527 The 21st Annual Teddy Bears' Picnic at Assiniboine Park. The Orlan Ukrainian Dancers perform on stage.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think food-security issues are an important topic to address during this mayoral campaign?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google