The sun is well up as I write this, and still the temperature has climbed only to plus-two degrees Fahrenheit.
You know it’s cold when even in still air you generate enough wind just by walking to frostbite your forehead as the air flows between your wool stocking cap and your sunglasses. New-fallen snow is dry and fluffy, and squeaks beneath your winter boots or snow tires.
You open the door to the attic to store for next year the Christmas decorations from this year, and a river of cold washes around your body, penetrating even the flannel shirt you still have on from being outdoors.
A friend posted on Facebook his son was unhappy with 23-degree cold in Colorado. I’ve been to Colorado. It is a place where cold is part of the geography. I’ve driven on paths I had to stand on the Jeep just to see over the snow.
We moved to Maine when I was 10, though before that we went up summers and winter weekends. I found a Kodachrome slide the other day in which my brother, sister and I are sitting in the snow, clearly a year or two before we made the move permanent; there are no tire tracks.
The outhouse was about 100 yards behind us. The contest on a winter morning was to see who would not get out of bed first. First one out got to melt the frost from around the seat, where steam from the night before had frozen. A lot of things I love about the Good Old Days, but that experience was better remembered than lived.
It was common in those days for Dad to pull us kids and the family luggage on a toboggan – a 10-foot long sled that was essentially a board with the front edge curled up – along the half-mile driveway from the hard road to the cottage. I remember one of those trips the toboggan started going downhill pretty fast, toward where Dad stood mired in thigh-deep snow. We kids pulled the sled over on its side just before running over The Old Man. I’m not sure we did it on purpose, or just were over-zealous in trying to steer the thing.
Cold, in my youth, happened the first two weeks of January. The bottom would fall out of the thermometer, almost literally, and remain below zero for about two weeks. The first time Dad, then a New York City policeman, experienced those temperatures, he thought the thermometer had broken where he had mounted it on the outside window frame. Off he went to town, to Larry Eustis’ hardware store, to replace the obviously defective device.
Mr. Eustis was OK with trading thermometers, but first he took Dad outside to a box of similar measuring devices – every one of them with their needles poking at -34F.
Dad came back to the cottage and he and Mom resumed taking turns feeding the Franklin Fireplace, a not-very-efficient wood stove that burned small logs and sticks and made the place barely warm enough to keep condensation on the inside walls from turning to crystalline pearls.
We had running water, powered by a pair of youthful legs from the well about 50 feet from the kitchen door. It ran faster in winter than in summer because if the carrier didn’t move quickly, the water would freeze on the way to the door.
Getting water in the evening meant taking along the Coleman lantern so we could see to pour hot water into the pump to thaw and prime it. When we came inside, we’d set the lantern behind the wood stove to warm enough we could blow it out. (Maybe I exaggerate slightly – but only slightly.)
I’ll admit it’s a little chilly outside the past few days, but it’s still above zero. In some places, people are swimming in the river.