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The cold of old

BY Sonny Orr Feb 10, 2023

It’s 40 below as I try to start my car early in the morning. The cold, cold crisp air burns my lungs as I enter my vehicle to sit on a rock-hard frozen seat. The engine churns slowly before it sputters alive and spews out white vapour. 

I’m hoping that it’s not oil that’s smoking but it’s just the beginning of what could have been a sad day for this commuter. I head back inside to warm up my nose and fingers and wait for the four-cylinder motor to warm up. 

A half hour later I venture back out and see if the windshield is defrosted. Yep, it has cleared up enough to peer outside. Slowly, I back out of my driveway worried that the car won’t achieve forward motion, given how stiff the gear shift feels.

The streets are quiet save for the occasional vehicle that must have been plugged in overnight. The exhaust leaves a contrail low to the ground and slowly, the haze clouds up the street. Damn polar vortex, making the North the True North of days of old, when cold weather would last all winter and well into the spring. 

It’s time to get the grandchildren off to school and daycare. The youngest one is cold and shivering and as I pick her up to put her in the car, she stiffens up like a board and makes it a little difficult to place her on the car seat. No one says much as it’s too cold to complain.

Eventually, after dropping everyone off at school, the daycare and work, I head to my secluded office to start another day of this new year. The office is comfortably warm, and I settle into my plush leather chair. Another day and another 75 cents – this crazy inflation rate eats away at everyone’s budget. We’re making barely what we need to keep fuel in the vehicle long enough to warm up. 

Yes, it’s that time of the year when life keeps grinding away. You can see it on some people’s frozen faces: the faint hope that one day the sun will stay out long enough to warm up the northern regions of the planet. 

On another note, it seems that the rotation of the earth’s core is slowing down. What that means for the planet and humanity, only the future knows. What more could we ask for in terms of what could next go wrong. Maybe the sun will cool down, and we will head totally unprepared into the next ice age. Perhaps the return of a mastodon or a sabre-toothed tiger? The end of the warming world as we know it? 

I head to the gas station, grasp the frozen pump handle, and it churns out some bubbly stuff before the liquid of global warming streams out as it should. I wonder if my fuel injectors can take this punishment. But the car turns over normally with barely a complaint, and I head home to warm up my tootsies again.

Lunch is hurriedly concocted; a simple sandwich and hot soup does the trick. And it brings me back to the days when every lunch hour was a bologna sandwich with cheese and a dribble of mayo, and soup was just a dried package of flavour stirred into a bowl of warm water. 

I’m glad that, these days, I can afford real soup in a can and bread that hasn’t gone stale. In fact, foodstuffs on grocery store shelves don’t last long enough to go bad. I have to fight for the last loaf, grab the remaining brick of butter before driving my shopping cart like a maniac to get to the till, enduring grocery aisle road rage from other rabid shoppers. 

At least we aren’t lining up outside in the minus-40 cold, waiting for our turn to enter the supermarket.

Perhaps this year will be a promising one. The official start of spring is only seven weeks away, though it’s very hard to imagine right now. So, keep warm and don’t freeze any exposed appendages, folks!

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.