This week in Memphis, Tennessee — latitude 35 degrees north — they’re experiencing uncommonly low temperatures of 29 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s minus 2, for the rest of us. That’s below freezing, for all of us. So this morning, as they chafed their hands and worried about their porch-dwelling street kitty who won’t be coaxed indoors, Cliff said to Gina, “I wonder how people up north handle this.”
During heat waves, I’ve had the same question about people in the southern United States: How can they stand this hot weather? I’ve had to be informed, for example, that most homes down there come with air conditioning, which is an optional convenience in Canada.
So fair is fair. Here’s my take on how we Canadians — and many Americans, who live at higher latitudes than I (Toronto is only 43 degrees north, while Minneapolis is 45 and Seattle 47) handle the cold weather.
First, we expect it. Canadians like to joke that we have two seasons: Winter and July. We wear our snowbelt citizenship like a Rotary Club badge.
Pride begets investment. It is no shame to own gloves, mittens, touques, woolen scarves, thick leotards, heavy socks, flannel shirts, lined trousers, turtlenecks, pullovers, and cardigans. We own city-style winter boots and clumsy felt-lined boots, and coats in several weights and lengths. We wore undershirts before Marlon Brando rendered them sexy. Layering: it’s what we do.
Our homes are heated. Homeowners may grumble about the cost of furnace oil or natural gas, but paying those bills is as unquestioned as buying food. Apartment buildings and rooming houses are legally required to provide a certain minimum temperature; many apartments are often overheated if there is a central control, because the units don’t heat evenly, so in order for the coldest apartment to be up to standard, others may be too warm. There are regulations for minimum insulation amounts as well.
4. City infrastructure.
Some of our cities have developed ways to keep the public indoors. There is an extensive underground pedestrian passageway in Montreal, and some in Toronto as well. The gigantic West Edmonton Mall is the world’s largest indoor shopping complex; I’m not sure if it still does, but it used to include a roller coaster, of all things! And of course subway transit systems are highly appreciated in that they run no matter how deep the snow piles up.
5. Winter sports.
One aid in warming up is to get colder. We walk the dog, go tobogganing, lace up skates, strap on skis or snowshoes, and go out for some fresh air. By the time we get in, the living room feels downright cozy.
6. Bodily adaptation.
I knew a young woman who moved to Montreal from Vietnam one September. She spent the first week huddled under blankets, while everyone else was still going outside in tee shirts or maybe nylon windbreakers.
I have been told, as well, about Sputnik. He was a Newfoundland dog my parents owned when they lived in the chilly prairie town of Saskatoon. He was an outside dog, with his own dog house. One Christmas Day it was minus 40, and Mum felt bad about the poor dog, all alone in the bitter cold. So they let Sputnik into the house. He immediately fainted. It was too warm for him. So they revived him and took him back outside, where he was happy as a clam.
And so, Gina and Cliff, I bet your street kitty will be fine — especially if he gets the odd nibble of tuna now and then, lucky cat!