Since this photo was taken, we've had quite a bit of rain and warmer days here, and the sidewalks, for the most part, have shed not only the snow but also their coating of bulletproof glare ice that has called for cleats and crampons. But we all know we're heading into the long haul now: those endless months of February and March when it seems like winter will never loosen its grip -- or perhaps I should write, as the French do when speaking of flu, its grippe.
As for me, I went in search of a vaccination anti-grippe last Friday, and ended up at a public clinic above a pharmacy, where I waited for nearly two hours before the infirmiare called me for the ten-second procedure. There was no line for shots, nothing like that -- just the long wait that everyone complains about in the public sector, and then a quick, efficient, competent health care provider and well-equipped, spotless lab at the other end. I was fortunate; a lot of clinics have run out of vaccine just as the flu season starts to peak. But I came down with a cold anyway, this week, and today stayed home, drinking tea with lemon and ginger and piling up tissues in the wastebasket.
This cold has been having its way with our choir, especially since we've had a number of performances and extra rehearsals lately at which everyone is required if at all possible. On Sunday, as we sang the first piece in the Epiphany Lessons and Carols service near the high altar, I had a momentary vision of all the microbes dancing in the air, released like the contents of Pandora's Box and propelled by the strong lung capacity of thirty singers. The need for musical concentration quickly dispensed with that vision, but I suspect it wasn't far from reality.
Earlier in the day I had reluctantly consumed the communion wafer placed in my hand which had just shared the Peace with half a dozen other souls, but declined to drink from the communal cup. My mother once told me that a former rector of hers insisted that it was impossible to get ill from the shared communion chalice because no agents of deisease could live in the consecrated wine. I wonder how many people still believe that. But even if it weren't for sharing our droplets and shaking one another's paws, all I'd have to do is ride on a few metro cars or buses, where everyone is hacking, or touch the poles or railings and forget to wash... and winter would do its work.
So that's just part of life in the north, where we're all forced into cozy indoor togetherness for months on end. I've been glad for this recent thaw, because I've been able to walk outside again without risking a broken wrist or worse. The other night, coming home from leading contemplative prayer, I got out of the metro one stop early and walked north through the park, hoping to suspend the meditative space I was in. No one was skating; pools of water stood atop the ice, reflecting the small blue lights strung in great loops in the trees along the lake's edge. The path was full of mushy snow and a few bare spots, and I made my way with relative ease, stepping off now and then into deeper snow or crunchy, disintegrating ice when the path was flooded. Along with the quiet and the solitude, I felt that exhilaration that only comes in winter: the sharp clean slap of the air on your face, the buoyant heart, the acknowledgement of winter's stark beauty, the thrill of being out in it with a sixth sense of what to do that developed in early childhood.
During the days when it was so icy, I watched elderly people picking their way across streets and along the frozen sidewalks to the shops, and worried for them, wondering if and when I'd join their ranks. Many Canadians, of course, go south for the winter -- and we may escape for a week or two to someplace warmer -- but I can't see myself abandoning this place for the whole season. Life, to me, consists of seasons -- all of them -- and while I'd just as soon pass on the bugs and the grippe, I'd miss that heightened awareness that winter demands, and the pleasure of curling up under a comforter on a cold night with a book and a cup of hot tea. These days, I'm reading Tomas Transtromer, and painting Iceland, and I feel at home.