Ice Cap Zone

A photo of Halifax snapped on my walk to school.

A photo of Halifax snapped on my walk to school.

This winter, Halifax has seen a relentless cycle of snow, rain, freeze, which has left the city looking like the winter level of a 1990’s-era video game. The sidewalks are capped with six inches of slick, lumpy ice, the storm drains have frozen over, every shovel has been worn down to a nub, and the salt-mongers are swimming through their vaults of cash like well-dressed waterfowl. At this point, I’m convinced that I’ve completely forgotten how to actually walk on bare concrete.

Yes, Halifax has become a hybrid winter wonderland / icy deathtrap, but it’s not all bad.

Katie Bowman, a biomechanist and fervent proponent of natural movement, often talks about the way our environment acts as a cast on our body in much the same way as we cast a limb after a fracture. Our tissues, senses, skills, and mind all adapt to the environmental demands we expose them to. Long period of sitting cast your hips into flexion, reducing your capacity for movement and impacting your posture. Hours spent inside staring at a computer screen cast your eyes to near objects, reducing your ability to focus at a distance. Walking predominantly on the manufactured terrain of the urban world casts your feet to flat, level ground, reducing the capability of the many small joints of the foot to shift and accommodate non-uniform surfaces.

Therein lies one of the silver linings I’ve drawn from the winter experience this year: dynamic terrain. Every day presents new challenges, even on the walk to school as I clamber over snowy boulders, hop over poorly cleared crosswalks, fight for footing on the omnipresent layer of ice, and dodge puddles of slush.

And that’s just what I can do without looking like a total weirdo!

As for things that DO make me look like a weirdo, I was able to convince a friend to carry a couple of those big snowy boulders down the street with me while we were on our way home one night. Rather, I picked one up and started carrying it for no particular reason and he was fun enough to join me. Despite the frequency with which I engage in this sort of nonsense (that is, movement for the sake of movement), there is definitely a part of me that is still socially-awkward about it. And sure enough, we hadn’t gone more than a block down the street when some guy pulled up with a car full of his friends wondering where we were taking those things.

(We actually took them to a parking lot and threw them at each other. That is, snow boulder at snow boulder. They collided and smashed, and we deemed it a success.)

Carrying big pieces of snow and ice down the sidewalk just to throw them around in a parking lot may seem a little juvenile (hey, I’m not arguing with you) but I also see it as a unique movement experience offered to us by the winter conditions. We got to lift awkward objects, carry them for a few blocks, hoist them overhead, and throw them! It was a fun little dose of raw, natural movement in the middle of our otherwise typical evening.

I’ve written before about physical play, and how its a shame that we feel pressured to give up as we become “adults” (whatever that means). Winter was never tied to any negative emotions as a kid because I got to play in the snow! It was awesome! But somewhere along the line I traded that for grumbling about the cold and wishing for spring. That’s a pretty lousy way to spend a big chunk of the year. (Besides, aren’t Canadians supposed to be the Masters of Winter?) So, to those of you also struggling through the the cold, ice, slush, and all the challenges that come with the frosty elements, give yourself permission to rediscover the fun in winter. It really helps to take the edge off.

As a final word, I want to make it clear that, no matter how fun I find the challenges of wintery terrain, I fully understand the difficulties imposed on the elderly and disabled by these hazardous conditions. If you are a home or business owner in the city, I urge you to do what you can to make sure your sidewalks are safe for pedestrians. The outside world is more or less currently off limits to many Haligonians, and that is decidedly uncool. Plus, all that liability…

A section of ice chipped from someone's driveway. This is a rather conservative indication of how thickly glazed the sidewalks are.

A section of ice chipped from someone’s driveway. This is a rather conservative indication of how thickly glazed the sidewalks are.

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