Great White


When I was eight and growing up in the land "down-under", my holiday seasons were hot and dry. Along with the sweltering heat came the spectacle of cricket (five-day marathon events they call 'tests', aptly named as it would test the fans' true attention span), the onslaught of flies (spray on the Aerogard), and crowds flocking to the beaches. Australia is huge on beach culture. Surf life savers, Speedos, sun-tan lotion, sun burn and shark attacks. It was a 1975 blockbuster film directed by Steven Spielberg that caught the world's attention. Need I mention the movie title, "Jaws"?

But my fascination of the "great white" was not within the context of sea predators. You see, summer in the southern hemisphere is witness to the celebration of Christmas. And with Christmas come the images of households with season's trimmings; decorated trees, brightly wrapped gifts, fruit cakes, and of course, Xmas cards. Illustrated on these cards were the cast of characters of the Holiday festival. Saint Nick, Baby JC, sometimes elves, occasionally Rudolph, or even a bright star. These icons would be surrounded by a most elusive enigma; the "great white". 

At age five, standing amongst a crowd on a downtown street, dear dad and I would watch the Christmas pageant roll by. I always wondered whether it was rude of me not to wave back to the clowns and princesses on the floats. Never mind. At the end of the parade which ran for a good hour or two would be Santa himself. His sled, always preceded by a red-nosed reindeer and full to the brim with Christmas goodies, dashing through which seemed like... sheets of ivory-coloured cotton?

It's no wonder why I always fanticized about encountering the great white. Australia is positioned in the southern hemisphere and snow happens only in the high altitudes, and infrequently at that. In the meantime, I could only romanticize on how magical the sensation would be to experience what the people of the north live through.   

Flash foward thirty years and I am living my dream. I have experienced the "great white", because I now live in the "True North". Canada, positioned north of the 49th parallel, nicknamed the "Great White North", is abundant with snow come the Holiday Season. 

Snow is created in the atmosphere as water condenses into tiny droplets. As more and more water vapour condenses onto its surfaces, the droplets grow. Cold air then freezes this water into ice crystals. 

Snow is refreshing. Pure. Snow exhilarates. It descends on your nose and tingles when it hits your tongue. Just like in the movies; I fall on the ground and wave my arms and legs to create a snow-angel.  Snow is heaps of fun. Until it loses all lustre... literally. 

After a good downpour of snow, two outcomes will happen, depending on the change in temperature. 

1. The temperature will drop or stay below zero, which will harden the powdery white and become mounds or sheets of ice. 

2. The temperature will rise above freezing point and subsequently transform the pristine snow into dirty slush. 

Neither consequences are desirable. 

The third day after a major storm is when it gets ugly. One must shovel snow before it ices over to either, a) enable the car to exit the driveway, or b) avoid being sued when some poor soul breaks a leg because they fell on the slippery pavement. YOUR pavement.

When snow and ice begin to melt, it is not the usual water runoff that trickle down the drains. Mud with the consistency of Icee drinks is what accumulates on the curbs and streets. This is what we trudge through. This is the great white's version of a hangover.


'Tis the night before Christmas

And the forecast for tomorrow

Say no snow will befall us

To save us from sorrow


It is now the evening of the 24th, and we know for sure that there will be no White Christmas this year. The only complaints I hear are from toddlers who are oblivious to danger and pain. Also dissatisfied are the snowboarders and skiers; that subculture of the human species that have been through so much physical and mental injury, they have no concept of danger and pain.

Anyway, you get the idea. The grass seems greener on the other side of the fence until you get whipped by the lawn-mower, and that's when reality sets in. Still, it is good to be able to claim that we've been there and done that. 

So for the few who may still romanticize and fantasize about the powdery white… let it snow… let it snow… let it snow!!

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December 24, 2012


© Prakoso Sastrowardoyo 2012