Cold places

Most of us around here have a bit of spring fever. Yesterday it made it to around 65 degrees and even though I had a full schedule of meetings, each time I had the opportunity to head outdoors I lingered just a little bit because it felt so good to be outside in my shirtsleeves. It has been a long and cold winter and we are ready for warmer days. Today is forecast to be warm with a chance of rain, a typical forecast for the season. I know that the forecast also calls for a bit of snow on Friday, but spring snow isn’t much of a problem. It melts quickly and most of the time we are just grateful for the moisture. Things are a little different with the high rate of runoff and flooding downstream, but when you live in the forest, you’re never really unhappy with a little bit of moisture.

While we are experiencing this nice weather, I’ve been reading Jane Maufe’s memoir of traveling through the Northwest Passage on Polar Bound, “The Frozen Frontier.” She describes being nearly trapped as they searched for a way though the ice. The water splashing up onto the decks and lifelines encrusted them in heavy ice and at times they had to go out into the cold wind to chip away the ice in order to allow the ship to maintain its balance. It was also necessary for them to scrape the ice from the pilothouse windows just to be able to see to avoid the largest chucks of floating ice. I’m sitting in my kitchen all snug and warm with a cup of tea and reading about two people on a small boat, taking turns going outside and chipping away ice until their fingers got so cold that they stopped working. Then they’d trade places with one inside warming their hands and watching the ships navigation until the other became too cold to chip away at the ice.

I wonder what it is about human nature that makes me enjoy reading about people who are in conditions that are colder than mine. There are plenty of books about tropical islands and even a lot of books about people who sail around the globe near the equator, enjoying perpetual summer. I’m not a sailor and I’m never going to become an expedition sailor, but for my recreational reading, I’m drawn to the stories of those who are exploring in cold places. If I were to go on an expedition, I think I’d prefer one to the arctic or antarctic rather than a journey up the Amazon or across the south Pacific.

Part of it is that i seem to have physical characteristics of a polar explorer. I’m not in superb physical condition, but I do have an extra layer of fat on my body. That excess weight is a real liability when I visit hot places. I sweat a great deal and have to slow my pace. When I’m working outdoors in the cold weather, I’m usually pretty comfortable. I have good warm clothes and working hard seems to keep me warmer and more comfortable. When I’m in a hot place, I have to pace myself to walk a bit slower and find myself enjoying just sitting still from time to time.

I’ve never done one of those genetic tests and I don’t have any interest in doing so, but I suspect that my heritage is mostly from places that are in the northern parts of the world where there are substantial winters. I’m sure that genetics has something to do with my preference for colder places.

I keep joking with my family that I aspire to retire in the Yukon. I’ve always wanted to visit that part of Canada and perhaps my retirement will give me the chance to do so. The joke comes from a series of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where Calvin decides to run away to the Yukon. He takes a toboggan, some sandwiches and Hobbes and heads out, without being sure which direction to go to reach the Yukon. I don’t hav much support from my family for actually retiring there and Canada isn’t courting immigrants for retirement. Furthermore, I find that I’m not making as many jokes about retirement now that it draws nearer and there are some pressures to retire before I think I want to do so. So I’m probably not going to live in the Yukon. But I’m not looking for a mobile home in Arizona or a cabana on the coast of Costa Rica either.

From the time we left Montana to go to graduate school in Chicago we have been led by what we have perceived as the call of God. The call to service has taken precedence over the specifics of geography. Although we have served upper midwest and western states, we have never limited our search for a call to a singe place. As a result, when we think about the place where we next will live, the process is a bit different, because perhaps location will take precedence in our thinking in a way that has not previously been the story for us. I know people who have chosen the place and then figured out how to live in that place. They have been very successful in their choices, but we have always put the church and the work to which they are calling first in our decisions. In fact I’m surprised that I have spent so much of my working life in the Dakotas. I grew up in Montana where making fun of the Dakotas is a recreational activity. I know so many North Dakota jokes that I can bore almost any gathering of people. I’m quick to tell people that the minimum requirement for being able to make North Dakota jokes is to have endured 7 winters in the state. I’ve done that. I’ve also experienced multiple winters in Idaho, Montana, and Chicago as well as South Dakota, where we live in a pretty sheltered place without the extremes of weather that occur in some of the other places.

So whatever other choices I make, I’m not interested in running away from snow. On the other hand, I probably don’t need the -50 of the Yukon, either.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!