The Long John

Wearing long johns is like giving your legs a hug.

Long johns provide comfort and protection, the two hallmarks of what a good hug should feel like. They insulate your body from the winter weather like a hug insulates you from the challenges of life.

My legs love long john season.

Pulling on a pair first thing in the morning is always a pleasure. And unlike a hug, you get to wear your long johns all day. How lucky is that? If we could carry the feeling of a hug from the moment of sliding out from the under the covers until we returned at night, I think we’d all be a bit happier.

What makes these leg-huggers so appealing, so ubiquitous to our concealed fashion landscape? In a word: warmth. As winter settles on the North, the cold creeps in from the corners, slowly at first, then in a big blast, the sun weakened by its position, dropping its guard against its frosty foe, who seemed to be hanging out on the periphery, watching and waiting for the perfect moment.

Cold is often likened to negativity. The cold, desolate road. The icy grip of fear. A cold heart. I say that’s a disservice. Cold is invigorating. Nothing beats a mug of minus 20 to wake you up in the morning. And with the cold comes a savage beauty to the landscape. On the north coast, the winter spring salmon invisibly trace paths under the waves and the whales migrate past. The hills are decorated with dust and the peaks are drenched in dazzling white, serving as perfect backdrops for the black silhouettes of eagles and ravens circling in the skies. In the Interior, the moose and caribou and coyotes and wolves all leave their tracks in the snow—footprints as stories. The creeks and rivers freeze. It’s quieter, softer. There are fewer birds around, but the ones still here have more space to sing. And everywhere, humans go about their daily lives. We wear our tuques and our long johns and wool and down, and we light fires. We ski, we explore. We play, work, sleep.

Yes, long johns, you are loved. Because you allow us the freedom to revel in the Cold. But for how much longer?

The world’s climate is changing. Here in the North, we still have our winters, but even they seem to be losing their sharpness, like a climber slowly losing her grip on the rock. What that tumble will look like is open for discussion, but the fall is inevitable. This past spring was so warm that the (in)famous Alaskan dogsled race Iditarod had to ship in snow. Will my kids wear long johns when they’re my age? I don’t know.

Thermals are no fleeting fad. The Nova Scotian institution Stanfield’s has been producing more or less the same product, originally dubbed “unshrinkable underwear,” since the early 20th century. I believe our collective confrontation with climate change is similarly here for the long haul. But how do you protect cold? Intangibles are always tricky.

A small start might be simply to celebrate it. Because Cold, whether we grumble or grin, is part of our lives up here. And in the same way that long johns secretly keep us warm, it’s what’s beneath the surface that matters. In the words of Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that  within me there lay an invincible summer.”