Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Staying Warm when Staying Inside is not an Option

                                                                                                
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 175-S00-00326, Flüchtlinge aus Ostpreußen auf Pferdewagen.jpg
Because I’m in the depths of novel revision, my thoughts are stuck in the winter of 1945, East Prussia. The severe winter weather here in Winnipeg reminds me of how difficult it must have been for the German civilians fleeing their homes in horse-pulled wagons and on foot, during the Soviet offensive. Temperatures of -25C froze old and young as they tried to reach the ships at Pillau harbor on the Baltic.   
Photo Attribution: Bundesarchiv, B 285 Bild-S00-00326 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0

I consider myself a bit of a keeping-warm expert after having spent many years working outside in Winnipeg. So here’s some advice. Forget about how you look…this is all about how you feel. Dress in layers. Something windproof is essential. Keep moving. Cover your face with a neck warmer or scarf.  Don’t drink too much liquid, because then you have to peel off all those layers…and usually in a hurry. Don’t get wet. 

Moisture chills to the bone. East Prussia, on the Baltic, would not have had the benefit of the 'dry cold' we here on the prairies are known for.  I can honestly say that when dressed properly, a sunny, windless day of minus thirty will feel balmy…assuming you keep moving. My mother cried bitter tears when she knew I worked outside in January weather. She'd say, I didn't survive Siberia and East Prussia so that my daughter would be cold here in Canada.  I'd have to remind her that I was dressed properly, that I was healthy and that I'd had a proper warm breakfast. My favourite is porridge. 

On a positive note, extreme temperatures keep the snow hard like concrete and make it for good walking…again with an assumption. Someone needs to shovel the darn stuff and make a path. Back in East Prussia in January of ’45, there were millions, like my mother and her sisters, fleeing. Most of the time they couldn’t use the main roads because those were reserved for army vehicles. So they'd  get stuck on the snowy forest trails.  I grew up imagining the faces of doll-like infants, hurriedly buried in snowbanks and left behind as their frightened families looked to the sea for help. Above them…not sundogs…but enemy bombers.

Other horrible, sad refugee stories are in the news nowadays. Different faces, different wars, different technologies, same human suffering.


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