Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Weather You're Ready or Not

For some reason, it always seems that the Midwest experiences its coldest weather the first week of the year. It's like Mother Nature wants to start with a challenge on the way to attempting another record for highest average global temperature.

Ma'ikwe and I returned home from three weeks in the (relatively) balmy Southwest Dec 30. With the mercury—and precipitation—falling steadily since departing Albuquerque Tuesday morning, we were racing (within the speed limit) to arrive home before the roads froze (driving on rain-slicked pavement is one thing; ice capades in a 2000-lb car is another). Our last stop before Sandhill was in Kirskville, the regional center in northeast Missouri and where I indulge myself in duplicate bridge every Wed night. We'd timed our return so that I could catch the last club game of the year on the way home (make those gas dollars count!), and we'd dutifully arrived at 6:45 pm, affording us just enough time for a well-earned cup of coffee before the game began at 7.

Unfortunately, the Washington Street Java Company (which used to be owned and operated by ex-Sandhill member Julia Reed, and is my favorite local stop for a double-shot latte) caters mainly to the student clientele from nearby Truman State University, and with the students on holiday break WSJC was closed early. Bummer! On top of that, Mark (the club director) hadn't been able to secure enough people for a game and my card game didn't materialize that night.

While it's always disappointing to miss an evening of bridge, there was a silver lining. The temperatures had slowly drifted south of 30 degrees and the determined snowfall had finally succeeded in turning the sidewalks slick with a patina of fresh ice. I knew the roads would not be far behind, and was thankful to assay the final 35 miles home three-and-a-half hours earlier than would have been the case if I'd dallied for bridge.

As it was, Ma'ikwe and I drove the snow-packed back roads at 35-40 mph (instead of the 55-60 mph we'd have driven ventured on dry pavement), and we were most grateful to conclude our 1600-mile trek home from Las Vegas (where we'd started our return Monday morning) around 8 pm and without ever leaving the road unexpectedly or sashaying into the rear end of someone else's vehicle. Whew!
Loving Your Wood Stove
After dancing around the freezing point while depositing 2-4 inches of snow during those last days of December, King Boreas got serious. New Year's Eve the thermometer more or less kept pace with the number of hours left in the year, as both inexorably marched toward zero at midnight. Every day since, we've awakened to negative numbers. Some days the temperature bravely climbs into double digits, but nothing even hinting of melting. This makes for nice cross-country skiing and skating (after clearing the pond of snow), yet encourages everyone to concentrate on indoor activities.
While the sunny days that invariably accompany such cold weather are good for solar gain (let's hear it for south-facing double-paned windows!), it's also a great way to find out how bad the infiltration is in your house, as every tiny crack around doors and windows leaks a stream of arctic air, tempering the output of our hard working wood stoves.

These are the days of short, low-angled sunlight, where we're truly appreciative of all the work done in previous winters to have dry, seasoned wood on hand right now. You don't know what anxiety is until you experience bitter cold and an uncertain wood supply, where you need to go out that day to secure the wood needed to keep the pipes from freezing that night. Over the course of our 35 winters at Sandhill, we've had winter moments like that and I'm highly thankful that we're not reliving them this week.

This past week my life has been in orbit around the wood stove. I start each day by drinking coffee by the stove, followed by some reading (or blogging). While I occasionally make forays into other parts of the house (accounting in the office, yoga in my bedroom, a cooking shift in the kitchen, a jigsaw in the dining room), I periodically return to the stove to take the chill off. The last thing before bed is usually checking my email or reading by the wood stove, and then stoking the fire for overnight.

One of my winter rituals is making sure there's plenty of water in an old cast iron pot we keep on the stove in a simple effort to re-humidify the bone dry air. Before retiring for the night I top off the tea kettle we keep on the stove so that we'll save a dab of propane in getting the coffee water hot the next morning—and can get that starter fluid into our bloodstream that much quicker.

I love the simplification of winter. While I have a broken window to replace in the FIC trailer and need to fix a leak in the back porch roof, neither of these tasks can be accomplished in freezing temperatures. So I write more, read more, play games, and bide my time. This is the only time of the year when Ma'ikwe and I can sleep all night cuddled together, entwined in each other's bodies like hibernating snakes (at all other times I get so hot that I have to stick at least one leg out of the covers to wick off heat).

There's an old joke about Death being Mother Nature's way of telling you to slow down. I figure that in the Midwest, where we have real cold, we have the opportunity to use Winter for that purpose in a less dramatic or permanent fashion. We need only pay attention and go with what we're given.

That's my reflection for today. Now it's time to stoke the wood stove.

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