1897 Winter

“Winter”, Melbourne Punch, 3 June 1897, 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174626116

Saturday 10am #6

The trip to Canberra in July two years ago is my most vivid winter memory. We were staying on the outskirts at the edge of the mountains, and on our first day we were walking at midday in cold, crisp air while the sun shone in a cloudless sky, a lemony light. I love winter sun and this was its most pure expression. Other days of true cold, where it hurt to even be outside, wind, rain – all those winter things. Perhaps I glimpsed snow for the first time on a hilltop. And nights – I’d never experienced negative six degrees before. But the slate floor was heated, a warm presence.  I could live in Canberra, if the chance arose.

As a child in the bush, when the winter rain came the track along the railway would flood and become a stream, impassable by bike for weeks. Tadpoles would appear and slime and the croaking of frogs would take over. On cold mornings we checked the single sheep trough on the way down our long driveway to see if a skin of ice had formed. When Dad put the news on at night, I would listen for the weather just to see if Collie had edged out Bridgetown for the state’s coldest minimum. It only happened a couple of times, to my great disappointment. I was a competitive, patriotic child, wanting me, my school, my town, my country to win in every sphere.

I have literary memories of winter too.

Narnia’s perpetual winter, a land blanketed in snow forever. Yet without the witch’s winter curse, Lucy would not have had her cosy afternoon tea with Mr Tumnus the faun.

A single line from Stephen Lawhead’s Arthurian saga, the hero of book four or so trudging through interminable snow saying to himself, ‘I’ve been cold before’. I adopted this as one of my mantras through the turbulence of years eleven and twelve and the way I remember it, it helped me get through as it helped that hero get through.

The painful cold bookending Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone (2016), as Michael camps out in a holiday house with his brother going cold turkey from antidepressants.  The wintry chill of that book has stuck in my bones since I read it last year.

Here in the antipodes we only have a taste of winter, can’t appreciate its full force. For us, winter is a little dreary. It seems unreasonable that there are days it’s unpleasant to be outside. It’s worsened by the taunts of Northern Hemispherians on Twitter luxuriating in their long summer. But they will have their winter soon enough, and their winter, unlike ours, is deadly.