What a wild week weather wise. Itís been snowing pretty much nonstop for almost two weeks in our neck of the woods; this after almost five months of drought. Moisture starved as we are, people seemed to be unusually cheerful about receiving a couple feet of snow in a month that normally holds our most gorgeous fall weather. Having crossed from October to November with snow continuing to fall as rapidly as the temperatures, thereís no denying winter is here. But obviously we have little to complain about. Not only are we desperate for precipitation in whatever form it falls, but our weather feels like a paid vacation compared to earthquakes and hurricanes.
When the earthquake hit off the shores of Haida Gwaii on October 27th we were at a family gathering. We were all sitting around the kitchen table playing password when just after 8:00 pm the light over the table started swinging back and forth. Both my sister and I have children living on the west coast. We looked at the light and then at each other, knowing what the other was thinking but both slow to give voice to it. Weíre about half an hour from the Alberta border so pretty far inland. And all the fracking activity in our area causes lots of small earthquakes, so we chalked it up to that. Turns out our first instincts were right. Sort of. Thankfully no one was hurt, though the loss of the hot spring on Hotspring Island was a shocking and sad outcome.
A couple days ago I overheard a conversation between two people in the mall. They were discussing the earthquake when one said to the other, ďWell, if theyíre stupid enough to live there what do they expect?Ē
Ironically, when I was in Vancouver I once overheard similar sentiments expressed about us.
ďTheyíre always complaining about all the oil and gas activity and the damming of their rivers,Ē one fellow said in exasperation. ďBut they donít need to be living up there. No one needs to live that far north.Ē
Both sentiments were like a punch to my eavesdropping gut, but I doubt either one really meant it. What we donít understand we tend to fear and fear so often expresses itself as judgement. Itís our fallible way of making sense of things or of distancing ourselves from disturbing situations. But that still doesnít make it right. Thankfully the vast majority of people have nothing but empathy and compassion for anyone caught in the elements, whether itís an earthquake, the frozen north or Hurricane Sandy.
We all have to live somewhere and thereís nowhere that doesnít come with its own set of risks. Pick your poison...pollution or tsunamis, hypothermia or desert heat, hurricanes or earthquakes, snake bites or gang attacks. The ďBig OneĒ could happen today or it could happen a century from now. Hurricanes can blow themselves out before hitting land, or they can wreak heartbreaking devastation. Winter could come to the frozen north or it could...wait a minute. When you think about it, thereís no ďifĒ to our winters. Temperatures will plummet, snow will fall and roads will drift. Every year on average 80 Canadians will die from over exposure to the cold, not to mention accidents caused by ice, drifting snow or poor visibility. Pending climate change, it will happen this year, next year and the year after that one too. And yet we live here anyway; for the same reasons people live anywhere.
And what a wonderful thing it is that we all embrace different landscapes! What if we all wanted to live in the exact same kind of climate? Things would get a tad crowded in a hurry. Instead of passing judgement, we should be grateful others embrace life in places we think we would never chance to live.
Family, familiarity and jobs factor into choosing our home, but for me itís so much more. Itís the big skies, northern lights and orange soaked sunsets. Itís the moose bunting on our window pane, the creak of a ravenís wing overhead and the flash of fox fur in the field. Itís even the bears. Itís the sparkling snowscapes, cobalt skies and lemon leafed aspens. Itís even the forty below. Itís the snow melt, gumbo boots and the first green flush of spring. Itís even the snowstorms in May. Itís the summer sun pulling 20 hour stints, bees humming and the smell of fresh cut hay. Itís even the droughts. This is the home Iíve chose. And should I succumb to the cold I hope no one says I deserved it for choosing to live so far north, but they probably will.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com