I joke every year — in fact, with great seriousness — that the day after Autumn Daylight Saving should actually be a statutory holiday. In theory we’ve all got that Sunday to adjust to the changing schedule and light, but it’s never really enough. The “extra hour of sleep” everyone enthuses about never happens (I still wake up at the old time) and while those of us truly dedicated to our eight hours a night end up tottering off to bed an hour “early” (but actually at the same time as before the change) might manage to get enough sleep, most people don’t. And I don’t think we take the afternoon changes — the fact that it gets darker earlier still affects our circadian rhythm — into as much consideration as they warrant. So I am firmly of the opinion that we all need at least a day or two to just sleep in and get used to the differences in light before we have to use our brains for anything important.
It doesn’t help that when Daylight Saving got changed from mid-October to the first weekend after Halloween (Thanks Dubya!), it also placed this very stressful event in roughly the same period of time as the November rainy season.
Here in Toronto, it’s a given that the first few days of November will be rainy. The leaves remain on the trees until well past the end of October (they never used to, a clear sign of global warming), but the inevitable winds and rains of November immediately begin to lash at the city and the first week of November is almost always dark and dire. The first damp cold of the winter sets into the bones. Ankles and elbows, injuries sustained in childhood and long forgotten, begin to ache from the low air pressure. Scarves and gloves are suddenly needed as necks and fingers unaccustomed to the chill protest the cold. Allergy sufferers scan the weather report for predictions of a hard frost in the desperate hope of avoiding the coughing and sneezing that comes with millions of wet leaves rotting away on lawns and in gutters, spewing out mold spores until the air becomes cold enough to kill them off.
As a grumpy adult, this weather makes me, well… grumpy. For all of the reasons listed above — it’s dark, it’s cold and how the hell can I be suffering from tennis elbow when I don’t play tennis? But as a child, this weather, this time of year, was full of excited promises that involved making sure your skates were sharpened.
Looking back, it seems that, as a kid, growing up in Halifax, I always had skates on my feet. The nearby Lion’s rink was open every winter weekend for a community skate, and I learned to glide across the ice at an early age. My high school was next door to this rink and a few times a week it would be open at lunchtime for students, where fifty cents admission would secure enough funds to run the Zamboni around the place after the twenty or thirty regular skaters went back to class.
But as a little kid, I mostly skated in an empty lot down the street.
Those lashing November rains would cause this extra wide lot to flood. A steep hill at the back of the property and the edge of the sidewalk at the front caused the water to pool, and when we were lucky enough to have a good hard frost, to freeze. Measuring maybe fifty feet along the front and close to the same from front to back before the ground rose up to the hill, our makeshift rink was encumbered at one end with the stalks of bushes and a few trees but was mostly clear and open. With a depth of only six to twelve inches, it froze fast and solid. And when it didn’t freeze completely and was still thin in places, the worst that would happen if you broke through the ice was a soaker in your skate.
As soon as that little pond froze, and I can only remember one year when the weather gods left it dry, the neighbourhood kids would be on it, wobbling clumsily down the street on skate blades covered in guards, rather than changing from boots at the edge of the ice. Sometimes, if there had been a lot of wind, the surface of the ice would be bumpy with ridges of water that froze fast before it could spread. But we would be on it regardless of the texture; a good half dozen kids, often more, every night after supper until our mothers called us in at bedtime.
I cannot stress how magical these evenings were. The light from the streetlights kept us safe and allowed us to see the trees and bushes. If there had been an ice storm, the branches themselves often glittered and sparkled like magnificent Christmas decorations. Above our heads, galaxies of stars twinkled better and brighter than any strand of fairy lights. Our breath made little clouds against the dark sky, and amidst the laughter and singing and bursts of childish delight, the sound of skate blades scratching across ice punctuated the night.
In the summer, the children of the street would roller skate along the same stretch of sidewalk, but it wasn’t the same kind of freedom and joy we experienced on those winter nights.
Eventually someone build a house on the vacant lot and our little skating pond was gone, replaced with a lawn and some tasteful landscaping. My family moved to another part of the neighbourhood, and I went to a different school and no longer saw the kids from my childhood street. My roller skates were abandoned and my ice skates lived in my school locker for those lunchtime sessions at the rink. The first weeks of November no longer held as much promise. The rain and wind, no longer a harbinger of childhood play and magical evenings outside, became an annoyance. But every year, as the leaves form piles in the gutters, and the wind whips around corners, reminding us of all the blizzards in store for us in the coming months, I watch the rain, the cold November rain, and think back to a time when it came with such joyful anticipation.