Bracing Myself for Winter and Whatever

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.

walking the sunny trail in the fall
Late October walk on the trail.

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.

Late fall afternoon pond and trees against a grey sky.
Last year on a November walk.

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.


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63 thoughts on “Bracing Myself for Winter and Whatever”

  1. Love today’s post, Sue – imagining The Glebe and your magical year there. I love looking into people’s lighted homes at night, seeing a slice of someone’s life, voyeuristic pleasure. The story of the boy and the newspapers is hilarious! And touching, because I was thinking of how many people would have crossed the street if they thought it was indeed a homeless person. Thanks for the cheer. As it’s Election Day down here, I need all the cheer I can get!

  2. Thank you Sue. Your posts, savoured over my breakfast coffee, always spark joy in my soul. Winter seems to have come in here too, snowier, gloomier and earlier this year, and has effected many of us in the same melancholy way. I will be happier once the American election is over, and am hopeful, but anxious for the outcome I want. As an expat, dual citizen, I did vote, and I hope my vote counts, even to counteract a vote from the other front. Fingers crossed!
    I think fires, and candles will help, and I am going to dig through the storage boxes today, to see if any of those little strings of twinkly lights still work. Light will push back the darkness.
    I have my own memories of being single in Ottawa, during the wilder, happy times of my youth. There was that one magical night of doing cartwheels along the Rideau, accompanied by my visiting girlfriend and two delicious bush pilots we had encountered on a pub crawl. Ah…. being young and silly, and having special memories to brighten the gloom of November.

  3. Loved reading this this morning. It will be in the high 70’s in San Antonio, Texas , this week but I so related to all of your feelings. Circumstances Influence our attitudes but we can determine our outlook. I enjoy your blog so much. Thanks!

  4. It is a touching story indeed. Lucky boy,wasn’t he,with an angel lady as a helper?
    Well,winter will come-we have a beautiful sunshine day today,but,nevertheless….Doris Day is the best choice, regarding the future
    I’m so glad that your mood have changed…

  5. November is the grey month…with grey skies, streets, trees and even the Red River turns a shade of deep grey. But it is also the month of dinners by candlelight, reading by the fireplace and enjoying the preparations for Christmas. This year will be different with the pandemic and a week of predicted sunny and above normal temperatures for our area but the nights are closing in earlier so I will relish lighting those candles each evening. The snow will come to stay and it will be a winter wonderland as the garden sleeps in preparation for spring. Each season has its beauty and its joy so I love to find reasons to smile and laugh during each one. Loved your post and the story of the young newspaper delivery boy…keep enjoying all that November has to offer!

  6. Thank you Sue! You helped me to have some hope and, maybe, acceptance on this Election Day in the U.S.. Loved your newspaper story – you were an angel to that young man! You gave us all a much needed chuckle. 😊🙏🏼❤️

  7. May I recommend the best, best book?
    The Thursday Murder Club
    By Richard Osman
    It’s just so enjoyable! Senior citizens who are smart, and alive, and engaged in all sorts of adventure.

    I also always treat myself to a beautiful candle when Daylight Savings time comes to an end. Capri Blue Volcano is my favorite!

    Sue, you are a beautiful writer. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for a lovely story! Many of us in the US are feeling our own version of gloom and anxiety today, so the smile you elicited was welcome. I just discovered you. So happy I did!

      1. I just found you the other day too…..Cindy Hattersley’s recommendation. I enjoyed your closet Vlog….got me to do some sorting and I’m taking 15 items to a consignment shop next week. I also got the Cladwell app and have been having fun discovering new ways to wear what I own!
        Thank you for your posts.

  9. I just found you and am so glad I did. This post hit the right mark for me was I wait in dread/hope for the results of our American Election this week. Your blog is just the right combination of the love of good clothes, books and wonderful writing. Thank you!

  10. Sue, this post has been a wonderful read. As we are heading towards winter I think many of us are anxious and dreading the short cold days and long cold nights . But you have highlighted what can be a positive in our world and the good things that surround us every day. Love your story about helping that young man with his papers and his mum writing into the paper. Such a good thing you were there!

  11. I am a new reader as well, and I so needed to read your story about the newspaper boy. As others have mentioned, it is indeed Election Day here in the US. So your writing this morning is very much appreciated. It definitely lifted my heart. 😉

  12. I laughed so hard at your story of the poor boy and the newspapers-really cheered me up. I grew up in the Glebe and your description of the shops and bookstores brought me right back in time. I too loved to look in the windows after dark to see families gathering, sometimes licking a butterscotch stick bought from the Laura Secord on Bank Street. Thanks for this wonderful piece.

  13. I loved that story about the newspaper boy!
    I love this time of year, and an grateful that the beau of the countryside remains despite what is happening in the wider world. I love your moody photo from least November, puts ne in mind of the painting,
    February, Fill Dyke by Benjamin Williams Leader. Wrong month, but similar mood.

  14. I’ve been feeling a little gloomy too . For all the obvious reasons . Our time in the highlands has given us a great break from politics & pestilence but it’s back to reality soon . On our travels here I’ve been soaking up all around me hungrily to keep me going through the winter lockdown . It has seemed extra special because of that . Like you I don’t actually hate winter . Summer is long sunny evenings in the garden room . With winter we light the fire & move into the sitting room . I love the contrast of crisp , chilly walks followed by mugs of coffee & toast by the fire . That will still happen .
    I laughed at your paper delivery boy story . My nephew had the same job but his dad drove him round as he felt sorry for him . My sister soon put a stop to that .

  15. The Glebe in the fall! So gorgeous. I can still walk those streets, and wish that I could put my nose against the windows of those wonderful old homes.
    You mention the yarn shop on Bank St, a friend that lives here on SaltSpring use to be part of that shop. She is such an artist. Did they have wonderful sweaters also? If yes, she designed them. If not, wrong shop.
    I grew up in Old Ottawa South, to this day older homes with great woodwork, with vintage touches makes me very happy. I guess that’s why I love FRANCE so much.
    I’m siting here with the log burner going and a coffee remembering those days, and even skating on the canal. But that is for December and January.
    Thanks Sue

  16. Sue, I always enjoy your posts. You have such a way with words and feelings. I remind myself, frequently these days, that I am so fortunate.
    Somedays it does not feel that way, but nevertheless, I am so fortunate.

  17. That was beautifully written essay! Despite “fightings without, and fears within,” those of us who are blessed with a home and loved ones and good food and wonderful books to read should be very thankful.

  18. Such a good post, Sue! I loved walking through the Glebe whenever I visited Ottawa (which was often during the years Paul worked there). . . and it’s been further burnished for me now with this image of you and that young boy one stormy night. Such a mix of qualities and emotions in that anecdote — desperation and caring and slapstick humour and a touch of “unaccommodated man” against stormy nature to boot! I also love that you’d somehow never told Stu about it — every so often, more and more rarely now, of course, Paul will tell me a funny or moving story about something that happened to him and I won’t have heard it. Each time, it amazes me that after 47 years there’s something new to learn about him . . .
    As you said in your email, some resonance here with my post this morning — writing out and through and beyond our moods. . . inspiring, the way you did that! Brava!

  19. I Love your way with words. This was a beautiful account today and brought back lovely memories of when I once lived in a city. I would walk in the snowfall in the evenings and also love to look in the house windows to see what others were up to. Also I liked to check out the lighting and decor as I went by. We now live in the country and that is nothing but a lovely memory now, but I thank you for bringing it back so clearly. The newspaper boy story brought a much needed chuckle and I was happy to read that the boy’s mom took the time to thank you. We need more of that. I have been stocking up on winter reading to help with the escape from the reality and have 4 or 5 big luscious candles waiting in my den. Just what we needed today on many levels.

  20. Thank you for that funny story! I miss living in a small community like the one you described. I think it’s time to find a home like that again!!!

  21. Mary Lou Hartman

    Thank you for an uplifting post. I really needed that today. I love your writing and wonderful perspective on life. Thank you!

  22. If your life allows you to have a strict quarantine for two weeks with your hubby, I would suggest you take advantage of it to go and visit with your Mum right after – I’m sure both of you would be delighted of such “stolen time” 🙂

    1. That would be a good idea, but we would still have to self-isolate for two weeks once we enter New Brunswick. We are not part of the Maritime bubble up here in contagious Ontario. 🙂

  23. Love your musings! If it is any consolation (I know not) I noticed the weather in Cape Town for the rest of week is not that fabulous, wet and cold by South African standards. The weather in Cape Town is very temperamental. Now Johannesburg, oh my word, the weather is nearly always perfect All Year Round. Says she filled with nostalgia as the grey sky looms and I can hear the wind rustling (or should I say blowing) on the Black Sea.

  24. I decided that I would run every day throughout November. No times, no distances, just go out every day and run for a bit. It has turned chilly here and the leaves are almost gone. We’ve just got to grit teeth and keep our focus on the coming months. We’ve planted our bulbs. I have bought candles. The cupboard is not bare. New lockdown underway tomorrow. There are audiobooks saved and a new sewing project to start. Next week I will find something else to do. And if all else fails – early nights and a well-loved book. Onwards!

  25. Oh my! I needed that lovely story of a young woman stopping to help a newsboy today. It gave me a smile to get through the rest of this crazy US election.

  26. In Australia we are heading into summer and had our first really warm day yesterday. i am not a fan of heat but then again winter in victoria in Australia is dull and depressing rather than cosy and dramatic. your story brought back memories of coming home from school in scotland through the winter dark to a real fire and hot chocolate. thank you for some very happy memories

  27. Your post really hit the mark. I have been feeling anxious about the long winter ahead, the restrictions, the disruption of day to day life. Although I realize and acknowledge the need for public health restrictions; I miss socializing with friends, book clubs, even the volunteer work I do is disrupted. I chafe about not being able to see my children and grandchildren. Although I know I am fortunate that my financial and physical needs are met, it is important to acknowledge that people have social and emotional needs as well. All the “look at the bright side” comments are well intentioned, but fail to acknowledge that we all have times we need to “lick our wounds” for a day or two. There- glad I got to vent!

    1. Vent away, Buffalo Gal. As a wise friend once said to me, we can’t judge another person’s stress. If they’re feeling it, they’re feeling it.

  28. Fabulous post! I definitely needed a little cheering up! Love your blog, particularly the stories about your family, Mum, stepfather etc. So real! I enjoyed the recent vlog – a peek into your life! Fashion posts are great also! We are in for a long winter but it helps to know we are not alone in the darkness.

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