First Winter

Text by Jane Flanagan
Photography by Jovian Lim

Boards of Canada – Come To Dust
Tomorrow’s Harvest (2013)

Margaret did sea level math every time she drove into the mountains. People lived and played comfortably at these heights and her body was already learning the ways. But the thinness of the air hurt her lungs still, and gave her headaches. And just as she could hear her car working harder to climb, burning through the fumes faster than usual, so she felt it in herself too, and was stringed and raw and rattled from it.

The mountains folded before her and she fathomed the epic challenge of finding passes, of dead-end glaciers, the feat of blowing dynamite walls and building iron roads through this terrain. But she also felt the delicacy of this landscape; the avalanche and wildlife warnings and the magical chemistry of emerald and turquoise lakes. Her body was finding ways of being as she forced it into this clime: She was sometimes overthrown by a deep and visceral sleep, the overnight snow sensed by some unknown animal part of her. And, one morning at 3am, standing outside a bar, she saw stars and slowly understood it was her own breath freezing before her, the moisture crystallizing and hanging suspended in the air. And she laughed aloud, picturing those stars twirling around her like some cartoon character after a knockout.

When she came here, she knew she would experience these differences and that was part of the pull and the imaginings in the months leading up to her departure. But she had pictured her old self transplanted to a new geography, a creature just emerged from salty water, ascended to Rocky altitudes, to skies folded like sails into Chinooks. What nobody told her was the slow transformation she herself would undergo adapting to these new extremes: the new ways of seeing the sky and of breathing air; the new way of walking up a hill and planting her feet on ice. Margaret’s flexible feet, always so at home in salt water, seemed vulnerable to twists, so she wore thick socks and heavy boots until her ankles strengthened and the soles of her feet, always supinated, fell back inwards.

As her body changed she felt the distance between herself and the things she had left behind grow; the small town and the unloving lover. The relationship that had turned violent in the end, leaving her with a small scar over one eye. That place, so familiar that she couldn’t hear her own voice in it, where she saw herself too much in other people, her ideas too identical to theirs. By the time the first snow had fallen, she had stopped trying to bridge the distance with daily emails and phone-calls. The days of being calved between two places, two sets of friends, two kinds of weather dissolved. She slowly let it go and became submerged in winter’s coma of solitude, a new world swirling around her very being, caressing her separateness.

Margaret tingled and stretched and became strong. She lost weight and hungered for food like high octane fuel. Her body, so long a mystery seen clearly only in heightened moments of love and lust and anger, made sense now, seemed to know what to do better than she did. She became aware of the tip of her nose and the skin on her ears, of the hairs in her nostrils, frozen.

Read more in N˚5: Arrival.