I grew up on the West Coast alongside the Pacific in a harbour city surrounded by forests and mountains, protecting us from the turbulent gales that sweep the exposed prairie lands and coastal regions to the east. Our one complaint, if we are allowed one, is that our winters are damp, rainy and cold, our few hours of daylight snuffed out beneath a constant layer of sombre clouds. Many have come from the bright (albeit chilly) sunshine of the flatlands only to be dragged down into despair under the bleak rain clouds of the west. Being a permanent resident, I was accustomed to the damp days, but when old lady RA arrived, she flourished in the damp weather, and I began to loathe our wet winters.
My partner and I take a trip every year. Most of our travels have leaned towards the warm and dry climates. Drier temperatures have a lulling effect on my arthritis, sending the symptoms into hibernation, allowing me to savour life without its stormy defiance. I have never allowed arthritis to stop me from travel, and despite the reports of an unforgiving season, I longed to see the turbulent beauty of eastern Canada, and walk the shores of the sweeping Atlantic; and so, Prince Edward Island was our unusually cool choice for this year.
We arrived on the cusp of spring, our plane descending into the arms of the Atlantic wind as it rattled the walls, and some of the passengers. We were greeted with a blast of cool briny air. The nip on my skin was chill, but dry; the fresh crisp scent was distinct, unlike the boggy perfume of the west. The east had endured a long brutal winter. Two weeks prior to our arrival, ice splinters still floated on the ocean’s surface, and snow drifts swept up the side of buildings like shimmering mountains. My partner offered one last alternative to go somewhere warmer, but I was determined – I would not let arthritis decide where to travel.
We explored the gently snaking roads of Halifax, and traipsed over the crimson earth of Prince Edward Island, bundled in sweaters and toques. The red earth was an echo of the fire smouldering beneath my pastel skin. I almost believed I had risen from its ginger clay. Would the cool temperature bring its fire raging to the surface? Would it be better or worse than the west?
I dallied in the dry cool weather waiting for spring to burst, and during that time old lady RA did not surface. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of disease activity in what was nippy temperatures, although I had no real frame of reference. I have never experienced the severe winters that sweep in off the Atlantic; but for that short time, I was soothed in the arid temperatures of a budding eastern spring.
There are always weather challenges with arthritis; the west might melt you in rainwater, the east crush you under a house. I suppose they both have the potential to be wicked, but there is always a way to endure any place – without the assistance of ruby slippers.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.