#YEG: Fire in Winter

Candy-coated memories stave off the winter blues.

Illustration Jason Lin

Time has the remarkable ability to candy-coat our memories. The further we get from a time in our lives that had both highs and lows, the more likely it is we remember only the highs. For me, this phenomenon is an annual event: It is winter in Edmonton.

Each year, I start the season in starry-eyed anticipation of our city’s truly unique winter experiences: Skating at the Legislature, devouring festival-inspired cabane sucre, cross-country skiing beneath a glittering city skyline. 

Each year I forget that, by around February, the shine is decidedly off the icicle. I forget that yes, winter will include skiing, skating and snowman-ing, but it will also include shoveling, scraping, slipping and slogging. I forget that leaving the house with two children (to “enjoy ourselves!”) is a 25-minute ordeal that is often both teary and shouty.  

Sixty-odd days in, and I realize that my winter memories have, once again, been artificially sweetened by the glory of summer. How did I forget this? I wonder in mounting panic, knowing spring is still months away. How will we survive? 

It was at precisely such a moment last year, that I (tearily and shoutily) bundled up my children and headed for “Fire Sculpture” at the Silver Skate Festival. Friends of mine were participating artists: They’d spent an entire day in the cold assembling willow sticks, mounds of straw and little Epsom-salt bomb things into an enormous bird. That night, they would finish their creation … by burning it to the ground. 

As a pearlescent moon rose over the frosty Hawrelakian trees, I huddled with a crowd of hardy Edmontonians and watched my friends’ days-long labour ignite in a dazzling ball of flame. Their vision and careful planning, their methodical assembly and remarkable execution – all of it was in ashes, literally, in less than 10 minutes. 

Ten cathartic minutes. Minutes full of rebellion and surrender. We gathered defiantly in that extreme cold, reveling in our bravery, even as the inferno unsettled any notions of permanence or resiliency. The ephemerality of the art reaffirmed a truth I had forgotten: This (winter) too, shall pass. 

I’m sure my toes were blocks of ice and that my children complained about snow in their mitts, but I truly can’t recall.

And better to remember fondly, live presently. When, this winter, I am disabused of my sugar-coated expectations by endless sidewalk shoveling in the 20 below, I will rebel against it all while simultaneously relinquishing any pretense of control: I will burn something, and look forward to the memory. 

Kate A. Boorman is a writer who lives in Edmonton with her husband and two children. Her debut novel, Winterkill (Abrams/Amulet, 2014), is the first book in a fantasy trilogy for young readers, set on the reimagined frontier. It features an isolated settlement, one determined heroine, a creepy forest and (you guessed it) winter. 

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