One of the first things I learned about the extreme cold is that stuff stops working in it. Camera batteries die. Old cars refuse to start up and our new car gets nine miles to the gallon. The power jack in my car doesn’t effectively charge the bluetooth earpiece I put in there. Cigarette lighters stop working. Pay-at-the-pump stops working. Cell phones randomly turn off. You just can’t count on anything in the Great Blue Outside.
Back when I lived in the South, it was a really big deal whether the temperature would go below freezing and stay there for the better part of three or more days. It happened every other year or so. When it did happen, it would kill off most of the fleas that tortured our poor pets. If it didn’t, it would mean more scratching for them and more work for us.
I used to think that below a certain temperature, cold was cold. Once you hit, I dunno, twenty degrees or so, then it was mostly a matter of humidity and wind. I mean, how cold can it really get?
Our jaunt in Arapaho has taught me different. At twenty, you don’t want to stay out very long because you will get uncomfortable. At zero, you don’t want to stay outside very long because it will be painful. At ten below, it’s painful almost from the get-go. You just don’t want to go out at all. The whole town goes relatively silent. Places remain open, but the community just kind of retreats into itself, for the most part.
It reminds me a little bit of Gulf Coast summers. Except that Gulf Coast summers don’t seem as bad.
When I first moved up north, I told myself that at least with cold weather, you can keep putting layers on. If you tried to find the appropriate level of clothing for southern summer, you’d be arrested for public indecency (or you’d be Robbie Williams in this music video). That may be true if I would bite the bullet and order long johns. Given my odd dimensions (I’m tall, but with normal legs and a long torso), that would be a task.
I am proud of myself for one thing. I have a bucket hat that was too large (which, given my substantial cranial endowment, is impressive). I have a headwarmer that I don’t like how it looks. But I can put the bucket hat over the headwarmer and it creates something workable. The next step is to be able to wear a mask without fogging up my glasses. For my toes, however, and for my hands, there is no cure. On the latter part, the cold actually coopts my gloves and rather than keeping the head in, it simply acts as a cold blanket around my hands.
I have come to understand what northern transplants meant when they would say, “At least down here, you don’t have to shovel snow!” How much work could that be, I asked. It turns out, a lot. I understand how people can die doing it. The snow had started falling before we got back from our trip down south, but fortunately someone took care of it for us. The first day back, and every day since, I’ve been out there shovelling the sidewalk and freezing my toes off. Legally, we don’t have to shovel it until the snow stops and since the snow has been non-stop, I am theoretically okay. However, I learned the hard way two winters ago that if you don’t take care of it after it falls, it starts packing in, freezing on itself, and becoming much tougher.
This winter we have it easy. We were told to vacate the garage the week after Lain was born. We figured if we weren’t going to have the garage, we’d just park out front. Which is really handy because we have a winding driverway that I no longer have to shovel. So, that’s a victory at least.
Of course, when we got home from our trip, our heater was broken. The house was freezing. But then it would work sporadically. Basically, it would work when the serviceman was here and then stop working ten minutes after he’d leave. This happened three times until we determined that it was a part that was burning out when it was kept on “too long.”
Back home, if you are a landlord, you can be held civilly or even criminally liable if you do not have air conditioning in a unit you are renting out for certain months of the year. Up here, of course, it’s heat. The house we will be moving into doesn’t have air conditioning. Nor did our house back in the Pacific Northwest. But all of them have heat, I can tell you that. As do we now, when the repair man fortunately found a replacement part double-quick.