One of the cardinal sins for beginning a novel is starting with the weather, about as bad as waking up in the morning. Yet living in the North of the North of the North, how could I ignore what defines our lives? Northern Winters are Murder begins with realtor Belle Palmer’s observations:
The Ojibwas called it Crust-on-the-Snow moon, the full moon of the coldest month in a climate which suffered no fools. Technology had tried to even the odds, but people in Northern Ontario knew the illusory line between safety and danger. Snug behind triple-glazed windows, Belle Palmer scanned the lake to watch the bloodless sky ghost surrender to the sun. At -28C, this February morning was dead quiet. No loons ululating, no rain pelting from the eaves, no crickets chirping on the hearth or anywhere else.
I switched seasons for Blackflies are Murder, where the hot, humid weather is ideal for the little blood beggars, “ushering in mosquitos, cluster flies, horse flies, moose flies, deer flies, and pernicious no-seeums.” The ironic point about summer is that you cannot go to the places you visit in winter by boot, snowshoe, skis or snowmobile. You are trapped by swamps, rocks, rivers, lakes, and tormenting bugs. Moose run berserk across highways. For over three decades, there was an unwalled prison in Burwash, south of Sudbury, from which no man ever even tried to escape.
Back to winter in Bush Poodles are Murder. This time I burned up my sleuth’s down coat, and armed her only with a space blanket, electric jacket, and mini-poodle pup in a root-ball snow cave during a blizzard. The blood on the muzzle of the poodle has bothered little children, but it was Strudel’s way of enduring. She did what she had to do. The first of two frosty mornings Belle wakes:
Taking one assessing deep breath contracted her throat, iced her nose hairs, and drew wracking coughs, sure sign of -20 to -25C. A Northerner needed no thermometer.
When I moved to Vancouver Island in Canada’s Caribbean, the first Christmas was accompanied by a century typhoon that landed my neighbour’s ravaged property on the front page of The Globe and Mail. The first Holly Martin book, And on the Surface Die, ended with that superstorm. With winds of 157 kph, here is the ruinous aftermath:
There wasn’t a hundred feet of road without a tree across the lines. Sometimes it had snapped the pole. Other times it bounced like a trampoline. Mechanical snarls met their ears in a chorus. Everywhere they looked, men and women in gumboots were out with chainsaws and pickups, clearing the road. An army of volunteers. Many had worked in the timber industry. Others wanted the wood. The most desperate hoped to reach their homes.
In the next book, She Felt No Pain, a typical summer drought set the stage for murderous forest fires. And in the third, Twilight is not Good for Maidens, what better way to ramp up the excitement by sending my corporal into the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca riding out a gale in a small boat?
A Spanish playwright once said, “Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are.” I might amend landscape to weather, because they are equally as character building. Margaret Atwood in her ground-breaking study of Canlit, Survival, calls the weather a character. A true Wendigo, it howls and shrieks and threatens, and it can kill the unwary and unprepared in an entirely amoral way. Whether a person lives or dies is of no import. But for the human, and perhaps even for an animal, there is a certain satisfaction and even glory in having defeated the powers of nature for yet another day.