Friday, January 21, 2011

Prairie Claustrophobia

The words "prairie" and "claustrophobia" probably seem oxymoronic.  What could be less claustrophobic than prairie skies that go right to the horizon?  Yet this winter, the endless snow and the white days that have no depth and make you feel like you're about to bump into an enormous stretch of white wall are claustrophobic.  Snow piles up besides the road, narrowing the streets and making it difficult to see oncoming traffic at intersections.  The snow that covers your car during every five-minute errand also piles up in ruts on the roads.  Everything seems harder than it should be:  you have to brush off your car before you can go anywhere, and probably brush it off every time you stop.  If you care about pedestrians, you shovel endlessly.

On the better days, the sun is little more than an idea, a slightly brighter haze somewhere off to the south.  On other days, you can't sense time passing:  you're caught in the eternal and cheerless present of unchanging light--creating another kind of claustrophobia, a temporal disorientation so profound that I sometimes feel in my office at the university, where my windows have been coated in gray film to keep my office cooler in summer and warmer in winter, that I work in continuous dusk.  My sense of natural time has disappeared because I can't simply look outside and know intuitively what time it is.

Saskatchewan folk have their sayings about weather--most of which are true:  ``It`s a dry cold.``  Or ``It isn`t the cold, it`s the wind.``  This uncharacteristic cloudy winter weather--an effect of climate change, perhaps, like the cool, wet springs and summers we`ve been having--is challenging our weather saws.  Now we huddle in corners and whisper together, trying to find the words that say we can cope with the cold, but are having an awful time with the cloudy days and the relentless snow.  Our spirits droop.

Then suddenly one morning we awake to the openness of cold.  It's minus 36, though there's no wind.  The nearly full moon in the west gleams over a clear sky.  As I drive just before sunrise to the university through Wascana Park to admire the growing light, the trees stretch inky blue-black against the transparent blue sky.

The next morning, the white walls are back.  There's only one thing to do:  wear my hot pink silk jacket and pretend I'm somewhere else.

1 comment:

  1. This world you describe sounds like something out of a fantasy film to me. My years have all been spent on the West Coast, where our cold is wet and humid, grey and rainy, but always short-lived. I can't imagine what life on the prairies must be like; it seems too far away from my own experiences. Here, we have the mountains to the east and the ocean west, and a sky that never stops bringing something new. Our island sayings are old lines like, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."

    I wonder how I would fair on the prairies?