Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the top: I hate winter. Honestly, I never used to have a problem with this season until my family moved up to Northwestern Ontario right before I started Grade 11. After that, it was straight downhill in the winter-loving department. For me, there are four defining moments in my life that made me realize how winter and I share totally different philosophies of life.
The first occurred in high school when I had to walk to a hockey game one evening. Here’s something you should probably not recommend to your children: trudging several miles at night carrying a duffel bag loaded with goalie equipment in -47 Celsius (-53 F) weather. Imagine adding cold on top of cold on top of cold. Got it? Good, because that’s still nothing close to what I felt like that night.
But, that’s just the tip of iceberg. And I’m not using that cliché figuratively. A few years later, a buddy of mine offered to take me out ice fishing. Well, gosh, that sounds like it might be a lot of fun, doesn’t it? If it’s anything like the grand old time those characters had ice fishing in the animated version of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, I bet it will be a blast. But, only if you’re referring to a blast of Arctic air.
I must have missed the memo on why ice fishing is fun. Does it include spending two hours auguring a hole through ice that seems to be a metre thick? How about sitting on a metal stool on a windswept lake waiting for something interesting to happen while every other creature is hibernating? Or perhaps packing up to leave ten hours later after catching absolutely nothing – except the worst cold of my life? Somehow, they must have left those details off the sales brochure.
The last two instances happened when I worked on the ‘utility crew’ at the local paper mill after high school. Put ‘paper mill’ and ‘winter’ in the same sentence and you know you’ve got good material right there. Add in the words ‘utility crew’ and you have the bonus of not knowing exactly what job you’re going to be assigned when you show up for work each day.
In the first case, I was working in the area called the ‘wood room.’ This is where frozen logs come up from the frozen river along a frozen trough and into a wet, frozen building where frozen workers use frozen hooks to move those frozen logs into the next area of the mill. Part of the ‘fun’ of being on the utility crew was not being able to dress properly for the yet-to-be-assigned job you’re doing on a particular day. In this case, it would have been positively splendid if I’d known that wood room workers wear insulated rubber boots (not winter boots), wet suits (not winter parkas) and waterproof gloves (not winter gloves). Long story short, 18 seconds into my 12-hour shift every part of my body was soaked and, for the next half-day, was constantly re-soaked and re-frozen. You know the expression, “It sends shivers down my spine?” Yeah, that.
Finally, there was one other night that will live on forever in my winter memories. It involves the last evening before a Christmas holiday shutdown at the very same mill. Remember when I mentioned that I never knew what I was doing when I showed up for the start of a shift? How about not knowing what you’re doing for the first 11 hours of your 12 hour shift?
On the night in question, I reported for duty and was told to “sit in the lunchroom and wait.” So, wait I did. Several hours later, the supervisor I was working with showed up to make sure I was still there and assure me that he’d be coming to get me soon. Did I mention that he was already blind stinking drunk at this point? Or that I was starting to worry just a bit about what job I’d actually be doing?
Several more hours later, he showed up again to let me know we were almost ready to go. Did I mention that he was now about eight sheets to the wind and could barely stand up? At this point, I definitely started worrying a lot. Exactly what type of job would require almost no time to complete but would be worth bringing me in for a full 12 hour shift? I was about to find out.
About an hour before the shift was over, my fine inebriated friend stumbled in the door, bellowing, “It’s time.” Time for what? When I asked that question, he said, “You’ll find out.” And I did. Apparently, when they shut down the mill for the holiday break, one of the jobs that had to be done was to close off all the fan vents. On the roof. Of a several storey high tower. In the middle of winter. On one of the windiest, blizzardiest (it’s not a word, so don’t bother looking it up) nights I’ll ever remember in my life.
I’d always heard that alcohol tricks the body into ignoring the elements, but I’d never had any concrete proof until I saw my supervisor stumbling around blindly and obliviously that winter evening on the roof of some godforsaken paper mill in Northwestern Ontario. Somehow, all the vents managed to get closed that evening, but I’ll never know how. And, somehow, my drunken friend and I survived the night to tell the tale. Well, at least I did.
So, that’s my chilling story and I’m sticking to it. It’s also why I hate winter so much. Some memories can’t be unfrozen no matter how much time passes. And these are just a few of them. Therefore, I ask this question one more time: Does anyone hate winter more than me?