Saturday, March 22, 2008


Equinoctial gales are part of the normal give and take of the climate here on the edge of the Pentland Firth, but my patience for the normal give and take of the weather here is at its end. The wind is heaving and soughing; wintry precipitation--a meteorologist's euphemism for dirty, icy, projectiles--hide behind clouds to launch themselves on me on those rare moments I venture out thinking I have only to worry about keeping my footing in the face of gusts of 50-60 miles per hour. Yesterday the wind was so unrelenting that even the wood pigeons chose to sit in the pasture rather than on the tree branches or the wires.

I am not a weather sissy. I offer as testimonial that I am in my fourth year here (many lose heart altogether after the first winter or become seasonal migrants for the long golden days of summer). I offer as further testimonial that I grew up in Indiana where snow shovels, wind chill factor, and a frost that extended nearly three feet below ground are certainly evidence of a winter-hardened character. As a child I frolicked in the snow days that closed schools and ice skated on the little pond that froze solid enough for weeks of hockey and crack the whip before the tell tale signs of warming weakened the ice.

My love of outdoor sports even took me to the top of a ski slope in New Hampshire when most others were safely tucked inside with hot drinks watching the skiers go by. The lift lines were certainly shorter when the wind chill was at -30 F. and the trees along the slope with great hunks of snow on their branches were picture postcard beautiful.

My down-filled parka, silk long johns, and other armamentaria of midwestern winters, however, have been defeated by this Caithness cold. After three years, I have become culturally aware enough to discover one of the secrets to surviving here. Chilprufe.

If I had not been with a friend who was looking on that shelf of underwear and pajamas in the store where I just buy yarn and buttons and fabric, I would perhaps never have discovered it or been able to translate the label. I became the proud owner of my very first Chilprufe Classics Built Up Shoulder Vest.

To come to the understanding that this little bit of finely knitted wool was a charm to ward off the evil cold spirit, I needed to know
  • that a vest is worn under clothes here, not over as in the US (Sleeveless garments worn on the outiside can be called waistcoats or body warmers when they refer to those padded garments used for outerwear)
  • that "built up shoulder" meant only wider straps not some kind of padding
  • that only wool can keep the chill from sinking through all your outer clothes into your very bones

With my Chilprufe, which extends to the top of my legs, I dared to wear a skirt (OK, long skirt over tights, but that was quite liberating after jeans or other long trouser). After just one or two wearing, I went back to the store and bought another Chilprufe. How have I lived without them?

These equinoctial gales, however, have been the Kyrptonite to the superman of my Chilprufe. As I climbed over gates last night to check on the expectant cows, and the wind whisked up the inside of my jacket and through the slight openings between hood and parka, my Chilprufe struggled mightily but managed only to hold off the worst of the cold.

Today, when my husband told me it was even colder than yesterday, I rummaged through my sweater (or "jumper" as they say here) drawer for a sweater that had been too warm for the United States. It's time had come. A hand knit wool sweater from Nepal with the symbol of crossed Dorjiis on the front (it is supposed to ward off evil, I think) would surely do the trick.

And so it does. My middle section is comfortably warm, allowing me to walk into the corridor and even briefly outside without impending hypothermia. My feet and legs, however, are now calling out for similar protection. How fast can I knit a pair of leg warmers? I think I am about to find out.


At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

was it only last night that the cows were seen // actually 2 nights ago, last night was another cow, C02 // what a wonderful transformation into a cowgirl // makes me feel that everything is well looked after // good // scorrie //

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

brrrrrr! I always say... "with proper clothing.... one can go anywhere." Finding/selecting it can be a nightmare, however.

as I prepare myself mentally to meet the winter chill of Michigan, I find myself chanting "alpaca sweaters, alpaca sweaters..."

At 9:13 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hayden, alpaca is a wonderful fiber. I bought for a friend some great yarn that was a mix of Alpaca and blue faced leicester wool. I made a sweater fro my daughter from alpaca and silk--a great combination for strength and warmth.
I have been reading a book, Under the Weather, about how we report and understand weather and the people who do it. It is gossipy and sciency and history all rolled into one--not a well-written book but enough intersting bits to keep me going. Among them is this head-thunking idea--until the 19th century (rail roads, enclosed cars and cabs and such) most people had no choiuce but to endure whatever weather befell them. Until the macintosh was invented, this usually just meant layers and layers of clothes. Wool, of course, managed to keep people warm even when wet, but not very. Just the thought of that sends me for a cup of hot tea.

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Nita said...

I had to come for a look. I'll be back. The Chileprufe sounds perfect. We wear down, since it is so light and allows me free movement. Your posts make me feel right at home in Scotland. thank you

At 10:13 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

The winds have subsided here this afternoon -- they were really whipping this morning -- but it's positively beautiful at the moment -- nearly 50 degrees.

OK, my standards of what constitutes beautiful weather have lowered because of the long winter.

But we still had snow for Easter. As we took our seats for Easter Mass I asked (too loud) when the Carol Sing would start. I got an elbow for my troubles.

But people adapt. There were a lot of snowmen made around here with bunny ears this past week.

And you are so right about dressing for the cold. It is possible. Although, for wet, cold "wintry mix" the best costume to be in is a snug house.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hi, Nita, welcome to Scotland, or at least my wee patch. I lvoed your post on family cow. It is calving time here, so we are watching and waiting. We are semi-retired now tho I am not sure anyone ever really retires from farming.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Cur, hooray for the much needed change in the weather. Today was very nice here, too, but I agree that snug house is best dressing for cold weather. As the sun is dipping, the temperature is dropping so I will not venture very far til the sun shines again.


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