It is 7 degrees above zero this morning in Atlanta, Georgia (Fahrenheit, of course). And the bright sun appears to be shuddering a bit as it rises for its work, today. Maybe that’s why the days are shorter in the wintertime; the day’s work in the cold is so much more exhausting for the sun than in the warmer months. (Did I mention I am not a scientist?)
The coldest documented temperature I ever experienced was 15 degrees below zero. That was in an unusually mild winter in Billings, Montana in 1976-77. And a close second to that was in the community of Cheap Hill, just outside Ashland City, Tennessee. My thermometer read 13 degrees below zero. The high that day reached a balmy 1 degree above; I think it was the winter of 1988 or 89. We were heating with wood that winter with an Ashley stove.
Keeping a record of extremes is a favorite thing for us humans, isn’t it?
When James Taylor sings the song, Frozen Man, he begins with these words:
Last thing I remember was the freezing cold,
Water rushing up just to swallow me whole,
Ice in the rigging and a howling wind,
The shock to my body as I tumbled in.
He is the only survivor of a shipwreck; everyone else is lost at sea. And his body is “hidden in ice for a century,” he says. But he has been found, revived, and “walks the world again.” He is something of a bionic man, reconstructed by scientists, and considered to be “state of the art.” (Taylor was inspired to write this song after the 1984 exhumation of the body of sailor John Shaw Torrington).
But it is miserable for “the frozen man”. Children are frightened by his appearance. He goes to his own grave site, curious to see the kind of tombstone he was given when he died. While there, he sees the graves of his wife and daughter who died from “extreme old age”. And he asks that when he dies the next time there be nothing left for scientists to “work on.” He doesn’t want to come back; he wants to say, “goodbye” to life on earth.
We all have our own time on this earth, don’t we? I have often mused about living in another time period. But the truth is, we are best suited for the one we are in, aren’t we? And if we had the chance to have another go at it, in a distant time, we might not like it at all.
Cryonics. Low temperature preservation of humans.
We don’t preserve well . . . even in ice, not entirely, that is. Our bodies may look much the same once they are thawed out, but the part of us that makes us “alive” (in the sense of self-awareness, speech, thought, love, etc.) is absent.
The coldest recorded temperature on earth may have been 135.3 degrees below zero (measured on Dec. 10 2013) in Antarctica. Now THAT is cold with a capital C! It beats our current North American polar vortex hands down. And although I’ve heard all my life that it is more comfortable to die from severe cold than severe heat (they say you fall asleep more easily when freezing to death), I don’t know that I would choose the cold option. Brrrrrrrrr!
There is a great temptation to compare our weather plights, isn’t there?
People in the northern states scoff at the way cities in the south shut down when there is snow or unusually cold weather. People in Canada scoff at the weather amateurs to the south of them, too. I guess dwellers in the circumpolar region laugh at the balmy winters the rest of us experience. It’s just in our nature to compare. Especially when it comes to inclement weather.
Oklahoma has its tornadoes, Montana its blizzards, Florida its hurricanes, Arizona its extreme heat. Tales of adventure are often made up of one of the stereotypical extremes that go along with each portion of the country. Perhaps this is universal. Native dwellers in each region identify personally with their most dangerous and extreme weather malady.
Deep within the human psyche is the desire to survive. We are wired to want to find a way though whatever disaster befalls us. At times we may want to simply give in, resign ourselves to our plight, and wait for the end. But more often than not we rise to the occasion, we “buck up” (as my mother used to say), we persevere, especially when we are in a group of persons all in the same situation.
Part of the fun in comparing weather with one another is telling our story of survival, declaring how we overcame the elements, beat the odds, were valiant and brave. There is a Rocky Balboa in each of us. And the last thing we want is to die, be immediately preserved, then resurrected at some future date in order to enter a world we no longer recognize and in which we have no history of battles won.
We are survivors. Not cryonic, bionic time travelers.
So, I will put on our home calendar the word COLD covering the early part of this week. Just so that next January when we review the year 2014 we will remember this cold snap. And I will wear socks to bed, even if I have to kick them off part way through the night (like I did last night). I will put faucet covers on my outside faucets, and run a slow stream of water in the sink inside the house overnight to help stave off the bursting of water pipes. And I will do what Garrison Keillor calls “the Minnesota hunch” when I have to be outdoors.
Life offers a plethora of extremes to each person. And we would do well to note them. Each one.
The truth is, we learn from the extremes we endure; they stretch our hearts and minds in ways nothing else can. Whether cold, or heat. Whether failure, or lavish success. Be it divorce, great personal loss, tremendous inspiration, freedom from an addiction, or an arduous journey toward a goal. We might never choose some of these things if left to our own devices. But they can shape us. Mold us. Cause us to be reborn.
So, live your life. Gather up your stories. Rehearse them with one another. Let great obstacles in your life be met with great personal response. Endure the cold. Take the heat.
Leave an imprint on this world that is larger than life.
Others are following behind you. They won’t be breaking you out of the permafrost in order to revive you. Your influence is something they will inherit.