Okay, it’s November. No more fooling myself that winter is NOT coming. And soon. The leaves have mostly fallen. The clocks have turned back. It’s now dark in the late afternoon. We’ve had snow. Snow that didn’t stay… but still snow. So I am bracing myself for winter. And for whatever winter will mean this year.
Usually I love the late fall. But not today. Today I am moody and anxious and dreading winter and what it may bring.
Normally I find the stark and solemn colours of November before the snow comes every bit as beautiful as the brighter colours of October. There’s something moving about the black bare fingers of tree branches against grey skies. I love arriving home on a cold, dark, late afternoon to a warm house with a crackling fire in the wood stove. I love the feel of the wind whipping leaves against my legs when I am bundled up safe and warm in my heavy socks and ankle boots, with a woolly scarf swathed around my neck. The juxtaposition of images of cold with those of warmth and safety feels, well, warm and safe.
Every year at this time I think of the autumn I shared a house in the Glebe with two other girls. The Glebe is an Ottawa neighbourhood of older homes, trees, parks, locally-owned shops, and small restaurants. And when I lived there, second-hand book stores. I used to run at night in those days. And I remember one windy, late fall evening jogging down a quiet street. The tops of trees writhed in gusts of wind, leaves blew everywhere. Lighted windows with their curtains open showed people making or eating dinner, watching television, or reading. And as I rounded a corner I spied an empty, two-wheeled grocery cart parked on the sidewalk. My housemates and I used a cart like this to lug our laundry to the laundromat.
That fall I loved to do my laundry on a weekday morning when I wasn’t supply teaching. I’d wheel the cart down to Bank Street, stuff the laundry in the washer at the laundromat, and have my breakfast at the diner next door. Then I’d browse for a while in my favourite used bookstore. And then amble home in the October sunshine. This was what city living was supposed to be, I imagined.
Anyway, that night when I ran in the windy darkness and spied the shopping cart, I also saw that beside it a figure in a huge, shapeless coat lay facedown and spread-eagled on the sidewalk. “Oh my god,” I thought. “Is this a homeless person? Are they dead? Should I run into one of these houses for help? Please, please don’t let them be dead.” As I ran closer, I yelled above the wind, “Are you okay? Do you need help?”
The figure mumbled something, and I noticed that it wasn’t an adult but a kid. A boy in a huge oversized coat. And with each hand and each foot he held down a stack of papers. Fours piles of newspapers and advertising flyers, which had to be combined into two piles before he could deliver them. And, he told me, albeit almost inaudibly, that when he cut the cords which bound the papers together so he could shove a flyer from one pile into each paper in another pile, a gust of wind had caught all four piles. And so he lay. Unable to move.
I’m not sure how we maneuvered it, but soon I was sitting on a pile of papers, and holding down another with my hands. While he hastily shoved flyers from one stack into newspapers in the remaining pile. Then I sat on the finished pile, and he assembled the other two into one. Then I helped him lay all the completed papers carefully into his cart, and we went our separate ways. I laughed all the way home. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends this story.
About a week later one of my housemates approached me with a newspaper. In a local column called Brown’s Beat, were two or three lines in which a mum said she had written to the paper to thank the kind young woman who had helped her son out of a tricky situation one windy evening. And beside the story was a cartoon of a curvaceous young woman with a come hither look and an extremely shapely, Kim Kardashian-style bottom sitting upon a pile of newspapers, and holding down another with her hands. What the hell? “I think that’s supposed to be you,” my roommate spluttered. And then we fell over laughing. Of course to really get the joke you have to know what I looked like at twenty-eight. Tall, skinny, not curvaceous. And most certainly NOT with a Kim Kardashian-style bottom. Ha. I’m laughing even as I write that.
You know, when I started writing this post I was feeling quite mournful. Gloomy. And anxious. It was too miserable and windy to walk this morning. I could have driven to the trail where it would have been more sheltered, but I couldn’t muster the motivation. The thought of bracing myself for another winter, let alone a winter of pandemic restrictions, weighed on me. Big time. Hubby and I barked at each other a bit. Then he went out to get groceries, and I started to organize the paperwork for our travel insurance claim. We’re hoping to get some of the money back for our cancelled Africa trip. This is the week we’d have been in Cape Town, renting a car and driving down the coast. In the sunshine, I imagine.
But thinking about how much I usually love the late fall. Even though the days can be cold and windy. Even though the leaves are mostly on the ground and it rains quite a bit. Thinking about that, and writing about it. Then thinking about the year I lived in the Glebe. How much I loved strolling our neighbourhood on my own, shopping in our local shops. We even had our own yarn store. And two used book stores. Thinking and writing about all that cheered me up immensely.
And by the time I remembered the night I came upon the boy and his newspapers and started to tell you about it, I was smiling. And later chuckling when I related the story to Hubby. How had I never told him that one?
When I was still teaching I was a great advocate for writing daily, for keeping journals. My writing classes always had to keep a journal. We wrote about everything and anything and, some days, about nothing in particular. And I used to tell my students that sometimes we can write ourselves out of writer’s block. We can use writing to explore our thoughts and ideas if we don’t try too hard to control the writing. Sometimes we can write ourselves to greater clarity of thought, to a better understanding of an issue or a work of literature. I’ve done that a lot myself.
But I’m not sure I’ve ever written myself from one mood into another. Written myself from anxiety to hopefulness, from gloom and doom to my usual sunny self. Until today.
So, yeah. I’m bracing myself for winter. And whatever winter brings. Bracing myself for a covid winter of continuing restrictions as the world tries to come to grips with the pandemic. But after writing this I’m more sanguine about it all. Like that old Doris Day song “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.”
Sorry, I know that’s cliché. But I wanted to say that while you brace yourself for winter, or for whatever, I hope you find a little sanguinity today.
Linking up with Catherine over at Not Dressed as Lamb for #IWillWearWhatILike