In Quebec, the famous French poet Gilles Vignault wrote “My country is not a country, it’s winter” (Mon pays c’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver). Although it doesn’t translate that well from the original French, I think it still summarizes well the love/hate relationship many Northerners have with the winter.
On the one hand, the winter defines who we are. On the other hand, we despise the hardships of the cold season.
Other satirical comments have been made about the winter in Canada or the Northern states, such as
“We have two seasons in Canada, cold and not as cold”
I was told that the best way to go through the winter is to embrace it. So instead of cursing the weather, make the best of it. Go out and enjoy some winter sports! Ski! Put on some warm clothes and go take a walk when it’s sunny outside, even if it’s below freezing. That all sounded good, but in spite of this advice I still hated the winter.
I do not care for skiing or other winter sports. I much prefer feeling the wind on my skin as I ride my bike or run outside, with sunshine on my face, rather than feeling myself uncomfortably sweating inside of a giant isolated winter coat, while risking getting every unexposed part of my body getting injured by frostbite.
The winter made everything more difficult
Getting in and out of the house became a big endeavor requiring a lot of preparation, rather than something simple and enjoyable.
Even with good intentions such as taking a 45-minute walk every morning, the power of the elements can discourage the most committed ones.
There were times when the weather was so cold that I remained literally locked in my house for almost a week at a time. Even going out to the gym was something I was not even willing to do.
Some other random winter annoyances included:
- Being cold in the morning when getting out of bed.
- Salt on the streets corroding everything
- Shoveling snow
- Snow melting into slush and brown from the dirt, staining and wetting everything
- Scarf smell! The nasty phenomenon that happens when you breathe your own snot smell from having to wear the scar over your nose and mouth.
- Having to get into a cold freezing car that never actually starts to warm up until you’re about to reach your destination
- Cold feet and toes!
- Snow and how it gets in the way of everything!
- Sunrise at 8:30 and sun set at 4:00 p.m.
- Chapped lips because of dry heating
- The time it takes to get dressed just to go outside for any reason!
- Ice and the dangers in brings
- Christmas songs playing in early November with no respite until late in December
Health Aspects of Living in the North
I found that although it was possible to stay healthy in the North and even eat a mostly raw food diet, the winter made it much more difficult to stay healthy and in shape.
First, there’s the problem of temperature. Setting the thermostat between 65 and 68 degrees (18-20 Celsius) is supposed to be healthy, but it feels too cold. Try boosting the temperature above that and you start feeling the negative effects of artificial heating: dry skin, respiratory problems and discomfort.
So my sad solution was to keep temperature low, but wear extra layers in the house. I always kept the bathroom steaming hot, as I hated to enter a cold bathroom on a Monday morning to take a shower.
The problems of the cold weather were reinforced by eating cold foods, such as fresh fruit. I had to be particularly careful to avoid all cold drinks and fruits, otherwise I would get shivers.
Sometimes after eating a big smoothie with fruits coming out of the fridge that I didn’t have time to warm up, I would feel so cold that I had to take a hot bath to feel better.
The average body temperature of a healthy fit person eating raw is a few degrees lower than the average body 98.6 (37 celsius) most people consider “normal”. A lower body temperature is a great advantage when it comes to all sorts of athletic endeavors, and also to handle hot weather, but can take some time adapting to when you live in a cold climate.
As soon as the weather started getting cold, I would lose my motivation to exercise outside, which is my favorite type of exercise. So I had to find other types of exercises that could be done inside, such as rebounding or going to the gym.
The shorter days with less sunshine meant little vitamin D for the entire winter, which could be hard for the body to bear without supplementation.
I did find however that despite the difficulties of eating raw in the North, the health advantages of eating this way far outweighed the negatives. Most of my friends and relative got seriously sick at least once every winter, and would often complain of stuffed noses or colds, while I remained healthy and cold-free the entire winter. My mood was dramatically improved by the natural “sunshine” I got from the fruits and vegetables I was eating, and the exercise routine I tried to maintain.
Over the years I spent eating raw in Canada, I even came up with a series of recipes and tips for following a raw food diet in the North, called the Raw Winter Recipe Guide.
However, there is no doubt that staying fit and healthy was dramatically easier in a warmer climate.
The Winter Amnesia
Every winter, I tried to spend at least a few weeks in a warmer climate. In 2004, I spent one month in Brazil. In 2005, I spent three months in Costa Rica. In 2006, I went to Bali and French Polynesia. In 2007, I spent five months in Costa Rica. Every year, I was avoiding more and more of the winter… but part of me was still attached to living in the North with four seasons. Call it nostalgia?
I have a different name for it. I call it: winter amnesia.
I came up with this concept with a friend of mine back in 2003. At the time, I had noticed something strange. I would go through an entire winter of hardship, coldness and snow, and when springtime and summertime came, I started thinking that living in Canada wasn’t so bad after all.
I would think to myself: “Maybe I don’t have to move anywhere warm after all. It’s not so bad.”
I would completely forget how horrible the winter was… and that’s why I realized I had winter amnesia, a common psychological affliction most Northerners suffer from, when their minds purposely forget how bad winters are, in order to stay in their comfort zone and avoid any radical move!
So I would set myself up for another cold winter again, without making the necessary move to move to a warmer climate.
It got to the point that I actually asked my friend to send me an email in November of next year. The email I asked him to send me read something like this:
I know that by now you’ve come out of a very enjoyable summer in Canada, and you have completely forgotten how bad last winter was. This letter is to remind you: get out of there before it’s too late! The winter sucks! Your friend,
Of course, this “winter amnesia” concept was just a joke, but there was some truth behind it. Unless I planned in advance, there was no way I was going to fulfill my dream of living in a warmer climate.
Fastforward to present day: I’m now spending my winters in Costa Rica, and I have no intention of experiencing another winter again for any reason!
Last year, I waited until January 10th to go on my annual winter trip, and later I regretted it terrible. The months of November and December in Montreal were truly horrible, so I swore to myself that I would never stay for another winter again.
Call me a winter wussy, but I came to the conclusion that the months of November until late April were completely out of the question. I HAD to be in a warm climate during that time. May isn’t so bad, because there’s the promise of summer. June is okay. July and August are the only great months. September is also good because of the sunny weather, harvest time and beautiful trees falling. October is already off-limit. It’s tolerable but not enjoyable. I’d rather be somewhere else!
For many years, I used to keep my apartment year-round in Canada, and spend several months in the tropics. Now I have decided to get rid of most of our possessions in Canada to establish a more permanent base in Costa Rica.
There’s a lot more to say about this topic… in my next article I will tell you how I ended up living in Costa Rica and how I made my dream of living in a tropical paradise a reality, after years and years of thinking about it. There were many difficulties, but when I look outside my window and take a look at my jungle and mountains… and breathe the warm tropical air, perfumed by the scent of beautiful flowers, I think to myself, it was worth it!
What do you think about living in the North? Do you dream of living in a warmer climate? Did you actually make the move? I’d like to know more in the comments!