By Tammy Culhane
Webster’s online dictionary defines snow as:
“Precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapor of the air at a temperature of less than 32°F (0°C).”
Sounds kind of beautiful huh? Those small white ice crystals make it sound like a scene from a fairytale. When you see snow for the first time every winter, it looks perfect. It creates a pristine blanket on the ground. It gives our trees that extra Christmassy glow. It brings much happiness to skiers, outdoor skaters and children (along with some adults, perhaps) who enjoy playing in the snow and building a snowman.
So I ask myself how something so pure and innocent can also be the cause of headaches and huge amounts of stress? I quickly find the answer the moment I venture out my door.
Getting around Ottawa in a wheelchair even on a nice, sunny day can present a few obstacles. Picture construction, inaccessible sidewalks and streets, plus fellow pedestrians who don’t pay attention to where they are going. Add a few inches of snow to the mix and things get a whole lot more chaotic. I have been known to be a person who is “up for a challenge.” However, after some trips I feel as though I’ve been on an episode of Survivor, trying to go through an obstacle course just to get to my reward…the grocery store.
The minute it snows over 10 centimetres, I know my Survivor mode will begin. Even before I go out, I find myself planning my route. Once outside, my route may change based on what has been plowed and what hasn’t. Plowed sidewalks are definitely my best friend, however oftentimes at the end of that sidewalk, there is a big snow bank. More times than not, this bank is right where the curb of the sidewalk would be, and depending on how high and how heavy the snow is, sometimes I get through but sometimes I don’t. I always attempt it at least once or twice, maybe even three times depending on how stubborn I am that day.
Unplowed sidewalks are where the real challenge lies. The snow can look manageable at the beginning but oftentimes I only get a third of the way down and then there’s a small mound of snow. Sometimes I see it a few seconds before so I can put my chair into a higher gear and literally “take a run for it.” There have even been a few instances where I have closed my eyes and said a quick Hail Mary that I make it to the other end!
If I received a dollar every time I have been stuck, I could have been in Florida each winter for at least the last five years. I will be the first to admit my electric wheelchair is definitely not designed for our Canadian winters. The wheelchair company has informed me that the chairs are tested in New Mexico. However, my chair is my lifeline to the outside world; it is my legs, as I have often said. If I need anything beyond my apartment (I use a walker inside), I have to use my wheelchair. I don’t have much of a choice.
I know what people are thinking when they see me on the sidewalks or even on the streets. “Why is she out in the snow like this?” I’ve seen the looks on their faces. My answer to them is this: My life can’t stop just because of some white stuff on the ground. I still need to get money from my bank, food from the grocery store and I still have appointments and meetings to attend. Of course I can and do use Para Transpo, but there are also occasions when I can’t. You need to book it 24 hours in advance and that’s not always possible. Sometimes the errands I need to do are too close to my place to use a bus and waste bus fare. And sometimes I wind up navigating on the road. I don’t like doing this, but to avoid being stuck, now and then it must be done. Besides, isn’t it everyone’s prerogative to navigate through the day as they see fit?
I think my adventures in the snow and my attitude towards them are also partially shaped by the actions and reactions of fellow pedestrians. I have been extremely fortunate to come across some amazing Good Samaritans. They have been more than willing to give me a push out of a mini snow bank when I’ve been stuck or have kicked down the snow to make it easier for me to get through. I can’t thank these people enough; their kindness helps brighten my day and lessen my frustrations. I have also come across people who ignored my request for help and kept walking by. In doing research for this piece, I also started noticing some people would rather see me head towards the mini snow bank or the huge pile of slush than have to walk in it themselves. I fully understand and sympathize; walking through that stuff is not exactly pleasant and can damage the boots and can leave someone cold. But – my point is – they, more times than not, can walk or stomp through it. I can’t.
Am I excited once every spring comes? ABSOLUTELY! Spring brings a new life, not just in nature, but for me as well. It means no more spinning tires in the snow and it also means I will be able to see the red colour on my wheelchair again instead of the salty build-up I’ve seen for the last four months.
Come on spring, I’m ready for you!
Thank you for allowing me to share my view with you!