On twenty-nine degrees below zero

In northern Minnesota (yes, a redundancy) the temperature dropped to minus 29 degrees Fahrenheit this morning. This is not bragging, it’s just weather. There have been far colder places in the USA, including the far reaches of Alaska where it is often lots colder. Yet, there is a certain something in the cold weather experience which tests a person’s metal. Do you have what it takes to keep on trying on a morning when your car probably won’t start, your water pipes may be in danger of freezing, the dog has to be kept inside, ice crystals float like little diamonds in the air, the snow crunches under your feet, and you are bundled up like the Michelin Man. Exposed skin will freeze in less than five minutes at that temperature, so you better know how your cold weather gear works and pay attention. Even the slightest problem, flat tire, no gas, flat battery, turns into a dangerous crisis at that temperature. God forbid your furnace or electricity go out at this temperature. Twenty-nine degrees below zero is nothing to fool with and it’s a temperature that puts a huge stress on everything–buildings, heating, plumbing, electricity, travel, cars, trucks, people, children. If you have to be outside for any time at all, you must know what you are up against, or it could be fatal. Waiting outside for anything for any amount of time can chill you to the bone and puts a huge stress on fingers, toes, ears, noses, and feet. Usually people can keep their core warm with a good jacket or parka, but we always skimp on the footwear and the gloves. And let’s not even talk about taking your gloves off for moment to do something barehanded at this temperature, which is extremely problematic. If the wind is blowing at all, you have a big problem if you are forced to walk any distance at all. At twenty-nine degrees below zero your breath freezes almost instantly, and the cold air will make your teeth hurt as your breathe. I’ve had a car battery die at minus twenty-four, which is almost just as bad. My super-cold weather gear consisted of long-johns, wool socks, various layers of cotton and wool t-shirts, thermal wear, down-filled gloves, packs (insulated boots), and a down-filled hat with ear-flaps. None of this clothing will win any fashion awards, but it will keep you from freezing to death when regular clothing just cannot do the job. Because that’s what we’re talking about–dying. When it’s a hundred degrees in the shade, you pour yourself another glass of water, stay out of the sun, relax, take it easy, but at twenty-nine degrees below zero you have to face a few challenges if you have to go outside, go to work, to school. And just because it’s cold does not mean that emergency services don’t have to be functioning–police, fire, city, ambulances, garbage, snow removal. Curiously, we know that crime tends to dip a bit when the temperature gets this low, so criminals don’t like to go out either when it’s twenty-nine degrees below zero. If you don’t like icy conditions, stay in Texas or Arizona or Florida or California because this is an either you like it or you hate it. And there’s no sense in torturing yourself with cold weather if you can help it. Cold weather does not make you more honest, or a better person, or more moral, or more ethical, but what it will do for you is clear: you are certainly a more careful person when it comes to your daily routine because anyone who has ever suffered frostbite, certainly does not want to do it again. Bundle up out there–cold nose, warm heart.