Monday, November 25, 2013

Winter, Winter, Winter.....

   Spring seduces,
   Summer thrills,
   Autumn sates,
   Winter kills.

That's the verse quoted at the start of Richard Condon's dark, comic novel, Winter Kills. The novel is actually a brilliant fictional riff on the Kennedy assassination; which was widely remembered this past week, of course, as the fiftieth anniversary was marked. Can it really have been fifty years? Wow! Time, like summer's warmth, does indeed fly.

And to answer the inevitable question: Where was I when I heard that John Kennedy had been shot? I was in Toronto, I was 24 years old (you can do the math), I was a graduate student in the Department of Botany at the University of Toronto, and my firstborn, my daughter Kristina, was a little more than 2 weeks old. (She also turned fifty this year.) What was I doing that afternoon? I had just purchased my copy of the racy novel Fanny Hill at a bookstore on Yonge Street - it was sold more or less "under the counter", in a brown paper bag. I am not making this up. It was a very different time. The novel had been banned for decades, and it could only be sold surreptitiously, lest unimagined harm be done to the population at large. In those far-gone days, Toronto was "Toronto The Good". I am not making this up, either. And now, fifty years later, Toronto has for its mayor, the infamous Rob Ford:

I do so wish I were making that up!

Well, it's here! Winter! It's damn cold and there is snow on the ground. It's Ottawa, and it's late November. What else can we expect - except, maybe, a delay in the onset of it all? But it looks like that won't happen. Not this year - unless we get a second "Indian Summer"; or as they used to call it in Britain, "Saint Martin's Summer". In Henry IV, Shakespeare called it  "All-Hallowe'en Summer". I kind of like that one.

But whatever it's called, that magical late-season warm spell, I think we will not have another in Ottawa this year. Winter appears to be here to stay. Worse luck.

Yesterday afternoon, Suzanne and I took ourselves out for a two-hour walk/stroll/mini-hike in the Greenbelt, that large piece of Ottawa real estate that has been spared the developers' attention. I can report that it was cold, and the surroundings were - at best - stark and forbidding. The trees now totally devoid of leaves, and looking very dead, swayed in the wind and, more often than we were comfortable with, made loud bumping noises. Not sure at all where the noises actually came from, although we stopped any number of times to try and ascertain their origin. We failed. And we moved on; visions of cold-wounded, tumbling trees dancing in our imaginations. And in fact there were a lot of fallen trees on the side of the trail, and even a few lying across our path. A sense of destruction and loss was all around us.

It was Suzanne who first mentioned that the scene was perfect for homicide. I'm supposed to be the crime writer - not that my recent output gives much evidence of that - but I hadn't really thought about that aspect of it. But it was true. Our path, had we pursued it in its entirety, would have taken us across a bog known as Mer Bleue. (In English, "Blue Sea".)

Photo of Mer Bleue's interpretive boardwalk

Mer Bleue can be quite beautiful, especially in summer, but in the fall and early spring, it evokes the barren moorlands of England, where all sorts of dreadful things are known to happen. Step off the boardwalk and you will be waist-deep in water. Push a body off the boardwalk, and it will likely vanish, eventually to become a part of the richly organic peat environment that lies beneath. Maybe to be excavated a thousand or more years hence by an ambitious researcher, and have its history and fate pondered over; much as the "Tollund Man" was:

          Tollund Man, 4th century BCE

His body was so well preserved by the micro-environment of the bog that there was initial suspicion that he was a recent homicide victim. Later, though, it was determined that the body had been placed in the bog more than 2,000 years earlier. It was almost certain, though, that he died a violent death. This, from Wikipedia:

On the initial autopsy report in 1950, doctors concluded that Tollund Man died by hanging rather than strangulation. The rope (around his neck) left visible furrows in the skin beneath his chin and at the sides of his neck. There was no mark, however, at the back of the neck where the knot of the noose would have been located. After a re-examination in 2002, forensic scientists found further evidence to support these initial findings. Although the cervical vertebrae were undamaged (these vertebrae often are damaged as a result of hanging), radiography showed that the tongue was distended—an indication of death by hanging.

So, with thoughts of murder on my mind, I inevitably commenced thinking about the link between winter and homicide. Some images quickly came to mind. The opening scenes in Fargo, for example, where a body is found on a frozen lake in Minnesota (not North Dakota), shot to death in what looks like a random act of violence.


The film, itself, is a classic crime flick from the Coen Brothers. Really good, and often really scary. And one would have to search very far and very wide to find a screen villain scarier than Peter Stormare as the psychotic killer, the aptly named Gaear Grimsrud:

The perfect flick for a cold winter night – soon to be upon us – with the wind and ice pellets beating at the windows. Since I own the film on DVD, I might just do that. I might even try and talk Suzanne into joining me. But, her homicidal thoughts from yesterday notwithstanding, I might have some trouble with that. She is, at heart, a gentle soul.

I am striving to change that, though. Just now we are into the Second Season of Breaking Bad, and I can report that, in spite of all the meth-related horrors that routinely unfold on the 40-inch screen, she is really enjoying it. So, there is hope for her in the long run. The long run including the dismal cold that awaits us through the rest of November, and on through December, January, February, and even into March.

Courage!, I say to myself. Courage! This too shall pass!!

It will, won't it?

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