Saturday, December 29, 2007

Winter Awareness

I just finished digging out the driveway and path to the door, complete with the hedgerow left by the city plow, because despite the Weather dot Com's radar showing clear skies above the Northwoods, it's been steadily snowing since last night. The snow's light and fluffy, and so easier to dig through than heavy stuff. I dug the drive out last night, a couple inches, and another inch or so this morning. I'd rather dig often than wait until there's six or so inches of heavy packed stuff.

I grew up in a part of the country where snow was a real rarity, and even a real frost was a couple-times-a-year thing. Moving to snow country, both here and in the LincolnLand State where I once lived, makes me think differently about the great outdoors.

Where I grew up, you could have ended up outside overnight most of the year without much serious damage. Sure, you would have felt chilly, but either moving around or getting minimal shelter would have solved that. Survival before westerners moved in and dug wells and such was more dependent on getting enough fresh water than on keeping warm. And when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, living in a rain forest area, I was always warm enough. Even drenched from the rain, I'd be reasonably warm (and drenched from the rain was a near daily occurance).

My folks tried to teach me to think ahead to be prepared for problems, especially when out driving alone. My car has flares, a flashlight, and so forth. I used to carry a gallon of water or more when I travelled. (Here, though, it would be frozen.) Now, I also carry a shovel, an extra jacket, gloves, and a warm sleeping bag, just in case, because around here keeping warm is vital.

Around here being careless in the cold will get you killed. There are times when it's so cold around here that they warn on the news that exposed skin will get frostbite within a minute or two. Last winter, the news had a spot on about some elderly person who'd gone missing. She was found the next morning not far from her house, having wandered in the middle of the night into the deadly cold.

If I were digging out some evening, slipped and whacked my head, it wouldn't take long before I'd die. And yet, I need to dig out, and so I do, trying to take reasonable precautions (decent boots, long johns, etc) without going nuts. At least if I were knocked unconscious, it would be an easy death, right? (Yeah, I'm that kind of an optimist.)

I want some sunshine!

I miss my old haunts where keeping warm wasn't a worry, really. I hate being cold.

But I sort of like being aware of my environment in a different way.


  1. In high school we all got a lesson in the dangers of winter... Our sophomore year someone I've known since 1st grade got drunk at a party -- so drunk that he told the people taking him home that he lived someplace he didn't....

    They left him sitting on the front steps to sober up (not a good move either, but they'd been drinking too). When he went to go in the house, he found that his key didn't work. He tried banging on the door, but nobody answered. He probably passed out on the front steps.

    They found him the next morning... it seems that the family who had lived there moved out the month before and there was a showing at the house...

    It was -20 to -30 all night. He lost both legs below the knee and one arm up to the elbow, and the other at the wrist -- to frostbite. He was in the hospital for months, but eventually graduated with our class.

    After that we started a SADD / sober-driver program etc...

  2. It's funny, cold never used to bother me as a kid. But any more, I just really like being warm.

    I'm getting old, I guess.

  3. This brings back memories. I grew up with similar weather (although not quite as cold as where you are...but almost). Until moving to the South, my trunk always held blankets, an old coat/gloves/hat/scarf, an old pair of boots, a shovel, a first aid kit, Power Bars, flares, extra windshield cleaner with antifreeze, and a flashlight with extra batteries. Friends new to the area were always surprised that there was a bag of kitty litter in the trunk (this was before I owned a cat). They thought I was joking when I explained it made good traction for getting out of a snowdrift.

    It's snowing here today, and I'm enjoying sitting inside a warm house watching big puffy flakes fall from the sky. But I think it's a big trick of Nature to make those tiny snowflakes weigh so much when we're clearing the driveway.

    We'd have weeks of overcast sky. While it was a horribly depressing season, I can still remember how glorious spring felt every year following such a gray, cold winter.

  4. Hee, Terminal - I was going to mention the kitty-litter trick too.

    My move has been in the opposite direction, so it took me a while to get used to *not* having to plan ahead and have a trunk full of safeguards. I love traveling, but one thing that always makes me feel strange is that knowledge that every part of the world has those tricks that locals know that visitors don't, and that lack of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

  5. When I was on high school exchange in Germany as a teenager, we got locked out of the house one night when my exchange partner's parents were out of town. It was just after Christmas and all the neighbours and nearby friends were still away. It was snowing and -18 C (just below 0 F). I had never before been in a situation where being locked out of the house is a survival problem. We ended up paying for a day-trip ticket on the trains and riding back and forth for a few hours until her brother came home around midnight.

    Still, I think I'd rather die of exposure than of heat-stroke or thirst or whatever would get us if we were stranded outside this time of year in Australia.

  6. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Interesting. I've lived in the upper midwest all my life, and I have never had to really think about winter survival. It's something that's taught at a very young age, and it becomes second nature. It's true that I don't like winter, but dealing with it has never been a problem. It's interesting to have an 'outsider's' perspective.

  7. I lived in the desert for years and knew to keep water, lots of water in my car on those occassions when I went out into the furnace to look for rocks or things. Now, I live where it doesn't get really cold, well not like what you are experiencing, but I must tell you, I want the extreme. Stay warm and be safe.