earthly possessions


Apologies for the poor quality of this, but it’s 11:30 PM and I’m taking pictures of drawings with my phone in a dimly-lit living room.

The above is an accurate representation of the last week of my life: travelling on a lot of trains, both above and below ground, with nothing but the items shown.* It was – unsurprisingly – liberating. Things I missed having, in order of how much I missed them: my camera, my water bottle, my laptop, more books. Things I did not miss at all: additional toiletries, additional clothes, a sense of responsibility. Something about travelling so lightly made me feel like I’d fallen off of the radar, ceased to exist to the ordinary world. Slipped between the cracks, in a good way. The laws of convention stopped applying to me.

Q: How did I wind up spending a whole week travelling with only these few scant items?
A: An overly ambitious New York social schedule, and an excess of booze (consumed by both myself and others.)

For now, sleeping again in Pawling, NY. Tomorrow, Washington DC, and by the end of the week, Miami. Where temperatures will reach 26 degrees (I can hardly imagine it – we skated on a frozen pond this afternoon), and I will encounter alligators and swim in the ocean. A few more stops and then New Orleans for Mardi Gras (Feb. 17th), and then MEXICO. Sleep tight…


* Including the clothes on my back, which, for those interested: Doc Martens from grade 11, two pairs of socks, black jeans, underwear, bra, undershirt, button-down shirt, cardigan, silk scarf, wool scarf, down jacket, hat. And, oh, my wallet. And some lip balm.

car trials

So, Montreal has been experiencing temperatures well below negative twenty – as low as negative forty with windchill – and when the weather stays cold, the snow just ACCUMULATES. Piles and piles of it. Hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of frozen precipitation being compacted by a million booted footsteps, churned by a million winter tires, and pushed from side to side by plows that seem increasingly ineffective as you realize that there is no longer anywhere for the snow to go. When I first dug out my car from its arctic tomb in December, I realized that I didn’t know what to do with the shovelfuls of snow I was excavating: onto the road, where it would impede traffic? The sidewalk, where pedestrians would give me dirty looks? The cars parked in front of and behind me, whose owners would then have to move my snow, in turn, to get their own vehicles out? WHERE TO PUT THE SNOW?!?!?

As it turns out, the snow is simply removed from the streets by this delightful machine, a new addition to the taxonomy of trucks in my head:

And this, ultimately, is where it goes:

Montreal Snow Dump - Montreal Gazette / Vincent D'Alto

Montreal Snow Dump – Montreal Gazette / Vincent D’Alto



Yesterday I went to check on my car and observed the fluorescent orange temporary no-parking signs which indicate when you will have to move your car to make way for the magical snow-removal machine. Digging out my car this time was much more of a mission than before: like an archaeological dig, the layers of snow revealed the weather that had been. First, on the streetwards side of the car, a clear 2-5 mm layer of ice coating the windows and doors. On the body of the car, several inches of fluffy snow that had fallen in the past couple of days – the kind of snow that hasn’t even come close to melting in its lifetime, slippery and almost squeaky, like styrofoam or aspertame. Below that, an inch of ice from the day of freezing rain that I broke off in jagged sheets and tossed to the ground. The pieces hit the sidewalk and shattered with a fragile sound like breaking lightbulbs. Below that, another layer of snow, and then a thin, frosty ice on the body of the car itself.

I swept all of it off and then chipped at the ice surrounding the tires and the ugly conglomerate of ice, snow and gravel that was shored up against the street side of the car. It took me an hour to clear it. Then I spun the tires. I chipped the ice again. I snugged my snow chains up against the tires in hopes that they would provide some traction. Spun the tires. Looked worriedly at the car in front of me, a red mini with three people chipping and pushing and revving and getting absolutely nowhere. Eventually I went back to the loft and recruited a friend to help me, and when we’d pushed my noble steed out of her prison, there were sparkling smooth wells of ice where the wheels had been.

Ice in Montreal

ice-covered tree, montreal

On Sunday, freezing rain fell and covered the trees with a coat of ice. Every twig was like an eel in a diving bubble, sealed off from the world and gazing outwards from its separate space.

ice-covered tree, montreal

So much beauty! Today it’s -15 and I walked two kilometers to Fairmount Bagel, bought a dozen perfect inimitable Montreal bagels to take back to the loft plus one just for me, to scoff from my gloved fingers on the walk back. Being cold makes me panic but I could love winter for giving me afternoons like this, bundled up in down and wool and wandering through a gallery of ice.

ice on st-laurent, montreal

ice on st-laurent, montreal

happy new year from canada


When I was an undergraduate student, I had a friend who lived down the hall and was prone to asking well-meaning but clueless questions. One day we were sitting in the lounge on the fourth floor and he turned to me and said, “Jenn, I have a question.”

“Sure, A,” I said, looking up from my textbook.

“Well, I was talking to S. And, you know, she’s on the golf team. So she was telling me that while she was at home in Ottawa over the break, she’d been doing some golfing…”

Long pause. “Yes?” I prompted.

“So, I was just wondering… do you have indoor golf courses in Canada?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “Did she say she was at an indoor golf course? I would have assumed she was just outside, like normal.”

“Right,” said A, leaning forward earnestly, “but how could she be golfing outside? I thought that you didn’t have any… you know, grass. In Canada. Isn’t it all just ice and snow?”

I corrected him, but now I’m wondering if he may have been right after all. I come from the weather-privileged enclave of the Pacific Northwest – Cascadia, if you will, the enchanted emerald region that my friend G hopes to one day be president of – and we do not have snow. We have a couple of inches of slush that melts long before Vancouver Island’s single snowplow can make a sad attempt at pushing it off the road and onto the perennially green grass. We have rain, and also drizzle, and clouds and mist and fog and a general sense of majestic gloom. If you happen to be looking out at the ocean or the forest, you might experience it more as an ancient, implacable fecundity – the mossy faces of evergreen islands being covered and uncovered by mists that obscure the division between shore and sea so that the swelling kelp forests unfurl like shining roots below the firs. Everything is alive and in motion, from the rain dripping off of mushroom caps to the tiny fronds of barnacles’ fingers combing plankton from the tide. Green and growing, 24/365.

This is the Canada I grew up in. Canada for wimps. As soon as I crossed the Rockies the snow began to fall, and temperatures were in the negative twenties all through the Prairies, causing my car to make an unpleasant strangled screeching when I started it up. This seemed like a reasonable protest. I had never even contemplated driving a car in such conditions and I remain faintly amazed that these ever-so-ordinary machines continue to get us from place to place, nobly skidding across frozen roads and breathing gasps of hot exhaust into the frigid January air.

Below the border, though, things were WARM. I spent Christmas in upstate New York enjoying bizarrely spring-like temperatures, even getting a brief lesson in barefoot running which included prancing across a muddy field on nothing but the tender soles of my own two naked feet. We wore cotton instead of wool and vetoed a Christmas fire because it was simply too warm outside. My car did not sound like an angry robot baby when I started it up.

Very relaxing. Then I drove back up to Montreal for New Year’s, and experienced what A might have been imagining when he thought of Canada: temperatures steadily dropping as I approached the border, snow accumulating on the ground throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, and then BAM – Quebec and -14°, frozen fields and snow in the forecast. It felt like I was heading into the Great White North, my foot on the accelerator speeding me away from positive temperatures beneath the wide gray sky. When I arrived in Montreal, I parked my car near the mountain and stepped out into the cold. CANADAAAAA!!! No golfing, and easy to imagine that the transition northwards is like this year-round: bare feet in New York, snow globe winter wonderland in Quebec. I spent New Year’s Eve bundled into a firelit chalet on the edge of a frozen lake, keeping warm in a variety of old-fashioned ways and sending up prayers of ardent appreciation for my homeland: her kelp forests and shivering frostbitten birch trees, her teeming Pacific shoreline and black, bubble-starred frozen lakes. Her jagged mountains and vast open prairies and deep woods and her people, her people most of all. The First Nations to whom the land first belonged to, and the generations of immigrants who have made our homes here, all of us shaped by this land as much as we allow ourselves to listen to it.

I am so grateful to have driven across this great country (well, almost across – apologies to Atlantic Canada, I promise to visit you in the future). Happy New Year from Canada. And farewell, Canada – in a few days I’ll be shooting southwards and not looking back.