Hot Writing in Canadian Winters

The holly jolly Christmas songs and festive hubbub have died away. If that was the heart of the season, we’re now in the belly of the beast being slowly digested in its freezing juices.

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Winter isn’t that cold across our whole country, though we certainly give that impression. British Columbia has beautifully balmy weather on its coastal plane and in its rainforest, and southern Ontario generally has mild winters with a few harsh storms. But where I live, in Northeastern Ontario, we generally have at least two weeks of frigid cold in which temperatures dip to -40 (or lower, with the wind chill) and pipes can freeze while ice fog forms over the streets in the night. The snow falls and falls throughout the winter months, up to three feet deep or sometimes more, so many people have to put tiny roofs over their furnace exhaust pipes to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. That nearly happened to us, once, during a blizzard that was so heavy the fire truck responding to our call for help couldn’t get up the unploughed street. The snow piles were higher than our car, that year, (our first living in this region), and we learned the wisdom of
a) shovelling well away from the vehicle so the piles do not gradually close in on the drivable space, and
b) hiring a snow plough or investing in a snow blower, neither of which we’ve done until this year.

Our first winter in Northeastern Ontario, 2002

Our first winter in Northeastern Ontario, 2002

I keep contemplating buying USB warming / heated fingerless gloves, for typing, but I keep putting it off because I’m not 100% convinced they’d be worth the money. And a good cup of tea will warm my fingers when it’s chilly in here, or I can put them under the laptop where the heat is fine.

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Writing in the winter is cathartic, escapism, and makes hiding from the harsh weather easier. Wrapped in my blanket on my couch, I can disappear into an imaginary world (when my children let me), pausing now and again to wipe my cold, wet nose and get a fresh cup of hot brew or a glass of wine, lately (decadence!). I light a candle or two, maybe some scented melting wax thingies, and try to lose myself in the story.

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The trouble with winter writing in this climate and latitude is in the dark time, between Samhain (Hallowe’en) and Imbolc (Groundhog’s Day), I find my days and nights getting more and more mixed up. The hours of darkness are so much longer than those of light, especially on dim cloudy days, that it’s easier to work after the sun has gone down and I lose track of the hours I ought to be keeping. After all, the sun doesn’t fully come up until 8 am on the Solstice, and it won’t be until February that we’ll see dawn by 7:30.

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So much darkness . . . perfect for heated romance, sizzling scenes, and spicy dialogue. Seriously, this is a good season for writing about love. Think log cabins, crackling fires, quilts big enough to cover two bodies, and romantic walks under sparkling velvety black skies or through swirling flecks of lacy snow. Cabin fever gets released by skiing, sledding, snowshoeing — or other less chilly activities indoors. Oh, heck, I’ve read some pretty steamy love scenes that take place in the snowy forest involving opened jackets, though I haven’t yet written any myself. Winter is a season for writing about love, that glorious hot mess that keeps us going when the wind is howling to freeze our bones and shred our skin with its icy nails. The furnace working to pump heated air in my home is the breath of life in a world that is crystallized and unmoving.

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Canadians make good lovers, I think, because we know the best ways to keep warm in the long, cold winter. In a nation of extremes, we have to know how to survive, after all. Summers are as brutal as the winters, but at least in winter warming up is easier than cooling down in a heat wave. Until your pipes freeze or your furnace breaks, that is . . . as has been happening in spades in the houses around me.

Edits are nearly done on Blood and Fire: Book Two of the Talbot Trilogy, and the cover is nearly ready to reveal. Will tonight be another long session of creating with words? As long as my hands are warm enough, I think it will . . . but tea only as, I am out of wine.

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Snow falling on Ostara

The equinox is a powerful day, whether it’s observed through the lens of spirituality or as a layperson. The arrival of spring, even if it’s only in the calendar sense, is welcomed by most, especially after a long and challenging winter.

In my part of the world, we still have a lot of snow. (I think I’ve been talking about that a great deal lately…we’re in the middle of the fifth month of blank landscape and cold weather.) And I know that further to the south, recent storms have dumped more white stuff than people expected or wanted. Not an auspicious start to the season of warmth and growth.

But this morning I heard the birds calling through the flurries. And the roads were clearing again, bit by bit. The air is softer on exposed skin, and the winds are less chilling. Winter may be fighting back, but it is losing once again.

I wanted to celebrate Ostara with a clean house, planting seeds in preparation for gardening, meditating, and painting eggs. I will admit a twinge of envy for those who are able to hold ritual festivities outdoors, lighting fires and scenting the freshness of rich earth. But I’ve been reading The Secret Garden with my daughter, and because it’s been years, I’d forgotten how much that book is about the spring — its descriptions of the thawing of the earth and reviving of life are vivid, beautiful, and inspiring. Sharing this story, little by little, in the weeks before and after Ostara is a ritual in itself. I can picture reading this story with my daughter every spring, in honour of new beginnings and fresh starts.

However you look at the first day of spring, wherever you are, I hope that you are feeling the change of the season with all of your being.

Three Days after Solstice

Even though I didn’t celebrate Yule the way I wanted and had envisioned, I still enjoyed the moment as it passed.

I have a clear memory of a conversation I had with my mother, though whether I was 11 or 12 at the time isn’t certain. What I do remember is telling her that when I became an adult, I would be celebrating Christmas as an expression of joy in winter: that I would be rejoicing in the change of seasons, in the beauty of winter, because that was the value I saw in the holiday.

I still see that.

And that is what I have been doing. I’ve been listening to traditional Christmas carols — the songs about sleigh rides, snow, evergreens, mistletoe. None of the winter elements of the holiday have much to do with the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem. But they have everything to do with Saturnalia, with Yule, with the time of the year when Persephone has descended to the underworld and life sleeps. When the snow comes, and the days shorten, we have two choices, as I see it: we can run away and hide from it, OR we can embrace it.

This year, I have chosen to embrace the cold. I’m doing much better at taking my children outside to play and slide and make snow angels. I’m lighting candles, and enjoying the peace of the dark nights. I’m taking my dog for walks in the winter night, admiring the lights on neighbourhood houses.

All of the colour, the glowing, the giving and receiving of gifts — it speaks to me of balance. When the world grows dark and cold, we join together (whenever we can) to reflect on our blessings and share our abundance, so everyone has enough to get through. There is so much symbolism in gift-giving, in the plump energy of Santa Claus. We party, and feast, and decorate, keeping our spirits going.

So, as a Pagan and a Wiccan, and a witch, this season has a lot of meaning for me. It goes deeper than the label. I may not have done the ritual I wanted to perform for Yule, but already, three days later, I can feel how the wheel of life has turned. It’s an intangible sensation in the air, in the body, in the sunshine. We’ve passed the test of the dark and the sunlight is slowly returning. When my children and my husband open their gifts tomorrow morning, and I receive their tokens of love, we’ll be completing our own ritual, celebrating our beliefs in each other, and in the potential of humanity to overcome all that is cold, dead, and wrong in the world.

On the practical side, until then, I will be cleaning and getting the children to help me with that, until their father comes home and our fun activities can begin.

I hope that, whatever you believe, you are with family and friends this week, or next. That you are safe, happy, healthy, have enough to eat, clean water, warmth, and love with you.

BB