Taking the temperature

Harry Drabik

It’s full winter, the season when temps sound like the fate of the future. Maybe grim suspicion lies behind the need to bundle up and fear of wind chills. Bundling shows public reverence for cold. In Old Norse the power of winter was seen in Skaldi, goddess of mountains, archery, and wintery winds. Yes, a goddess. Makes me wonder if the ancient Norse were shrewd observers or plain old sexists. By why ask when I’ve no likelihood of a secure answer? But I know this much. Winter wasn’t always seen as bad and instead was a time to get things done.  

In Northland offices and public spaces you’ll see evidence of winter’s former role in sleds of logs piled toweringly high pulled by a pair of horses along an iced winter road. Such loads were impossible on wet summer roads. Winter was when that kind of work was best. Skis and kick sleds made winter travel and chores easier than a summer months trudge with a swarm of blood sucking buzzers for company. A few miles could be covered with ease. At the end your nose as happy red as Rudolph.

In a few weeks (Jan 31) away the Finn winter festival of Laskianen starts at Palo just south of Aurora. An easy drive from the Twin Ports, the festival gives hints of why those long gone saw winter as a goddess. Winter has a friendly loving disposition, but you have to know how to reach it. I’ll suggest it’s not by fearing wind chill as if two minutes outdoors at Zero will turn you into a member of Franklin’s lost arctic expedition ca 1840. Winter can be fun. Besides, the pea soup is served indoors with little chance of centuries long mysteries over bodies gone missing.  

Not too long ago I parted with a trusted friend, my Black’s down filled sleeping bag combo used when I was a devoted winter camper. Its tightly woven cotton shell had virtues synthetics can’t duplicate, but I am quick to recognize fluffy down under you compresses too much to give adequate insulation from frozen ground. God how I relished winter camping! Rewarding as it was demanding, I loved it. Unable to afford and crew my own outer space adventure, winter camping gave a similar challenge. I found out the hard way what worked in summer was not a sure thing in Skaldi’s season. Some plastics would shatter at below zero. Candles burned far longer in the cold. The learning process was excellent. Function mattered, style hardly at all.

It was revelation seeing a four dollar solution work as well as the forty dollar version.   There’s a side of this I approach with judicious caution because it relates to Skaldi as a lover. If you were cavalier about her beforehand you’d see otherwise in the deeps of predawn cold when Skaldi’s embrace presses around your body like a presence intent on draining you of heat and life. Skaldi was not a woman to mess with. Anyone male, female, or betwixt who ran afoul of her anger or careless of her rigors would pay a price.

Minor patches of frosted cheek were warnings of lost toes and hypothermic crazies that could come. Respect for and listening to winter has more personal and survival value than the most costly and attractive outfit China has to sell us. Some make the ten yard dash to their cars while freezing in their latest and best. Others take that walk at Skaldi’s side and are happy at lungs filled with freshest air. The winter goddess teaches not to think of cold but of opportunity and life. How often have I said, “It’s only ten below,” and then laughed with easy acceptance? If you’re smiling now, you know.  

Whatever the weather is I’ll find out for myself and don’t need a media weather being to tell me. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t listen, which functionally is damn close to not caring but at a distance where there’s less bother with having to explain. People will look unbelieving when they complain of cold feet or hands and someone like me tells them “Cover your head.” They don’t get it and maybe never will, considering their seriousness is nil. But it’s not all their fault either. I recently found a new set of chopper mitts for sale with liners sewn in. How terrible is that for drying them out? But it was worse. The liners had individual fingers inside the shell. How can you mess up chopper mitts? Seems someone sitting in Szechuan knew and did a bang up job of it as well.  

And maybe you’ve noticed another form of annoying weather being who can’t (like it’s their obsession) resist the urgent need to check your political temperature. Whiles back a “believer” would work an emphasized 28 into the conversation to test reaction and sort the Godly Lutheran from the Unholy Papist. Boy that was fun. Even with Christ’s hippy-like “peace man” guide the sides were able to justify armadas, pogroms, and stake burnings. Frankly, I’m not comfortable with ideological temperature taking. Code phrases or manner of dress can be theologically innocent but has often been the preparation for who to kill. I know (or at least hope) the current practice by some of temperature taking by injecting TRUMP into chitchat is no more than a personal fixation, but it gives me the willies. Frankly, I don’t like impeachment. It reminds me of a nasty divorce where one side wants marital annihilation, to keep the kids (is that us), and gain a windfall. Seems like Mother Nan battling Daddy Don and the only thing they might agree on is the moral lesson of Eve and Adam is not to eat apples when naked. This is really not helpful. But on the bright side it looks rather pitiable, doesn’t it? Well at least that’s something.  

Good things, fine intentions can turn catlike in their own skin from innocent virtue to egotistical vengeance. This happens when people are involved. Best to remember even the most virtuous temperature taker among us doesn’t need much encouragement to bring out the rectal thermometer.