Earlier this week I pulled some Bear Grylls moves through the brambles in order to reach a near-frozen river, which left me with slightly dirty shoes by the end of the day. I hadn’t yet bothered to wash them, but a thought struck me this afternoon while admiring the first proper snowstorm to hit Toronto this winter:
Can a walk through the snow clean dirty shoes?
I donned my filthy footwear, took my camera along for some company, and set through the chilly streets of Kensington Market to find out.
And so after 50 minutes, two slippery falls and some minor frostbite to the fingers & cheeks, I made it back home. I scraped off the layers of ice that had built upon my footwear, anxiously awaiting the answer to my question: can snow clean dirty shoes?
As the hot and bothersome summer months approach us in the southern hemisphere, I find my friends in the northern speak of the joys of their upcoming winter and their already-falling snow. How I long for the winter to return; how I long to once more bask in the romance of the whitened streets and the puff of those pearly petals precipitating from the heavens above.
My first experience with snow-filled landscapes was here in my own home country, on our grade 12 camp to the Snowy Mountains in the year 2001. A group of about 25 of us ventured 2,500 km down to the township of Jindabyne at the base of Kosciuszko National Park, where we stayed for just under a week, commuting to and from the Perisher ski resort every day. For many of us, including myself, our first journey along the winding, mountainous road between Jindabyne and Perisher gave us our first taste of that cold, white fluff we’d all been dreaming of, beginning in little pockets by the side of the road, and by the end of the commute, culminating in entire mountain ranges blanketed in it.
I have very fond memories of having to properly rug up here for the first time in my life. We were told one morning that it reached minus 11 degrees the night before. After living for so long in the tropical climate of North Queensland, it was surreal for me to even imagine that Mother Nature had the ability to drop the thermostat down to that level. But I loved it!
My favourite memory from this holiday was the day a small group of us caught the chairlift up to the top of Back Perisher Mountain. We could see the snow-capped peak of Mt Kosciuszko in the distance, and we were most likely the highest ground-baring people in Australia at the time. It was an incredible feeling:
We never actually got the chance to see snow fall from the sky during our time at the Snowy Mountains, as the flurry of the flakes only ever occurred throughout the night. My curiosity was left in limbo, and it wasn’t for another eight years that I would finally experience what it was like to witness snow falling from the sky.
I was in the Belgian capital of Brussels during the first few days of 2009, and I had just finished wandering through the Atomium, a popular tourist attraction built in 1958 that resembles the cell of an iron crystal (albeit 165 billion times bigger than the real thing). I’d walked past a chemist earlier in the day whose digital thermometer told me it was 1.5 degrees, so I’d made sure I was well-layered, with two t-shirts, a jacket, and gloves. The sky was overcast as well, so I had an umbrella handy in case it decided to rain.
Departing the warm comfort of the Atomium’s enclosures, I made my way to Mini Europe, another nearby attraction, featuring downsized scale models of famous landmarks from all around Europe. Within 5 minutes of me entering the premises it started to drizzle, so I took my umbrella out of my bag, ready in case I was to be attacked by a downpour. Strangely, however, I quickly noticed that the falling droplets were not like normal raindrops at all. Instead of being sponged up by the surface of my jacket upon landing, the droplets stayed as they were, gradually melting their way into absorption. This was not rain at all, I realised – this was snow, falling from the sky!
Oh, what a joyous occasion it was. To the average Belgian citizen, the flakes were so few and far between that they would have been fobbed off as a feeble and unnoteworthy. But to me, it was magic. Here I was, with a scale model of the Eiffel Tower in front of me and an enormous monument dedicated to the iron crystal behind it, and I was witnessing my first ever snowfall. I will never forget the day.
Less than a month later I found myself in the English portside town of Dover. I’d spent much of the very chilly morning exploring Dover Castle, before hopping on a ferry across the English Channel to Calais in France. I returned to Dover later in the evening and it was during the walk between the ferry port and the train station that it began snowing. Unlike in Brussels, this was proper, thick snow that poured from the sky by the bucketload. I stood by the side of the road underneath a tree in hibernation for the winter, with my arms outstretched, basking in the glory of these beautiful falling white flakes catching the light of the passing cars and dancing their way toward the ground. On arrival at the train station, it had been snowing for long enough that the platform bound for London was covered in a thin film of wintry white. I had never seen anything like this before and I loved it.
I spent the entire train ride home to London in silence, staring in awe out the window as it became clear that the whole south-east of England had been blessed with a blizzard. It was still snowing heavily by the time I reached London, and I was lucky to catch one of the final trains home to the southern suburbs before they got cancelled for the night due to the adverse weather. On arriving home, my housemates and I played in the half-foot of snow that had now accumulated on the road, and this made us all very, very happy 😀
I went to sleep that night, my mind still trying to comprehend this amazing new experience called “Snow” that I had just encountered. But nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen the following day!
Snow Day in London on the 2nd of February, 2009, remains one of the all time happiest and memorable days I’ve ever lived in my life. Words cannot express how much this country boy from tropical North Queensland came to fully appreciate London and its incredible weather patterns on this day, so different to anything I’d experienced before.
Only a month later, I went on a road trip through the Scottish highlands, which further cemented my fondness for the cold months. I got to experience the most incredible snowcapped mountain ranges, a hundred times more impressive than what I’d ever seen in the past. I got the chance to drive through a blizzard trying to reach the western side of the Isle of Skye – one of the scariest, yet most exhilarating drives I’ve ever had the pleasure of undertaking. I stopped by crystal clear waterways with tufts of white powder gracing the shoreline, I made friends with sheep on the snow-covered fields surrounding ancient castles, I ran near-naked through frozen vanilla valleys, I saw some of the best fucking scenery ever imaginable, amplified by the crisp, frosty atmosphere and the sensational, shivering SNOW!
Having grown up in such a hot and tropical climate where the closest thing to winter I ever experienced was a few days in June where it got down to 14 degrees during the day, my time spent in Europe over winter was a godsend. This was “me” – this was the climate that I felt most suited towards. The warmth and sunniness of the Australian summer simply doesn’t interest me, and I yearn to be back where the clouds are grey and the mercury struggles to reach anywhere above 7.
This, my friends, is why I cannot help but ADORE the winter. Bring it back, please!