February 2, 2008

Deep Freeze

Do you know what negative 35 Celsius feel like? No, I don't either, because I'm not stupid enough to go out in such weather, but my physicist-husband does, and he says, "It'll freeze your balls off."

For the past week Edmonton has been experiencing extreme winter temperatures: negative 35 Celsius during the day and as low as negative 44 at night. For those of you, like me, who are a little unfamiliar with the Celsius scale, that's about the level at which Celsius and Fahrenheit intersect.

Prior to moving to Canada, the coldest weather I had ever experienced was in the negative single digits (Fahrenheit, that is, or about -10 Celsius), and I broke that record on my very first day in Edmonton. On that day, New Year's Day, Kevin attempted to walk the three blocks to Chinatown to get some lunch. About a block into our journey we had to turn back: My hands and feet were throbbing with pain; my lips were so numb that I couldn't talk; and even though I was wearing a wool hat, the metal posts in my earrings were so cold, it felt like someone was shoving daggers in my ears. I was surprised to learn later that it had been only negative 15 that day.

I have since experienced many days of minus-15 temperatures, but I'm no longer so foolish as to try to walk anywhere in such weather. When I do go outside, it's only to rush to the car and drive to my destination, even if I'm only going a few blocks away. And I always make sure to dress in long john's and a fur-lined coat, with several extra layers of clothing in between.

Yes, living through my first Edmonton winter has been a real education. For instance, did you know that when it gets this cold, you have to plug in the block heater on your car for an hour or two before you can drive it? I didn't even know what a "block heater" was until this week, nor did I know that my car had one. Fortunately for us, our landlord Jack stopped by at the beginning of the cold spell and filled us in on this little secret. Apparently, if you don't heat up the fuel in your engine before you turn on your car, the fuel line will explode. Or something like that. Jack learned that lesson the hard way his very first winter in Edmonton.

Also, did you know that when it's this cold outside, the birds don't feed and the mail doesn't run? Canadian birds -- and mail carriers -- are a hardy lot, but minus 35 is too cold even for them.

When it's this cold outside, all the moisture in the house freezes to the windowpanes. You can't bath regularly for fear of losing precious natural oils, and you can forget about washing your hair. It will just break off. When it's this cold outside and there's no moisture in the house, you wake up every morning with a nosebleed.

But remarkably, when it's this cold outside, you can still open your door in the middle of the day wearing nothing but your bathroom and slippers. I did this at about noon yesterday, to see if the mail had come. (It had not.) I hadn't been able to see out my windows in days (as they were covered in a thick sheet of ice), and I was surprised to find that the sun shining brightly, so brightly in fact that the heat reflecting off the snow created an intense mirage effect, just like you see in the desert, in the movies. I knew it had to be at least negative 30 outside, but the radiant heat on my face felt like a warm spring day, and there was only the slightest breeze on my ankles. But Fanny, the kitten, who has never been out of doors, was horrified by all the white and cold and brightness, and she raised her hackles and insisted I close the door immediately, and so I did.

I have since learned that negative 35 is cold, even by Edmonton standards. Kevin's boss said that this has been the coldest winter he's experienced in the ten years he's lived here. Great, I thought. So glad we didn't miss it. "But don't worry," said Gina, our landlord, who's lived here much longer. "It never lasts more than a couple of weeks."

1 comment:

Jesse said...

"(W)earing nothing but your bathroom and slippers"? I don't know, that seems like an awful lot of fuss just to check the mail. I was thinking: you guys should invest in a remote ignition for your car. Imagine starting the engine FROM YOUR BED. You can feel like one of the more practical Super Friends as you gaze out at your lawntundra and press the life-giving button in your pocket. Really, it's no wonder Edmonton is bereft of any architectural charm. At minus 35, who cares?! As long as the heat works. Wow. I should've just written you an email.