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January 14, 2012: What If?

I often let my mind wander, and let it go where it will. This winter, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cold. Before going to bed, I put my clothes in a pile by my bed, so that I can put them on the first thing in the morning. There are two reasons for this. The first is so that I might avoid being cold. We have a woodstove, and it takes a bit for the cabin to heat up. The second is to foster my own self-illusion that I’m winter camping. It really isn’t much of an illusion—the only things that separate me from the great outdoors are wood walls and clothes.

I used to think that I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Minnesotan Anne

Rainbow observing the road below
Rainbow observing the road below

Bancroft, and do a major winter expedition. I don’t think this way anymore, because living in this place has given me a sense of just how difficult this would be.

As I dress, I often think about what it would be like, if say, two thugs came into the house. One would hold me captive and the other would toss all my clothes into the woodstove. Then (in this reoccurring scenario) Thug One would boot me outside. I’d by then, of course, be stark naked, having been forced to disrobe and toss my remaining clothes into the fire.

Just how long would I live? Of course, this would depend on the temperature. The colder it is, the shorter the amount of time I’d have left. Below zero, and I’d quickly become hypothermic and die. Even running to stay warm wouldn’t work cut it. My feet, legs, hands, arms (in that order), would begin feeling like cement blocks.

What this all brings me to is the realization that in the winter, two things keep us from freezing to death: The first is indoor heat. And the second is clothing. Just think, we are so fragile; we’d be toast without a few insulating layers. I know that I’m stating the obvious here, but this is a good thing to think about every once in a while. It actually makes me even more appreciative of the fact that I have long johns, fleece, a Refrigerware suit. And as of this winter, Steger Mukluks—the best footwear for winter conditions, ever. And I have a half-dozen pairs of winter gloves and mittens.

Yesterday, I removed my gloves in order to take a photo. In seconds, my hands began hurting. I shook them, to encourage blood flow, but this did little good. I had to go inside and warm them up before heading back out.

The dogs, horses, and goats, all mammals, have dense winter coats, so they’re better off when it comes to dealing with inclement conditions. The dogs don’t stay out long when it’s ten below, and the goats refuse to leave their shed. The horses don’t seem to care one way or the other when it’s this cold. I’ve noticed that their guard hairs stand up more when it’s colder—this better enables them to retain their body heat.

Some people blanket their horses. I have blankets on hand, but seldom use them. My theory is that the blankets flatten the hair, thus reducing the body’s insulating value. I also routinely brush the snow off them so that their coats might dry out more quickly. I also give them lots of hay—as much as they will eat. Hay (in a manner of speaking) fuels the furnace and keeps them warm. This works from the inside out.

Some people also put coats on their dogs. I suspect, as with horses, short-haired dogs need this. Jenna and Rainbow do not. Rainbow is the most adaptable of our two dogs. When outside, she keeps herself warm, by running, or curling up in her hay bed under my cabin. I took the attached photo of her today—she was sitting in a snow mound, in the sun, keeping a close eye on the road below.

After a bit, she came to the door, wanting to be let in, so that she could claim her rightful spot on the couch. If I didn’t let her in, she’d push the door open and walk in. This is why she has the nickname Doggy Hotel.

It will be fun, next July, to return to this particular dispatch and reread it. Most likely, it will bring back to mind what winter here is really like.

Next: 40. 1/15/12: Just Do It