We rarely have days when the temperature drops into the single digits until January or February. We live in Maine, so this is Fahrenheit and single digits are well below the freezing temperature of water. When this cold air arrives, we are ready. We have had at least a month of pre-winter, that nippy, sometimes snowy season that gets us prepared for real cold. This unofficial season is a training period, because every summer long days and a hot sun blur our memory of winter, and we have to learn how to deal with it all over again.
In November, we shiver at twenty-eight degrees, but we are wearing a lightweight jacket and no hat. By January we are tough. We are perhaps even a bit smug. “Look at us,” we say, our bodies sheathed in silk with layers of wool and a windblock topping. “We know how to deal with Old Man Winter.”
Each year when we unearth our winter paraphernalia we need to reacquaint ourselves with all the bits and pieces. There are balaclavas and goggles, glove liners and mittens, ice creepers, snow suits and warm furry hats. There is the world’s best foot cozy, neoprene Stormsocks that will keep the most wimpy feet in snug, dry warmth. We swagger, decked out in our winter wear, and we go out to play. Snowshoeing, skiing, standing on the ice fishing for hours, having an evening cocktail at twelve degrees by the bonfire, following animal tracks, how wonderful winter is we exclaim.
Winter is when we prefer to go to the family camp. We stand on the ice watching eagles and pulling up the occasional fish. If we get enough they will be dinner, but we always have a back up steak. Today we watched an eagle feed on a grey squirrel, saw a herd of seven deer chased onto the pond, and found that the beaver lodge that was active last year has been abandoned. We caught some fish, did yoga on a frozen cove, cooked eggs and toast on the woodstove.
The day has been long, most of it spent on the ice. It was nine degrees when we went out before breakfast, and was less when we headed in after sunset and a taste of peppermint liqueur. This last was supplied by a neighbor who came by on his treaded four-wheeler. He gallantly plucked etched shot glasses from his pocket as he shared his bottle with the few of us on the ice. We watched the golden orange clouds as the sunset, listened to the eagles chirping, and nodded appreciatively to each other. “Not many people have the chance to enjoy this,” we concurred.
Back in camp the snow that has come in during the day still sits in clumps on the kitchen floor. We have kept the woodstove going, the corner of the camp near it is warm, and soon the steaks are sizzling. Single digits a worry? We are in an uninsulated cabin, spent most of the day outside, and the colder the better. We heat water for washing and think with sympathy of those who live in a part of the world that has no word for ice.
We will go back to our other life tomorrow, but tonight we will peek at the moon on the pond through windows coated with frost, and recall our favorite cold night here.
There were no year round neighbors on the pond then, and no house lights could be seen when we looked out the window.
We came to camp with two of my husband’s grandchildren. The fishing was tough. We leaned into the wind to get on the ice, and made a wall of shingles to keep the freezing sleet from filling in the holes. It was the kind of cold that reminded you the elements are king, not us. Any mistake on our part could be fatal. This sounds melodramatic, but people die every year from forgetting winter is different. Each fish caught means peeling off gloves to pull it in, and all our hands were red and numb by the time we headed back in to camp for dinner and charades. The thermometer read -12, wind chill was well below that.
The kids tucked into sleeping bags were a few feet from the wood stove. The youngest said he would keep the stove going and he did. The brutal wind and openings in the walls sucked the heat out and he had to stuff more sticks in the stove about every half hour. Camp is at the bottom of a steep, and in winter, icy road. If we needed help it would not have an easy time arriving. By eleven the valiant grandchild was sleeping with deep sweet breaths, and it was our turn to man the fire. We sleep in a curtained alcove, and not much warmth reaches there. Ice on the inside does not melt. Under piles of down we are warm and content, but leaving that steamy cocoon to cross a cold floor to the wood box and back to the stove is not a pleasant task.
I said our turn, but it was not I slipping out from hot coziness every half hour. I did not even awake for many of the stove ministerings but when I did I offered drowsy encouragement, “Hurry up, you’ll freeze!” I called, tucking the blankets about my chin.
Long before light D. again put a few logs in the stove. I heard the stove door close, but he did not return to bed. Eventually, perplexed, I wrapped a blanket around myself and crept out into the frigid air. He was by the kitchen door, which still had snow mounded on the floor, and was pulling on his snowsuit. Shocked, I asked what he was doing. “I need to go out,” he said. This was the darkest hour before dawn. Probably wind chill of minus 30.
“No, no,” I said, “Use the chamber pot.” He looked at me blankly and repeated, “I have to go out.” He does sometimes talk and walk in his sleep. We have some very odd conversations; we call it talking on Channel One, as the first time this happened he said he was going to be interviewed by Channel One.
I tugged on his arm, soothingly, and started to lead him back to bed.
He pulled away and reached for the door. I shook him, “You are sleeping” I said, “Come back to bed.” I tried to pull his mittens off. He pushed me away. “It is minus 20” I said a bit loudly, and then, more loudly, “You cannot go out!”
He looked at me and said, “I started the car this afternoon, just to be sure to warm it up. I forgot to turn it off.”
I opened the door for him.
More about camp: Why does my hair smell like bacon?