Kindred Spirits, Cattail Mittens and Geographical Skill Sets


It’s a mild winter afternoon and I’ve just picked up Belén from basketball practice when she points to a stranger on the sidewalk.

“Hey mom, that lady looks like she could be your friend,” she says.

“That one?” I ask, even though there aren’t any other pedestrians besides a woman with ski pants and a huge, fur-lined hood. “Why?”

“You look like you’d get along. She likes ski pants as much as you do.”

I’m not sure that every well-insulated individual is kindred spirit material but Belén is right about the last part; I love my ski pants. I’ve taken to shouting Bible verses at my children (well, only Proverbs 31:21; “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in double thickness”) while they skip out the door without toques, bare ankles showing. Try as I might to empathize with how hard it is to wear a hat and keep the perfect messy bun, or the nuisance of pulling on ski pants, I can’t do it. It’s simply been too many years since I cared more about fashion than fending off frostbite.

“How many toques do you have anyway?” Belén asked me accusingly the other day when we were cleaning our entryway.

“You never know when a friend might need some extra clothing,” I said, justifying the tangle of scarves, mittens and hats falling out of my basket.

I’ve always been a glutton when it comes to collecting outdoor gear. When I was child, my sister and I gathered bag-fulls of cattail fuzz from the pond, convinced we were going to sew our own mittens and stuff them with the downy material. Even though we never made the mittens I couldn’t bring myself to throw the bags away, just in case. Just in case it was cold. Just in case cattails went extinct. Just in case we needed those mittens. My mom finally pitched the cattail fuzz long after I’d left home and was living in South America.

Tonight the forecast calls for -38 C with a breeze that will make it feel more like -46 C. I wish had me some cattail mittens.

Stay warm,


PS. Nature Writing just re-published a piece I posted here a year ago called “Geographical Skill Sets”. Obviously, dressing in layers is in my geographical skill set. What’s in yours?

…”Did you all bring your hats?” my husband Stan asks, looking in the rear-view mirror.

We pull into the trail-head parking lot and brace ourselves before opening the doors of our air-conditioned vehicle. My daughter, Susanna, hesitates for a bit, looking at the prickly vegetation surrounding us. “It all looks so… so,” she says slowly then finishes, “so hot!”

I wonder if this is how our friends from Iran, Venezuela or Ethiopia feel when we invite them to go ice-fishing, skiing or sailing with us in Canada. Do they, too, steel themselves in the parking lot for what lies ahead? Later that night, we sit outside my parents’ trailer while the sun silhouettes palm-trees in their 55-plus park. We’re talking about which bio-region would’ve been easier on the first nations people, settlers and explorers: central Canada or the South-West. “I’d take forest and streams any day of the week, ” I say, “even if it means mosquitoes and brutal winters.”

Then my brother-in-law makes a wise comment, “Well, you need to build a certain kind of skill set for wherever you live…”

Read the rest here!




2 thoughts on “Kindred Spirits, Cattail Mittens and Geographical Skill Sets

  1. Dear Tricia,

    During our years as room mates in university I can attest to your deep love of toques and fleece lined wind-pants. Just thinking about your wind pants makes me laugh out loud, you really loved them!

    Stay warm,

    • yes… those precious pants… :):) Actually I thought of you while I was writing this and how you would suit up in my mom’s old baby blue ski outfit, or the red puffy one, from the seventies when you came over so we could toboggan behind the skidoo.

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