Monday, 15 January 2007

Oh, I do want to be...

Last night I dreamt of rain. I haven’t seen rain since the start of October. I won’t see it again till April. Of course, I can’t wish for rain, because rain now would be dangerous. If it hadn’t frozen and exploded in shards on your head before it hit the ground, it would freeze into a death-dealing ice rink the moment it did. But oh, I miss it.

“But it’s a dry cold!” everyone says as they breezily throw on another fleece hood that covers nose, mouth and eyes, and then wrap a scarf around the outside and jam a hat on top of the whole precarious construction. “Aren’t we lucky? If it were damp, it’d get into our bones and we’d all be miserable.”

Before I came to Saskatchewan, I was taken in by it all. The heady thought of “dry cold”, that holy grail to island-dwellers who drag themselves through five months of grey skies in winter and four months of grey skies in summer. Oh, the eye-popping blue of the Saskatchewan heavens! Their cloudless, rainless expanse! Aren’t we lucky? Aren’t we lucky?

Comedian and wise man Rich Hall, sometime resident of Montana (Saskatchewan’s neighbour to the south), notes that what we call ‘winter’, “the rest of the world calls ‘the abbreviated glacial age’.” He’s not kidding. (incidentally, comedian and wise man Rich Hall now lives primarily in London, and is probably warm).

Now, a sea coast in winter is a beautiful and terrifying thing. The bashing and swirling of winter on coastal rocks is something to behold; the iron-grey waves give you a satisfying sense of security when you shut the door on them and sit by the fire with a hot cup of tea. Here, I don’t even have amber waves of grain to pretend a sea, due to some freak weather conditions in the summer that ruined all the crops (I am only a newcomer, but through my limited experience of the Saskatchewan agriconomy, it appears that even normal weather conditions are in fact freak weather conditions in disguise, and they still ruin all the crops).

This daughter of a seafaring nation has cabin fever in reverse. I’ve never rowed, sailed, or fished, but nevertheless the sea is calling. And it’s two days’ drive in one direction, and five days’ in the other. Having lived all my life in England, where even the very geographical centre of the country – as far as one can possibly be from the sea – is only a couple of hours from the coast, if I think about how far I now am from a shingle shore and the sound of the tide, and how long it’ll be before I need an umbrella, I get a miniature panic attack.

I don’t know the legend and lore and rhyme that kids have here. They don’t grow up with “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside” and “rain, rain, go away” as their staple childhood songs. How do you fill the never-ending car journey that it takes to get from here to… anywhere? “Oh, I do like to drive in a straight line for seven hours”?; “rain, rain, come every morning for just about half an hour during the summer, so we can at least salvage some of the harvest and make a half-decent living”?

Of course, should I actually make it to the rain and the sea and the coast anytime soon, here’s what would happen. I would dash into the curling waves, fall on my knees, raise my arms to the slate-grey heavens and declaim “Break, break, break/ On thy cold grey stones, O Sea!” with teary and thankful eyes.

Thereafter, of course, you’d find me indoors bitching about the damp and how it gets into your bones, just like everyone else. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it doesn’t take long to bring a coast-dweller back to her senses. But for that one glorious moment, it will all have been worthwhile.

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