“Congratulations,” said a less-than-enthusiastic female voice. “You have a community garden spot. If you wish to confirm your spot come to our office at…”
I waited three years to hear those words. That was the phone message I received a few weeks ago from my local municipal borough office informing me that after sitting on a wait list for what used to be my local garden, I would finally be getting a plot. I’ve moved three times since then. It’s not my local garden anymore, but I’m sure as heck going to garden there while I wait another three years for a transfer to the other community garden adjacent to my current home.
All this to say I’m going to have my own garden! After living in spaces without even a balcony for container gardens of herbs (or Montreal’s favourite past-time – tomatoes), I have a 10′ x 20′ piece of land to call my very own. And since the season of growth has finally sprung, I’m finally emotionally able to talk about winter – now that I can write that without shuddering and reaching for a thermal blanket and a cup of hot water to warm my frigid bones.
Because this winter I cheated. And Montreal got angry at my sneakiness and fought back with blowing winds and metres of snow. I went to Peru for two months and lived in their 30 C+ daily heaven of summer complete with exotic fruit, palm trees and a breathtaking coastline. And when I came back to Montreal at the beginning of March I got the wind knocked out me both emotionally and physically by the cold, hard lifestyle here. Everyone I saw was sneezing and coughing and never smiling. Even the snowboarders seemed miserable. Everyone seemed unhealthy. And more importantly, everyone seemed unhappy.
Not that everyone in Lima was happy, but it felt a lot sunnier. The fact that it never rains probably made a difference on morale too. Televisions are placed outside, for goodness sake, and homes have flat roofs since snow doesn’t need to slide off of them.
So I asked myself how to make myself happier in the cold. I only had to get through one to two months of this before spring would spring. I’d somehow done it for years, so it shouldn’t be too hard.
How did I do it before?
…Three years ago I made a plan. I was seeing a good guy at the time, the kind of guy who goes out of his way to help you. Together we’d fixed up my bike (mostly him) and turned me into a street-smart biker. We’d installed coat hooks at the first apartment I ever felt was my own. We’d looked up Japanese recipes and made meals together in his small kitchen, then sat down at the table he’d made, his dog at our feet. We watched the city grow from his front steps that summer.
But with winter coming, I desperately started looking for a way to not have an anxiety attack about how cold it would be and how much I didn’t want to go through it all again. I came up with a plan.
“The first time it snows, I’m going to call you and we’re going to go outside together. I’m going to hold your hand and we’re going to walk through the giant, fluffy flakes, and it’ll be romantic. And then winter won’t seem so bad.”
He agreed, and when it snowed for the first time that year, that’s exactly what we did. And I survived for one more year.
But we didn’t make it to next year together, and winter turned back into a scary, intimidating time full of dry hands, chapped lips, shoulder tensed against the cold, sinus headaches, long-johns, insulated boots and layers of clothing whose capacity to retain heat was equal only to its ability to inhibit joy.
Returning from Lima was more difficult than staying in Montreal all winter. When you don’t know what you’re missing you can be blissfully ignorant, but when you know that so may people are fanning themselves in the heat, on beaches eating cremoladas and popsicles, gorging themselves on mangoes, and going out in the evening without sweaters, or jackets, or toques, the world seems unfair.
Why are we here? Why do we stay. “Get away!” my whole body was yelling. “Go back!” It may also have a lot to do with the fact that I’d met a guy there with whom I would have happily walked under a sky of snowflakes, but with whom I more happily walked under a wall of water.
But that’s life. You get through. You adapt, sometimes less easily than others. Today I went outside without a sweater. The sun shone on my bare shoulders and I smiled. When I touched the hot brick of an apartment building, feeling the heat emanating from it, a man stared at me. As he walked by I blushed, but I heard him say matter-of-factly to his friend, “The brick is so warm now.” Everyone here feels it. Last week we were wearing parkas. They understand these strange acts of appreciation for the sun and the season. We made it. We earned it. I skipped out on two moths of it, but I think I feel it just as much as those who were here the whole time. The feeling is intensified by contrast. I know what we’re missing. But the city gets to spend the next six months making it up to us.
And when I pull the first thing from my garden, I’ll smile. My first tomato may cause a tear or two. Tears of joy – the same feeling of knowing that it’s going to be okay.
A warm, comforting hand to hold, walking with you, telling you you’re going to be just fine.