1 month in a meat locker: reflections and questions

Since we arrived in Hamilton 1 month ago the outside temperature has oscillated between a balmy -5 and a frigid -23 (colder with wind chill). Most days have loitered around -15. An extreme cold warning has been in effect seemingly most of the month. A Brit by birth I like to think I don’t always have to talk about the weather, but this is different. Surely.IMG_3994

This is a new world to me. (Thankfully it IS a historically cold month for locals as well). As a counsellor and someone naturally curious about people’s experience of life, I wonder how an especially cold spell like this affects people interpersonally, emotionally, as well as practically.

And before I turn to the psychological questions, I acknowledge the life-threatening physical risks. People who are homeless, inadequately-housed, who work outside or have medical conditions are particularly at risk, as are infants and seniors. It’s painful to hear of the recent deaths of the children and homeless people in Toronto as a result of the cold. And I give a deep bow to the folks at the Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser.

Reflections so farphoto-13

Above -10 and you’ll find us snow-shoeing, hiking, throwing snowballs, checking out the ice-skating on the lake, and stroller-walking to rec centres. I’m a little surprised that I find it so enjoyable – it’s sunny mostly which helps a lot. I’ve even been jogging in -10. Odd. In my favour here is that it’s also still new to me and my associations with snow and cold are linked to vacations.

It’s the colder periods I’m particularly curious about.  So far I notice:

It’s hard to get outside with a toddler in anything below -15

Especially if it’s more than a quick snow-suited trip to the frigid car. So I stay inside more. Notable effects of this:

  • getting outside (even to the car) has a new “mission critical” element, especially with a toddler who doesn’t like gloves. So stress levels and hassle factor is higher, along with “will I make it” , “is it worth it” and “how cold is too cold” internal conversations.
  • my body is not getting the exercise it wants
  • my toddler is not getting the social and physical action he wants
  • said toddler gets frustrated; parents get worn down
  • my husband and I especially relish other people’s company when they come visit

I wonder “where did everyone go”

The streets are almost empty on those cold days. As a newcomer it’s a bit bewildering. That is until I went to the Jackson Square mall.

I notice how little people talk about “it”

Apart from in the local library that is. But on Valentine’s night there was a wind chill of -40. My husband and I boldly walked to a local restaurant regardless. After what seemed like a monumental, perhaps life-endangering walk, we enter and everyone is chatting sweetly at their separate tables as if nothing was going on outside. In my mind it would be cause for a group huddle with strangers to debrief our various missions to get there and strategise about next steps. I think I’m used to similar extreme conditions in mountain huts rather than city restaurants.

Heating costs!

If I was paying directly for heat I would likely be concerned about the heating bill. Now I just find the warmest room and feel grateful.

What’s your experience?

As a newcomer, will you help me understand the local collective psyche? Please try out the comment section below.

  • Do you hibernate and stay at home when you can?
    • If so: how does this affect your family relationships?
    • Do you feel a greater sense of lonliness/isolation, or a greater sense of community?
  • What about lack of exercise? Or did I land in a land of diligent gym-goers?
  • Do you feel more stress re getting to work/school/etc, or getting groceries?
  • How do the elderly fair if they don’t have a car? Or parents of young kids without wheels?
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One Response to 1 month in a meat locker: reflections and questions

  1. ericadee says:

    Steph..
    I experienced similar culture and weather shock moving to our new locale as well. The first winter I persevered and walked all the time, pushing a stroller through snow drifts and frozen icy ruts on crosswalks. I asked people’s advice. The resounding answer was WE DRIVE EVERYWHERE.
    The second winter (this one) I’ve localized a bit and have become a traitor to my former environmental treehugging identity…I’ll drive 4 blocks to go to an indoor open toddler gym space, the library, or the community centre. I can handle walking in the cold-ish weather (and admittedly there are beautiful chinook days where it soars to +10 overnight)…but often the cold vs the time crunch of my day vs my desire to be in adult company (and give O a break from me!) means just getting there quick.

    And leaving the west coast…we really, really noticed a huge downslide in our personal fitness. Driving, home-bodying, and weather all combine to help boost the BMI and decrease the vitamin D intake. So that’s been a slow recovery, personally speaking. I see people who aren’t so car-reliant or who don’t have cars pushing their kids around, so extremely bundled, but on really cold days nobody is outside. The thing I consider most is O’s need for physical activity on a daily basis and I’m not totally confident that she gets enough.

    I realize this response isn’t local to you, but the experience of moving into a climate which more accurately reflects the entire rest of the country from the tiny sliver of temperate green west coast is something we’ve both recently experienced and I’m glad you’re taking the time to elucidate it and try to figure it out a bit more. Good luck!

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