Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary says that “vicissitude,” while often defined as “the simple fact of change,” has a more connotative meaning referring to the “hardship or difficulty brought about by change.” It goes on to say that to survive “the vicissitudes of life” is “to survive life’s ups and downs, with special emphasis on the downs.” And it’s interesting to note that, while many of us are reveling in the change wrought by mother nature on Monday, namely the 48 cm of snow we received, others of us see this massive change in the landscape as a definite “down.” Thus some of us refer to snow as one of the vicissitudes of winter. Especially those of us who have to shovel, and walk, and drive, and carry on with our lives in the depths of winter.

Man peering out the door to see how much snow has drifted against the door.
First exit of the day.

On Monday morning, during a lull in the storm, wrapped in his parka and his down-hill ski pants and goodness knows how many layers underneath, Hubby exited the house very carefully. We had had blizzard conditions and God only knew the configuration of snow drifts created by the high winds. He didn’t want to trigger a small avalanche of snow into our kitchen. I love that you can see the imprint of the door trim on the snow below.

snow drifted against our kitchen door
The warrior off to do battle with the back pathway.

I swear there’s nothing more exhausting than a big dump of snow. Shovelling the darned stuff for one thing. Then cleaning the cars, and then shovelling some more. Not to mention walking in deep snow. Carrying anything while walking in deep snow. And trying to straighten your hat and scarf so you can actually see where you’re going. And I won’t even get started on the driving when three lanes suddenly become two, and intersections are virtually impossible to navigate, and parking lots almost unusable. Gad, I’m getting “driving to work in a snow storm” flashbacks just writing that. I think most people who could stay home on Monday did so.

Monday was supposed to be the first day back at school for most kids in Ontario. But the government did an end-run around any hopes for a snow day by extending the on-line learning for one more day. Poor kids. Cheated out of the first snow day of the year. Imagine. All that fresh white stuff outside just waiting to be rolled in and kids were sitting in front of their computers for another day. I wonder if Covid has put paid to the possibility of there EVER being another snow day for kids.

snow-covered cars, one of the vicissitudes of winter
Hubby’s truck incorporated into the snow drift

As I hauled on my snow gear to go out and help Hubby on Monday morning, I thanked providence that we were both retired. The car and truck were buried, and the wind had created a huge drift almost engulfing the truck. But we were in no hurry, really. We have a small snow-blower with which Hubby does the pathways. And in the past two years we have someone who comes and blows out our driveway. Far better than the days when Hubby would have been up well before six to shovel the cars out so we both could get to work.

Brrr. I’m remembering cold winter mornings, muffled to the eyeballs, wading snow, lugging briefcase and purse, navigating black ice on the roads, and reaching work to find the parking lot unplowed. Or even worse, leaving work in the dark to dig my car out of the snow, and hope that I didn’t get stuck in the parking lot. The first time that happened cured me of my habit of staying at school after my colleagues had gone home so I could work in the quiet. On snow days I exited with everyone else, in case I needed two burly colleagues to push me out of a snow drift.

Driving hazards aside, nothing beats the vicissitudes of winter for someone who does not have a car. If you have to struggle into your warmest gear and survive public transit during winter in any city in Canada, you have my deepest sympathies. I have such vivid memories of doing that in 1985, my first teaching winter.

I lived in a rented house downtown, with two other girls, and no shovel. And we had a ton of snow that year. By January the front steps and the short walk-way were covered in two feet of snow except for a narrow portion that we’d beaten down with our feet. That is until I started dating Hubby, and he was so aghast at our predicament that he lent us a shovel. I can’t remember if we ever actually bought a shovel that year.

I think I must have written about that first winter of teaching before on the blog. In my mind it’s a collage of images many of which involve wading snowbanks in my good leather boots and long dress coat, lugging heavy text books and marking and my lunch each day, and standing at one bus stop or another.

It took me three buses, two changes, and several minutes of waiting at each stop to get to my daytime teaching job. Then two buses to my night school job, two evenings a week. And two buses home after my night class which ended at 10:15 pm. And that doesn’t include the several blocks walk each day between various bus stops and my house. All that wading and waiting in the cold. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I remember being almost tearful with gratitude when an older teacher at night school discovered that we lived a few blocks apart and offered to drive me home each night.

If any winter makes me think of the “vicissitudes of winter” it’s that one. The “downs” were so very difficult. Exhaustion, an extremely bad cold that seemed to last for weeks and weeks during which I did not dare take more than a day or two off, the fact that I looked like a drowned rat at work most days (the result of my almost two hour commute of walking, waiting, riding the bus, waiting, riding, waiting, riding, and walking in the cold and snow), endless prepping and marking and more prepping, and the fact that most days I was afflicted with imposter syndrome, terrified that I would be found to be a horrible teacher.

But despite all that I was joyful too. If the “downs” were horrendous. The “ups” more than compensated. I was happy and honoured to have a real teaching job. Excited to get stuck into a career that I had delayed for too long. And of course I had met Hubby. When I wasn’t exhausted that winter, I was euphoric. Ha.

Late afternoon in front of the fire looking out on the snow-covered river.
My favourite time of day.

On Monday Hubby and I stayed home all day. A snow day for us, for sure. But yesterday after my work-out, I had errands to run. And the struggle of climbing into and out of the car in my heavy clothes, navigating narrowed streets, peering around high snow-banks, slip-sliding across snowy parking lots carrying heavy bags, and fumbling for my car keys in my mittens gave me serious winter flash-backs. I was happy to get home and escape the vicissitudes of winter, no matter how small they might be in comparison. I relished curling up on the sofa in the sun room with my book for the rest of the afternoon, while the gas stove ticked and the sky outside turned pink.

Full moon on the new snow.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow…

Of course my winter memories are nothing compared to the memories of my parents and grandparents. Something about walking to school barefoot in the snow comes to mind. Ha. But seriously, I know when we were kids before we moved to the farm, and my mum worked full-time, she walked the mile home from the bus in summer and winter. I know my stepfather worked long hours on the government snowplow, only to come home in the dark, get out the tractor and plow our long driveway. Not to mention looking after the farm animals morning and evening. I fully recognize that my slight inconveniences are nothing to their struggles. Still… there is that winter of ’85. I did survive that. So I may not be a total weakling after all.

And all in all, I do view the arrival of a big dump of snow with delight as much as with dread. The ski trails will be amazing. Although Hubby has been furiously shovelling snow off the roof. We had a huge drift up there. And we are supposed to get freezing rain. And then 10 cm more of snow. After which the temperature is supposed to plummet again. I guess we are in the middle of a good old-fashioned Canadian winter. Eh?

But I haven’t only been preoccupied with winter and winter storms this week, my friends. My splurge research continues apace. Remember “Sue’s New Frugality” plan? Or “Sue-gality” as Lisa called it. I have been bag shopping on-line. I’ve created a Pinterest board of some bags I like. Most of which, like The Row bag below, I can’t afford. Still, a girl can dream. Below are three styles I love. I am really gravitating to Polene Paris bags. There are three on their site I’d love to own. But we’ll see.

Hubby and I are off on Friday to Quebec for a week of skiing. We’ll be staying in a condo at the small resort in the Laurentians where we go every second year. We’re packing most of our food. And plan to be just as Covid careful as we are at home. I’ve borrowed lots of DVDs from the library, loaded our i-Pads with books, and bought the wine and snacks. Tomorrow we’ll pack, check off our lists, and head out on Friday morning. We’re looking forward to our holiday. We won’t be doing much different than we could do at home: read, ski, eat, watch movies. But the trails up there are wonderful. And a change of scenery will be most welcome for us both.

I will try my best to keep to my posting schedule when we are away. But all will depend on a sometimes iffy WIFI signal. So you may hear from me as usual on Saturday. Then again, maybe not for a week.

In the meantime, my lovely friends, stay warm and shovelled out. Unless you live where it doesn’t snow. Then stay dry. Or wear your sunscreen. Or whatever. We all need to survive the vicissitudes of 2022, no matter where we live.

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45 thoughts on “The Vicissitudes of Winter”

  1. What a marvellously vivid portrait you paint of the vicissitudes of a Canadian winter. For someone who lives where it never snows, it’s a bit like reading about life on another planet. I have no frame of reference for it and I find it simultaneously enticing and frightening. The imprint of the door trim on the snow below seems quite fantastical to me. Every best wish for a wonderful holiday and may you have many happy hours of skiing and reading.

    1. Thanks, Maria. It’s hard to imagine a climate that is so far from one’s own. Like me trying to imagine what to wear in Costa Rica before we left. Nothing could prepare me for the heat and humidity!

  2. Yes, such an incredibly vivid portrait for another who lives where it never snows. Someone who has packed and planned and travelled for snow holidays but never had them at the door stop!
    Vicissitudes for me have involved occasional flood or bushfire days but never snow events. Days when school has been non operational due to rain or fire.
    Enjoy your time doing whatever makes you happy…skiing, reading, eating, watching movies, etc!

  3. This is a fascinating post for me & brought back dreadful memories of past winters & public transport. We are quite obsessed with the weather here in the UK . It’s a main topic of conversation . I’m not sure why as we have a very temperate climate compared to other countries . Perhaps it’s because we have so much of it . Being a small island at the mercy of various weather patterns it is very much affected by the Gulf Stream & rarely stays the same for long . Take yesterday , it was mild & sunny with an almost balmy breeze . My sheets were flapping on the line & just about dry when I brought them in . Today is very cold & looks to be nasty ice underfoot for our morning walk . We have occasionally had snow the depth of yours but it happens more up in the Yorkshire Dales . The last time we were struggling in those conditions was on a winter holiday in the north of Scotland & it was called ‘ the beast from the east ‘ . The beast visits you every year ! On the plus side it is so beautiful & you love your skiing . Have a great trip

  4. I echo Wendy’s sentiments; we have a lot of weather, all different types, any day of the week. And I remember digging my car out when the Beast from the East arrived very suddenly. It was the last time we had such very deep snow and, after I had driven carefully through the dales to get home, I settled in to enjoy it. The light, especially. And being inside, looking out at it, best thing of all. Like you, I recall digging my car out to get to work on very snowy mornings, knowing the moor road would be impassable and praying that the call would come from management and I could go inside and stop fighting the inevitable.

    1. Winter seems so much less dark once the snow comes. I can imagine the roads across the moors being a bit scary in the snow. Must be a lot of blowing and drifting!

  5. Love your snow stories. I too remember walking, waiting and riding on the bus to and from work. Night after my last home from work bus ride I gave birth to my oldest daughter, then we had the Blizzard of ’82. Needless to stay was home bound for a while after that. Enjoy your ski holiday, stay safe and may covid be gone for good by the time you come home.

  6. Now,this is the winter in Canada I’ve imagined!
    So glad that you have help who blows out your driveway.
    I’ve written here that there were couple of times when I’ve walked 7 km through snow to my work…..first snow,usually in the night between Sunday and Monday, no public transit( town’s public winter plough service was “very surprised” -imagine that-every winter ) because everything,including driveways (so,no driving as well)didn’t function. Luckily,winters are usually with less snow lately. I love snow only somewhere where it is white and beautiful and I don’t have any chores or places to go and can choose if I were staying inside,drinking tea and reading or going out (like in Nassfeld,Austria)
    and nordic walk about 5 km to cross the border with Italy and have a capuccino!
    Enjoy your ski vacations! It seems fabulous
    Dottoressa

    1. I remember your story about the roads not being plowed and your having to get to work at the hospital. Amazing! And that walk to get a cappuccino sounds lovely!

  7. The view out your window, onto the river, brings me back to my childhood and the pond we lived beside in New England. I’m envious of that natural beauty and how close you are to it.
    Enjoy your little getaway ski trip. It sounds perfect, especially the new scenery part.

    1. Thanks, Lizette. We often say that home is nicer than any winter getaway, what with the fire and the view of the river. But the change of scenery does feel good.

  8. Enjoy your week in the Laurentians! I have a few dramatic memories of major snowfalls on the West Coast over the years (in our hilly city, busses stopped running for hours the winter I was pregnant with our first, winter of 75-76; we lived in a suburb about 20 kilometres away, so I was stranded downtown with similarly stranded colleagues. When the busses finally started running again, sometime after a dinner of jovial commiseration, it took 2 1/2 hours to cover the distance — normally under an hour). So glad those events were rare enough to stand out! I don’t know that I’d ever adjust to your Eastern winters (and of course, East, as far as winter goes, begins about 60 kilometres from Vancouver; and North is even closer 😉

    1. I think that diner with stranded colleagues might have been fun, as long as you knew that you’d get home eventually. But maybe not as much fun if one were pregnant like you were, and worried about getting home.

  9. Oh the memories that you have brought back with such clarity. That was quite the snow storm that we had, but you had about 15 cm. more than us. We were still digging out yesterday, but now we can see the benefit of our sore muscles. I can remember being rescued by snow mobile when the hydro went out and staying at a neighbours’ house to huddle by the wood stove until able to go back home to check on the water pipes. We now have a generator to make sure that doesn’t happen. I enjoyed all the pictures you captured to show just how much “fun” a storm like that can be. Do enjoy your get away and get that wonderful change of scenery.

    1. The fun of living in the country when the power goes out. We were without power for nine days during the 1998 ice storm. Hubby kept the woodfire burning all day and night. And we still kept closing off rooms and finally dragged our mattress into the living room and slept in front of the fire. The cat was happy though. Ha.

  10. It is a luxury, which I very much appreciate, to be retired and have the option of staying home when it is cold and snowy. In my 20’s, I, too, took public transportation to work and I had to walk up a hill to the bus stop. It seemed much colder, but didn’t seem to bother me as much. I had a long down coat (which I wish I still had….). One morning the hill was icy and I remember crawling part of the way! Have a wonderful time away; sometimes a change of scenery is most welcome.

    1. I was so poorly outfitted for the cold that winter of ’85. I had only a long dress coat, and couldn’t afford to but anything warmer. I remember one year when I was coaching volleyball and had to leave for work really early each morning in winter, I bought a very warm, long down coat which I also had for years! But at least I was driving and not standing at bus stops. Brrr.

  11. Loving the snow pics! That is the kind of winter I grew up with, and that level of snow can be invigorating (once in a while…ha!). A getaway with cross country skiing involved sounds so lovely. Actually going anywhere does…but that appeals to my baby duck print. Have fun!

  12. What a delicious post, Sue! The wonderful snow pics, and descriptions are wonderful. I lived in upstate NY for a few years, and learned what “lake effect” really means. I love picturing that first teaching winter of yours, and how your pride and fulfillment made up for all the work, but I feel cold and wet just thinking about it! I relied on public transport for several years in Europe, but never in snowy places. We had about 2″ of snow last night, and my office delayed opening by 2 hours – ha! Your upcoming ski vacation sounds delightful – enjoy every minute!

  13. I’ve lived back east and know the perils of snow well. Luckily, we retired on the west coast (Vancouver Island) where snow is rare – pretty, then gone. I’ll take rain & above freezing temps over snow and cold any day.
    Enjoy your time in the Laurentians! It is beautiful there and a change is always nice.

  14. Growing up and never leaving the northern plains, I remember loving all things winter as a child. Ill fitting cold weather clothing, feet stuck first into bread bags and then rubber, buckled boots were the norm. I can still smell the wet woolen mittens and feel the sting of frozen skin around my wrists and legs where the makeshift winter attire did not meet. The first vehicle I drove was a straight stick that had to be plugged in to start. The defrost did not work and you drove with the side window done to attempt to keep the windshield clear. I was beyond thrilled to have that car to take me to my first job as a grocery store clerk. There’s little comparison to my suv today with remote start, heated seats …..other than that our winters remain brutally cold, snowy and always windy. I survived my childhood and treasure each of those memories.

  15. Wasn’t that a storm!?! Husband and #2 had just completed shovelling our one car length /two car width city driveway when the plow went by dumping four feet of snow at the end..our amazing neighbour was out cruising the street with his snow plow and cleared it right off! Our son was out the bedroom window and on the roof shovelling the snow whilst still fluffy and easy to moved. Ice damming is not pretty…enjoy your trip to la belle province, we are hoping to get to Québec City in February but we’ll see. If you were telling me your story of 1985 I would nod my head and say ‘Ainsi va la vie’ unlike the cursory, C’est la vie’ ( That’s life) Ainsi va la vie means ‘such is life’ it commiserates with you, it acknowledges and accepts the vicissitudes of life. Anyway, that’s how a late friend, Parisian born and bred explained it one day when life’s vicissitudes were getting to me. Lately I have it on repeat.

  16. It sounds like you got socked in with a lot of snow! Your first winter as a teacher sounds so challenging! Vicissitudes indeed! I hope that the skiing is great.
    I’ve just had cataract surgery and was so glad that the last two storms missed us. I was feeling sorry for my husband that he might have to manage snow removal without me. Next eye surgery happens in a couple of weeks, so I’m hoping that snow will mostly hold off for us.
    I remember a bad winter of ice dams, leaks in our living room and lots of repair work. We’ve learned to shovel the roof.

    1. Hope the snow holds off for your surgery, Dottie. I remember the winter Hubby had heart surgery we had to call a friend with a big truck and four-wheel-drive to take us to the hospital for his angiogram on a very snowy early morning. I was so happy that I did not have to drive. I was nervous enough without putting us in the ditch!

  17. I so enjoy reading about your winter adventures! You have some beautiful purses picked out. I am in love with that beige Burberry… Can’t wait to see what you splurge on!!!

    1. The Burberry one is great isn’t it? I haven’t looked to see if it’s available on their website. I will probably fall over with sticker shock. Ha.

  18. I am going to ignore the Winter stuff and dive into the distraction 🙂
    Have you looked at Poppy Barley from Edmonton (poppybarley.com)
    You might like some of theirs and the fact that you are supporting a good ethical Canadian company

    1. Thanks for the tip on Poppy Barley!
      Absolutely crushing on the simple, unembellished designs. The half moon bag is just gorgeous.

  19. I still remember commuting to work from Vancouver as a 2nd year teacher, driving a small car out to the valley where snow drifts abound. We had to arrive or no pay for us- even if the school buses couldn’t make it through. I had to stop about a half km away from the school, where soon after I was scolded by a truck driver who was wondering what the dickens I thought I was doing driving in the storm all alone. He gladly escorted me to school that day…and I got paid!

    1. That was the same with me that first winter… no work… no pay. That changed when I finally had a contract. But we were expected to show up when half the kids were kept at home by their parents. And several times that winter I was almost late for class due to delayed buses.

  20. Oh Sue, I remember it so well. Yes, give me rain, and cloudy winter days now. Just reading about all that snow gives me twinges of panic. Been there done that…
    I have turned into a wuss 😉
    Ali

  21. Your first year of teaching sounds horrendous. It is bad enough just getting all your lesson plans, resources and marking sorted out in your first years let alone battle the weather.
    I was living in Scotland in the winter of ’62/63 and it was the worst winter in 300 years. Snow was up to the telephone wires in some places. We lived in an old building and heating it was a mission. The plumber used to arrive every morning to thaw out the pipes. No snow days then so it was on with half your wardrobe and a ten minute walk to school suddenly tooka good half hour. We had to cross quite a big bridge and had to haul ourselves up one side then slide down the other.
    After school and weekends we would walk to a local farm with a steep hill and go tobogganing. Then home to a friend’s house to thaw out our sodden feet in the coolest oven on the Aga cooker.
    I’m rather glad we can now choose to go and visit the snow or not these days. I love snow – looked at through a window while in a warm room sipping on some libation! Enjoy your trip away. Hope the skiing is good.

  22. When I lived in Wisconsin, I frequently had to cancel lessons because, while people could get to my house, I only had street parking, and if there was a snow emergency (even if it really wasn’t that much), there was no place for them to park. If a kid’s parents could drop them off, that was one thing. But if they drove over? They’d get a ticket. Or towed.
    Also, I lived on a hill with a bunch of steps and had to shovel them and I have Reynaud’s Syndrome, so my hands BURN when they get cold. (Someone I shared a driveway with years ago wasn’t sympathetic; “maybe shoveling would warm them up!” I’d say, “No, it doesn’t work that way,” and she’d shrug, get out her snow blower and BLOW THE SNOW ON TOP OF MY CAR.) Sometimes a snowstorm would start while I was teaching, and the kid leaving would go out to find the steps nigh impassable. I had kids I would buy music for in exchange for them shoveling on their way out because I was stacked back to back with students in those days.
    Now I tell them there are no excuses for missing a lesson – at least not ones involving transportation, weather, or a slight case of sniffles. We’ve got Zoom, baby!

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