The thing about being on sabbatical during the winter term is that no matter what else changes, it’s still winter! And boy, have we had a reminder of that this week, with three storms already in the past seven days and another one apparently barreling up towards us tonight.
It’s no secret around here that I don’t cope well with east coast winters. Yes, it is very bright when the sun shines on the snowy landscape, and bare branches look better frosted with ice than not. But that’s really not very cheering when you spend your sunny day chiseling out the driveway and hoping the roads will be cleared in time to make it to appointments, lessons, and rehearsals, not to mention just to school and work.
Since I finally gave up on my dream of relocating, I have tried to find ways to make winters here less stressful, and I have actually narrowed down the problem to one main issue: winter driving. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned here before that I am fairly phobic about driving anyway — not everyday city driving, but I experience intense anxiety when driving (or, worse, being driven) on highways, for instance, or across suspension bridges, or on snow- or ice-covered roads. People who never suffer themselves from stomach-clenching pulse-racing anxiety are often disbelieving, impatient, or irritable about it and about the inhibitions it creates. I have struggled with it a lot myself, because I know that my fear leads me to pass up opportunities. Feeling guilty, ashamed, or self-critical has not, however, turned out to help at all (as other anxious people will probably understand). So a while ago I decided to give myself a break and spend less time either facing down or smiling bravely over the fear, and to live as much as possible within my comfort zone. I have enough stress about things that I can’t choose to avoid. Driving long distances, however? Not required. Going over the bridges to Dartmouth? Almost never necessary. The things I miss out on just, for now, don’t matter to me as much as the bad experience I’m spared.
Driving in the winter, however, is hard to escape altogether. If I could get by without driving when it’s snowy, though, I think I might not find winter stressful at all. Unpleasant, sure (I’m just never going to be one of those “take the lid off winter” types, and I don’t think anybody likes shoveling), but not anxiety-inducing. The problem is that walking isn’t a realistic option for everything we need to do, especially since a typical winter mess here is not just fluffy snowflakes but includes nasty ice pellets and freezing rain. (Today’s lovely variation is rain falling on top of 2 inches of ice that formed over about 6 inches of snow: huge lakes are forming where drains are blocked, and pedestrians are clambering precariously over mountains of encrusted slush.) Even if I were OK with dressing like some kind of Arctic sea explorer and sloshing doggedly through it, it’s a bit much to make the kids do the same, and add doctors and orthodontists and music lessons and extra-curricular activities to the basic demands of work and school and we really can’t manage without going in the car, however stomach-clenchingly pulse-racingly awful it makes me feel.
I have been doing better in the last couple of years, actually, and the more times I actually go out and drive in conditions like, say, yesterday’s or today’s, the more I know that it’s really not that bad if you have snow tires (I do) and take it slowly (you better believe I do!). But I still really hate it, and I hate the uncertainty associated with it too: I’m someone who likes to plan, to know what’s happening when, and the combination of unpredictable weather and hard choices between not driving and not going somewhere (or not getting someone else where they want or need to be) … let’s just say it doesn’t bring out the best in me.
There is something different this year, though, and that’s my perspective on winters in Halifax. I have been realizing that this whole mess is a problem that I might, one day, actually be able to solve, or at least work around. For one thing, the kids are growing up. Owen starts at Dalhousie in the fall, and he’s probably moving into residence; Maddie is almost in high school. As their independence grows, so does mine. OK, so I couldn’t make a lateral career move to Vancouver. I almost certainly won’t be able afford to retire there either, and even if I thought I could, retirement’s a long way away. But eventually things like taking sabbaticals out of town won’t seem implausible, and maybe down the road I can figure out other ways to split my time between here and there. “Halifax is so nice in the summer,” people always enthuse. Well, so are most places, so that’s never seemed like a compelling argument in favor of Halifax in particular! But if I could get out of Halifax when it isn’t so nice (and spend more time, also, with the friends and family I miss so much when I’m stranded out here), I wouldn’t be so grudging about its charms.
It’s not a lot to hang on to, but when things are grim here at least I can keep playing with different scenarios, trying to figure out how I could make them work when the time comes. For now, though, I guess I’d better go see if I can clear any more ice away while it’s mild outside, because it’s supposed to drop to -14 again overnight (-26 with the wind chill!) and if all the stuff that’s melting now just freezes in place, I might never leave the house again.