The Arctic News

Bundle up!

It’s cold. I don’t have to tell you, it’s cold everywhere! Cold, I’ve found since moving from the gulf coast of Texas to the mountains of North Carolina, is relative. We had a high of 21 degrees yesterday at 7 am. Our mailman, Mike from Boston, wore shorts and a sweatshirt while he walked the neighborhood to deliver the mail around 1 pm–it was 18 degrees by then. I was wearing, inside my house with the heat on at 69 degrees, two pairs of pants, a turtleneck sweater, a vest and a hot pack I nuked in the microwave. Mike and I are clearly two different species of humanoid.

I’ve lived in Asheville for more than five years, so I have accumulated a few necessities for surviving the cold weather. I cherish the parka I purchased with my dividends from REI, It’s down-filled and has a nice hood. I also have rain paints for the wind and a pair of ski pants for the end of the world aka next ice age. The rules I follow for outdoor excursions are: If the temperature starts with a 4, I wear the parka (adding the rain pants if it’s windy). If the temperature starts with a 3, I wear the parka and ski pants along with my fleece hat and hand-knitted scarf, a pair of hardy gloves and my good hiking boots. If the temperature starts with a 2, I don all of the above and it takes me longer to get it all on than it does to walk the dog around the block because my outdoor pace quickens to rival that of Usain Bolt.

To the rescue!

Below 20 degrees I might go out if the sun’s shining and there’s no wind and no ice. I strap a barrel of brandy to my hardy pup and carry an electronic beacon so rescuers can find my thermically-challenged body before I succumb to that nice feeling of being warm and begin chanting with the angels. I figure I’ve got ten minutes tops to encourage my dog to pee and then I can drink the brandy while I hurriedly find my way home again because by then I’ll have to pee and it takes some amount of time to get all that gear off of the appropriate bodily areas.

My biggest fear of cold weather is ice. And snow. And ice under the snow where you can’t see it. In my capacity of fall-prevention instructor, well acquainted with our tottering bipedal nature, I envision cold-weather hikers/dog-walkers crashing to the ground in spectacular, bone-breaking fashion. If I were to take the tumble, all the other cold-weather hikers/dog-walkers would huddle around me with their cell phones explaining why it will take three hours for an ambulance to arrive when I am just the garden-variety slip and fall victim with a busted femur while all other emergencies involve faulty heart functions and/or spurtings of blood. Winter-time street triage, I believed it’s called. Needless to say, I would never drive in these weather conditions. Ice and snow call for hours of baking, zero time of driving. If I had to go to a hospital with some sort of emergency, I’d ask my mailman to drive me there. He clearly has this wintry life well under control. I could reward him with freshly-baked cookies.

No Plan B

My second biggest fear is losing power. I have lived without power for a week or so, either while camping or after a major hurricane. We are well equipped for staying at home food-wise as we have three camp stoves and a grill and a hurricane-worthy pantry full of non-perishables. Note to self: Check the camp stove fuel and charcoal supplies. The real problem, as I see it, is the lack of home heating should the electricity go off. Not to worry, I have plans. Well, actually, I have only vague plans which involve a man, a dog and a down comforter. Food won’t be a problem until somebody gets crumbs in the bed, and then the comfort group may be reduced to two. The dog has the best bladder in this triad of survivors, so walks outside can be postponed for awhile, though, what with the gallons of tea I would be consuming, frequent hops to the water closet may interrupt the warmth zone.

Snuggling, warm in my bed in the Hobbit House with my reliable alternate heat sources, I always start to think about homeless people. Thinking about homeless people out in the cold makes me shiver. Severe winter conditions, aptly named Code Purple, trigger a response from awesome organizations like ABCCM and BeLoved Asheville. I know they do their best to get people off the streets and into shelters. But not everyone wants to go and some people are difficult to keep up with. I try to mentally send them some warmth from my heart and hope fervently they will be okay, then I vow to make another donation in the morning.

Dude, where's my kung pao?

My writing group planned to meet today. Not only was it 9 degrees this morning, but it snowed again last night, leaving a death-slick of iciness on my neighborhood street. The meeting was cancelled due to the state of the roads. We all cooked yesterday to have something to contribute to our potluck lunch. I’d spent the previous frigid, snowy afternoon making tamales, which I carefully packed for travel and prevented local, would-be tamale eaters from consuming. My man and I faithfully scarfed down whatever leftovers we had stashed in the fridge because we didn’t want to demand any Chinese food delivery drivers drive from the Oriental Pavilion, two miles away from our door, in that wintry mix. I can’t decide if last night was a great night for the Chinese food delivery drivers or the shittiest night of the year due to either: 1) Having to drive in the snow but with good tipping or 2) Having to drive in the snow for poor tipping or 3) Not driving at all because nobody wanted to make them drive in the snow in order to have mediocre Chinese food delivered to their house, so zip-all on tips. My mind tends to wander into these deep philosophical meanderings when I’m the only one making tamales.

So now it has warmed up to 13 degrees and I am gearing up to heat up some tamales and eat them without guilt. I’ll freeze what’s left and thaw them out for our next writer’s group meeting. This afternoon was an appropriate time to risk my bones with a short, carefully executed walk around the block. I had already gone out after lunch yesterday to slide around the neighborhood streets in the name of exercise and boredom relief, and lived to tell the tale. Today seemed fractionally better for walking if not driving. I could hop onto a snowy lawn if the ice in the road was too formidable. I pulled my parka hood over my fleece hat to keep the wind out of my ears, which created a problem in communications. With the hood up, all I can hear is the scritchy-scratchy sound of nylon moving over fleece. With this annoying sound perpetually in my ears, I cannot hear any conversation from my guy nor the sound of cars approaching. I may need to buy some ear muffs–but they might also create a barrier to hearing important sounds like snowflakes falling or someone shouting “look out!”

First aid

And so this is winter in the western mountains of a southern state. I pull all the gear on, harness the pooch and head out for a nice walk. After a decision to go further out into the neighborhood and the sudden appearance of the sun, I start to sweat under all my layers of protection from the cold. My body becomes slick with dewiness and I begin to pull off some of the outer layers. Then the wind whips in to drive the cold further into my body–all the way to my liver and other vital organs. So I put my parka back on and wipe my forehead with my scarf. I command my sweat glands to stop their oozing, but they never listen. I hasten my pace to get to the Hobbit House, where I can strip it all off and have a nice cup of tea. Which, of course, only makes me sweat more. I’m starting to worry I’ll never get the hang of this season. I think I should bake a pie.

Spring will be here soon!



  1. More pie sounds good to me. After all, pie fixes everything.

  2. I really like the phrase ” thermically-challenged” đŸ™‚

  3. I used to be better at managing winter when I lived in NY. Now, I more inclined to hunker down after prepping with a trip to the library. Hope the tamales freeze well.

  4. I love your mailman!

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