Tag Archives: winter

Winter 2007

Winter has been slow coming to Ontario this year. So slow, that although I prefer the sun and the warmth, I was beginning to feel somewhat deprived that winter still hadn’t arrived by January. In a fit of what could only be described as Canadian winter angst, I booked a ticket to somewhere I’d never actually visited, somewhere more likely to be experiencing some semblance of winter than Toronto.

In mid-January, I boarded a train at Union Station that took me as far as Montréal, where, after a brief pause on my journey, I was able to board the train to Québec City, where, yes, there was snow! Albeit not enough snow to open all the ski resorts. Adding to the pleasure of the trip was that my good friend and fellow writer Kathy Mac was able to join me, also arriving by train, but from Fredericton, New Brunswick. Between us, we’d travelled across at least a third of the country to meet at a point roughly halfway between our two homes.

The first evening we were there, we wandered along the boardwalk of the Château Frontenac, climbed many stairs and strode out onto the Plains of Abraham, named for Abraham Martin, an early settler who once grazed his cattle on its grasses. Site of the 1759 battle that altered the course of Canadian history, this is where both Wolfe and Montcalm died (along with countless other British, French, Canadian and Aboriginal soldiers). What surprised me most on first viewing was that the Plain was not the flat landscape I recalled from reproductions of paintings in my grade five history text, but was in fact more like a mogul ski course with a series of hillocks. I was quite distressed by this apparent inconsistency between what I knew the Plains of Abraham was supposed to look like and the seeming reality.

Over the course of the weekend, we wandered about the city (including an exploration of the old lower town ending in a funicular ride back up), ate great food (including a dessert called Pears Pernod that very nearly had me licking the plate), drank amazingly good coffee (everywhere), checked out museums and took the ferry to Lévis.

From across the St. Lawrence, it was possible to fully appreciate the grandeur of the height on which Québec City is perched. Although I’d seen pictures of the cliff face, it was far more treacherous and vertical than I’d realized. If I’d been in Wolfe’s army, I would’ve thought my general quite mad! It also explains why several failed attempts were made to approach Québec.

Later, during daylight hours, we took a longer walk out onto the Plain and I was finally able to appreciate its height, magnitude (one hundred and eight acres) and flatness (which begins further from the city walls than we had walked on our previous visit). Although relics of war still scatter the Plains in the form of various monuments and Martello towers, since 1908, this site has been known as Battlefields Park. Now the centre of Québec City recreation, the park is used year-round by residents and visitors alike. As you can see from the photo, a snowman now stands guard in front of one of the Martello towers.

Plans are afoot for the park’s centennial celebration next year, the centrepiece of which will be the Plains of Abraham Epic, a theatrical retelling of the park’s 400-year history, in mid-August. (More information is available at: http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/_en/index.php.)

The world is littered with battlefields, some ancient, some contemporary. I truly wish more politicians and governments could see the wisdom of transforming our battlefields into parks where kids and parents can play together in peace. It’s a great use for a battlefield and I would like to think it improves the vibes of a place that has seen so much death and suffering.

The weekend went by too quickly, ending with a few laps around the hotel pool before we had to board our divergent trains to return us to our different everyday worlds. But it was a pleasant and necessary time-out for us both. And of course it snowed a few days after I returned home.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

March – April 2004

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s been a difficult winter. The past few months have been full of heavy psycho-emotional challenges, severe enough that at times they’ve led to physical and financial challenges. Not a fun time. I’m very relieved to see signs of spring.

Through this, I’ve been thinking a lot about normalcy; what it is, why we’re encouraged to fit into it, how we feel when we don’t. Right from the time we enter our first institution, school, we’re encouraged to abide by a norm as prescribed by others and punished when we don’t. I spent a memorable portion of the second grade in the corner or occasionally in the hall. It’s not that I was a bad kid; I just didn’t see the rationale behind the rules I was expected to follow. Like, why should my verbal communication be suspended just because the teacher’s talking? It took me a long time to relearn that what I have to say is just as valid, that I’m just as entitled as the next person to say what I’m thinking. But it’s not something we’re encouraged to do.

Although I learned to play the school game okay, the only way I got through it was by keeping overstimulated with extracurricular activities; writing, music, theatre, art. If I’d been stuck with nothing but classes, I wouldn’t have survived. I’m just not built that way. Not that I’m abnormal, you understand, just easily bored. Personally, I was quite ecstatic the first time someone told me I was “eccentric,” but depending on the circumstance, I might not always be so pleased.

I suppose by now, I’m either supposed to have settled into a business career or given birth to two point three children. Having done neither, having no desire to do either, isn’t “normal.” Some people think that by my age, I should’ve outgrown any childish whims of an arts career. I recently overheard my mother say to my uncle that I don’t work a steady day job because I “don’t like the nine to five.” No mention that in the last ten years every steady day job I’ve had has led to clinical depression and that the last one gave me chronic lung infections and IBS to boot. Some of us just don’t function well in steady state; some of us are all-or-nothing workers. Hence my penchant for creative and freelance work. I have no qualms about doing twenty hour days, as long as I see some relevance, some point, to the work.

To quote a Douglas Coupland title, “All Families are Psychotic.” Well, to put it more politely, let’s just say that “normal” seems to have a very broad range in its application to the family project. For instance, when middle-aged children start saying their parents are suffering from dementia, how is that state defined? What is normal to the natural decline of the aging process and what constitutes an abnormality, a problem? And where can we draw the line between what the aging parent is experiencing and our perception of that? How can we know where our judgement is valid and when it’s a reaction to our own fears of aging, our own mortality? Who’s to decide what normal is, when we’re all in the same boat and facing similar anxieties?

A close friend of mine has experienced a variety of medications intended to create a chemically induced version of “normal” for individuals whose brain chemistry isn’t considered such by the medical profession. Generally, the meds make him lethargic, zombielike. Is that normal? Decidedly not and it certainly isn’t his normal. Whose idea of normal is created by playing with brain chemistry? Arguably, if someone is causing themselves or others harm, some version of chemical control may be desirable, so society can sleep at night, so we know our loved ones aren’t in the bathroom slashing their wrists. But when an individual isn’t exhibiting these actions, what’s to be gained by making them feel controlled if they don’t want to be?

As I said, it’s been a difficult winter. But my twenty-year-old cat, the one I didn’t think was going to see another spring, has. On our most recent visit to the vet, I noticed tulips breaking the surface of the cold ground and daffodils blooming. I quietly celebrated, congratulating him, telling him that soon he’d be able to enjoy the sun on the balcony again.

What’s sustained me through the winter has been kids TV shows. The world is much brighter, simpler and easier to take, when I start the day with “Tractor Tom” or “Yoko, Jakomoko, Toto” along with my morning coffee. This behaviour might indeed be perceived as eccentric and I doubt I’m the “normal” demographic, but five or ten minutes of something funny or poignant, and often quite insightful with regard to human emotion, certainly isn’t harming anyone.

I moved my geraniums out onto the balcony on the weekend and have plans to put in vibrantly colourful flowers this year. I still have lots of work on my plate, but at least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and am beginning to think about summer plans. I did some vocal practice last night for the first time in a long time and man, did that feel good! I need to get my time reorganized, so I can get back to working out again and playing piano regularly. I’ve been so swamped with paying work and family matters, that I’ve gotten very little writing done. I have to remedy that. I have projects mounting up and too little time and energy to complete them. Years ago a palm reader informed me that this would a breakthrough year for me. I plan on making that true. Happy spring!

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004