«Le fond de l’air est frais», they say in Québec; literally, the bottom of the air, its underpinning, you might say, is fresh. Not cold exactly. The bottom of the air, the part of the air you have no name for in another language, is…actually it’s more than fresh, although it might be that in spring; in November, right now, it’s the feeling in the air during that part of the afternoon when the sun is thinly taking the edge off the sharp coolness all around; when you think about it, it’s more like crisp. The bottom of the air is crisp.
Crisp can crawl in under your jeans, make your nose run and have you wondering what you did with your gloves, but if you’re moving at all, you can handle Crisp. During the days and weeks of Crisp, you do, if you are wise, the serious hunkering down required of preparing for a winter in Québec City. You wrap your best shrubs in burlap, tenderly, hoping they won’t collapse or get discouraged by the weight of 119.4 inches of snow. You might want to plant some yellow-tipped steel rods on either side of the driveway so that the fellow who clears your snow, if you’re lucky enough to have one of those, will know where your driveway begins and ends during one of the nine or so big storms you can count on. You might do some recreational wood-splitting for those nights when only a fire can chase the chill and the dread of the winter dark. You can even commune with Crisp, look down on the St. Lawrence from the Chateau Frontenac and watch steam come off the water and imagine the immense puzzle pieces of ice that will soon form and float down the majestically unperturbable river, which doesn’t give a damn about your Crisp, or Mosquitos, or any other time of year.
If you’re some people, you might spend Crisp assembling the bones of your Tempo Car Shelter, a white plastic elephant of a tent that humps over driveways, eliminating shoveling but besmirching the landscape so much that municipalities set dates by which it can be assembled and must be removed. Tempos, released into the world some 45 years ago, are the snow-free joy of many and an affliction for others, like Fernand Tremblay, architect and father in law, who will be 93 this winter, and still can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see the Tempo for what it is—not only a white blight on the shared landscape, but worse, a missed opportunity to go out and do sacred battle with new fallen snow. And the gods of winter know he is right and share his sorrow. But the Tempos, like some migratory elephant, appear inevitably during Crisp, and won’t leave until sometime when the fond de l’air is only fresh again.
Of course, you have to work briskly during Crisp, raking and wrapping and assembling and looking for your gloves, because in November, there comes one day when the sun will set too fast and the wind picks up and before you know it, Crisp goes to Cutting and you drive home watching a chilly sun through the bare limbs of trees, and you’re happy, very happy, to be born after the invention of instant hot chocolate and cognac and central heating, and not during the time of trap-line walking and life and death wood splitting. And you can go home and turn up the heat and wish, ever so briefly, that it will snow soon.
story © Dianna Carr image © Francis Tremblay