I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the analogy of “Old Man Winter” spoken without missing a beat. That is, until I read Ann Sutherland’s contribution to 40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology. She argues that the season is more akin to a temperamental teenager whose youthful vigour blows in the wind one day but then sulks in grey overcast the following day.
Now that you’ve read that, it’s all you can imagine, isn’t it? That’s the magic of this anthology. It both affirms what we know about winter and introduces us to new points of view. It accurately (although not always attractively) articulates what it feels like to live in the seemingly never-ending winter months of Edmonton.
Dozens of local authors’ pieces are included in this aptly named collection of fiction, poetry and non-fiction.
Amir Baharun writes of his first snowy experience after coming here from an African village where dark mud coats its ground like snow does in Edmonton. Meanwhile, Joan Shillington recounts a story of being perched atop two pillows on a frosty 1961 afternoon as her dad taught her to drive at Wabamun Lake, cursing under his condensing breath.
Edmonton’s winter spirit lives between these covers, waiting to escape. Especially in pieces like editor Jason Lee Norman’s, in which he hopes for a brighter Edmonton winter, one in which we embrace the cold rather than one in which we hide away and pretend to hibernate. Or the tension-filled account of Vernon R. Wishart’s frantic police escort down an icy 87th Avenue to the hospital as his wife moans and cries between contractions.
Some stories are dishearteningly macabre – Diana Davidson’s haunting tale of how postpartum depression can be amplified and overshadowed by the heavy snowfall, or the fictional account of the eight people Michael Hingston lost to Deadmonton’s frozen touch.
And others are refreshingly optimistic – Erika Luckert overlays a map of Paris onto one of Edmonton and sets out on her own Parisian adventure, while Michael Hamm commits to a metamorphosis from a “dying houseplant” into one of the “crazy people who ride their bikes in the winter.”
When you leave this city, you remember the good times, not how cold it is, one of the contributors, Esmeralda Cabral writes. That’s something we should all remind ourselves when we’re cursing the heavens with a window scraper gripped between two frozen gloves.
(Wufniks Press, 205 pgs)