My part of the world, Vancouver, B.C., is full of weather wimps, and I count myself among them. We like our mild winters with occasional drizzle and no more than a 10-degree (5 degrees, if we’re talking Celsius) daily temperature fluctuation, thank you. In the summer, if the temperature rises above 80, we complain about the heat. There’s a great term used by biologists that applies to us: we’re stenothermic, able to tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures. And so, this week’s record cold in Vancouver (about 18° F for a daytime high today) is catching many of us off guard.
Just last week I was admiring some unusually late-blooming flowers on my patio; now they’re limp lily-sicles. Usually we like to harvest little lettuces from our gardens in December (if the slugs haven’t eaten them all) and admire the snowdrops and crocuses beginning to peak out in January. Now the talk everywhere is about the plants we’ll lose in this week’s weather. The last time we experienced temperatures like this, rosemary plants shriveled throughout the city, and garden centers couldn’t keep up with the demand as we rushed the stores in spring to replace our dead Mediterranean herbs.
Of course our plants aren’t the only ones suffering. It’s especially interesting to watch university students deal with the cold. Some are indeed very practical, with toques and hand-knit scarves layered over heavy coats. But most wear only light jackets and walk around shivering, hairdos unscathed by winter hats. The mother in me wants to scold them and tell them to put on something warm!
Yet I remember what I was like my first winter in college. I grew up in the tropics, and when I went away to school in Massachusetts, my mother helped me buy a whole new wardrobe for fall and winter. Having no idea what to wear, I trusted the photos in the L.L. Bean catalog for winter fashion suggestions. But when it came time to wear the new wool sweaters and corduroys, I had no idea who I was! I longed for my gauzy cotton skirts, T-shirts, sandals, and shorts. I felt itchy, stiff, and bunchy in all the layers. And so my second year I experimented with the clothes I liked and just tried to winterize my regular look. I paired my straw-bottomed espadrilles (they performed surprisingly well in the snow) with black tights, long underwear from army surplus with my thin, flowing skirts (well before Grunge popularized that look), and turtlenecks under my summer blouses. The only problem I encountered was that my roommates wouldn’t let me leave the dorm sometimes until I changed into something that looked less ridiculous (to them). These days practicality trumps fashion for me, and I always have hat-hair in winter.
To stenotherms everywhere, I feel your pain and understand your intolerance. The love of moderate temperatures and fear of weather extremes is yet another reason to be anxious about global climate change. I hope you experience the kind of winter you’re used to in your area of the world.