This Wednesday literature piece has been a long time coming. I have written extensively here about Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson including one of his biggest literary influences – Fyodor Dostoevesky who was the subject of the last few weeks’ literature pieces. I have watched most of Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning lectures at the University of Toronto as well as his Bible Studies: Genesis Lecture Series and his major interviews and debates. Since he first appeared on Sam Harris Making Sense podcast – ‘What is True‘ which I still consider one of the most provocative yet necessary philosophical debates of our time I found myself windswept in the phenomenon – that is Jordan Peterson.
My focus on Wednesday literature pieces has primarily been on presenting extracts from great Classical literature, but today we move into the Self-Help genre which you could classify Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. This genre of reading is one of my least favourite although in my youth I was rivetted by M, Scott Peck’s – The Road Less Travelled. I thought when I procured Jordan’s book that it was unlikely I would read anything anew; challenging and engaging since I’d already heard hundreds of hours from him. But alas I have found myself pleasantly surprised like when reading today’s extract which explores a part of his upbringing; the town he came from – Fairview, Alberta – Canada.
I found this part a fascinating read since I was brought up in a totally distinct natural ambience – the rural outskirts of Western Sydney, Australia. I have written about that a lot here too, but today is about Jordan’s town – so without further ado I present to you – The Old Hometown:
The town I grew up in had been scraped only 50 years earlier out of the endless flat Northern prairie. Fairview, Alberta, was part of the frontier, and had the cowboy bars to prove it. The Hudson’s Bay Co. department store on Main Street still bought beaver, wolf and coyote furs directly from the local trappers. Three thousand people lived there, four hundred miles away from the nearest city. Cable TV, video games and internet did not exist. It was no easy matter to stay innocently amused in Fairview, particularly during the five months of Winter, when long stretches of forty-below days and even colder nights were the norm.
The world is a different place when it’s cold like that. The drunks in our town ended their sad lives early. They passed out in snowbanks at three in the morning and froze to death. You don’t go outside casually when it’s forty below. On first breath, the arid desert air constricts your lungs. Ice forms on your eyelashes and they stick together. Long hair, wet from the shower, freezes solid and then stands on end wraith-like of its own accord later in a warm house, when it thaws bone dry, charged with electricity. Children only put their tongues on steel playground equipment once. Smoke from house chimneys doesn’t rise. Defeated by the cold, it drifts downwards, and collects like fog on snow-covered rooftops and yards. Cars must be plugged at night, their engines warmed by block heaters, or oil will not flow through them in the morning, and they won’t start. Sometimes they won’t anyway. Then you turn the engine over pointlessly until the starter clatters and falls silent. Then you remove the frozen battery from the car, loosening the bolts with stiffening fingers in the intense cold, and bring it into the house. It sits there, sweating for hours, until it warms enough to hold a decent charge. You are not going to see out of the back window of your car, either. It frosts over in November and stays that way until May. Scraping it off just dampens the upholstery. Then it’s frozen too. Late one night going to visit a friend I sat for two hours on the edge of the passenger seat in a Dodge Challenger, jammed up against the stick-shift, using a vodka-soaked rag to keep the inside of the front windshield clear in front of the driver because the car heater had quit. Stopping wasn’t an option. There was nowhere to stop.
And it was hell on house cats. Felines in Fairview had short ears and tails because they had lost the tips of both to frostbite. They came to resemble arctic foxes, which evolved those features to deal proactively with the intense cold. One day our cat go outside and no one noticed. We found him, later, fur frozen fast to the cold hard backdoor cement steps where he sat. We carefully separated cat from concrete, with no lasting damage – except to his pride. Fairview cats were also at great risk in the winter from cars, but not for the reasons you think. It wasn’t automobiles sliding on icy roads and running them over. Only loser cats died that way. It was cars parked immediately after being driven that were dangerous. A frigid cat might think highly of climbing up under such a vehicle and sitting on its still-warm engine block. But what if the driver decided to use the car again, before the engine cooled down and cat departed? Let’s just say that heat-seeking house-pets and rapidly rotating radiator fans do not coexist happily.
Because we were so far north, the bitterly cold winters were also very dark. By December, the sun didn’t rise until 9:30 am. We trudged to school in the pitchblack. It wasn’t much lighter when we walked home, just before the sunset. There wasn’t much for young people to do in Fairview, even in the summer. But the winters were worse. Then your friends mattered. More than anything.