There’s quite a bit of snow falling in Ontario today. Not too atypical for mid-November this far North. I can’t help but look outside and think back to mid-November in Arizona last year. While the valley surrounding the Phoenix area was still t-shirt friendly, places in the higher altitudes were preparing for some colder weather.
I was receiving my in-service training, as per usual, on a warm Wednesday morning in Mesa, Arizona. We were preparing to depart for our regular eight day shift in the high desert, however, the mood felt different from the accustomed excitement and cheer. I had not checked the weather forecast but it seemed everyone else had, and they were mentally preparing for a stormy week. I remember arriving after a four hour drive into the wilderness, and quoting a line from a hostel bathroom stall.
‘We are all going to get wet anyways, so why not dance in the rain?’
Dancing in the rain is a fun concept. It involves throwing away all the little inconveniences that come from wetness, and transforming those elements into the means of deriving pleasure… It is also usually followed up by a warm shower and dry clothes. A luxury that we would not be afforded in the next eight days.
It was hard to shake the feeling of impending doom that day. It seems that we were carrying metaphorical storm clouds over our heads, by choice. I remember going to my sleeping bag in the rain on our second night with a group of eight young teenagers. I wasn’t quite dancing, but I was content with the state of things. I wasn’t aware that my environment was about to be turned upside down.
What happened over the next three days tested our concept of comfort, and at times our survival was in question. A foot of snow would proceed to dump from the sky, and we were left with nothing more than our tarps, ropes, and sweaters. How does one even light a fire, in the middle of a snowstorm? Your best guess was as good as mine, I had never done it before. It was during this time that I realized how sheltered our experiences with the natural world really are. I was the only Canadian in the group so it was assumed that I was the expert in the field of all things white and fluffy, however, my snowy outings were always time-limited and followed by mugs of hot chocolate. I had rarely been uncomfortable in a snowy environment, if I ever was, I simply withdrew from it.
I started having visions of my thermostat in the hallway, set to room temperature as the exterior of my Canadian home clung to frozen water molecules. Sure I’m Canadian, but that doesn’t mean I live in the snow. I was born into a culture that doesn’t worry about survival on a day-to-day basis, our biggest concern is usually our level of comfort. Just think of the magnificent comfort boxes that we’ve created to defy the elements, the ones we call home. Perfectly adjusted temperatures, dimmer-switches to adjust the lighting, fabrics and thread-counts, soft cushioned perches. We aren’t merely surviving in our day-to-day lives; we’re achieving a state of ease, as frequently as possible.
Now I’m squatted over a six inch deep hole, moving my bowels into the frozen earth. I look around at the beauty of my environment, with my pants at my ankles. The snow is providing a pure blanket for the the juniper and sycamore trees that surround us. In that moment, out of site from the desperate faces around the fire, I feel at peace with the situation. I can’t help but smile, after wiping with some ice cold white stuff. The feeling of warmth is growing within me, even though it’s not getting any less snowy outside.
I remember convincing one of the young ones that it was time to build a snowman. I gave him my sweater so he would not freeze during his time away from the fire. We were racing back and forth trying to thaw our frozen hands over the flame, after rolling them back into the sticky snow. Standing there in nothing but my thermal top, I felt as warm as I needed to be…even if I was ‘freezing’ by the fire a couple hours earlier.
Isn’t it funny how two people can walk the same path and have two very different experiences? Isn’t it strange that our own perceptions can change so rapidly, even if our environments do not?
I don’t think I was ready to dance in the rain when I spoke those words to my worried peers. But I know the meaning of those words now, and I know I will need to relearn them again one day.