Thursday, November 29, 2007


After having endured bone chilling cold for three years in the North of Scotland, I was surprised when my husband said that it was cold today. It is 27 degrees with a wind chill of 19. Although not balmy, for Indiana on the brink of December this is a good day. The sun is shining as if to do an "aw shucks we don't really mean it" about the 19 degrees.

Even though I am in an old house (the furnace labors into action as I type this), nonetheless it is centrally heated and all the rooms are warm enough that you can talk without seeing your own breath in front of you. The skin on my hands may get a bit dry in this heated air, but it will not crack into tiny painful rents as it did in Scotland.

As I watch the sun brightening the corn stubble on the field out the window of the kitchen in the company of two dogs who have come to see me as a distant second to my sister for opening and closing doors at their whims, I think about the psychology of cold.

I remember as a child playing for hours in the snow that clogged the roads so that school was closed. When we finally came in from playing in the snow, there would be patches that had melted and refrozen on our trousers and our breath would have formed mini glaciers on scarves wrapped up to protect our chins now bright red and cold to the touch having escaped the scarf. Our lungs rebelled at the sudden heat of air sucked into them and fingers that had carved snow creatures and hurled countless snowballs now refused to move well enough to pull off damp mittens. Would splashing in a hot tub til our skin was pink again and snuggling into flannel pajamas have felt as good if we had not first known cold with such intimacy?

As an adult, I lost that sense of adventuresomeness with cold and snow. I adopted a Chilly the Penguin persona. At the first hint of snow or cold breeze, I was decked in down filled parka and long underwear and scarves and hats and mittens. My daughter reminded me of what I had accomplished unselfconsciously as a child. "Embrace the cold," she said as we trudged into a head wind. It worked well enough for me to unhunch my shoulders and step out with a more lively stride so that more blood circulated through my Chilly the Penguin body, but once having given myself over to the weight of cold, it is hard to let go again.

Cold has a power over us even as an abstraction. Reading Jack London's "To Build a Fire" definitely chills me even long after my first reading, but I can close the book and shake that chill off. My husband takes my emotional temperature by feeling the relative warmth of my hands. The conjoining of psychology and physiology are twinned in the familiar phrases "icy dread" and "cold fear." Logically, if emotions can make us cold, then they can warm us, but I was skeptical about bringing Tinker Belle back to life even as I went along with it.

Back in Indiana, I am closer to that childhood self that unselfconsciously embraced the cold. From the safety of the warm kitchen, I think that I would like one of those storms that closes schools and offices and challenges us once again to see if I can make a big snowman whose head I can still lift into place. My arms are a bit longer now, so perhaps I could finally make the snowman of my childhood ambitions.

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At 2:39 PM, Blogger Christina said...

What a beautiful reflection! I was glad I was sipping a hot cup of tea while I read your posting though!

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

wonderful post as I bundle into fleece and sweats to greet the day in "sunny California." I've been thinking a lot about relative cold lately, perhaps I'll answer your post with a post later today!

At 5:31 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hi, Christina, ah yes, the value of tea in banishing cold....

At 5:31 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hayden, if you are thinking Michigan, you must be thinking cold... How are yurts in a wind? I am very curious now about yurts. I'll look forward to your post.


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