Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The trick of northern winter

It has been a cold winter where I live. So cold, so often, that I can't tell anymore and have lost the real name of the cold. I put on layers and layers of clothes when I go out as a matter of course, but other than that all manner of temperature variations seem the same to me. I know it's cold, but in some way that no longer affects me, that can't seem to reach me. This morning I went out walking and, as I often do this winter, I saw a bald eagle. I figured that it can't be that cold if the bald eagle was happily flying around in just its bare black and white feathers. Sure, there were no people to be seen anywhere on the usually popular river path, and the exposed part of my face stung in a strange, sharp way. I know those things say something. But surely it doesn't say as much as the fact that the eagle was completely naked. How can it possibly be all that cold if the eagle doesn't mind? And more than all of that, I wasn't cold! It's hard to explain. My body gets icy, I know it's cold, but it doesn't really have anything to do with me. Minus 14 degrees, 7 degrees, it's all become meaningless. It was relative for awhile, those 21 degrees used to mean something, but then it just became lost in a dream of ice. This is my world, says the deep ice.

At the end of the work evening, nine o'clock, temperature dropping, I walk out to the cars with Dave. "Huh." we say to the zero degrees.

"Should I put my glove flaps on?" Dave asks, referring to a kind of mitten flap we both favor that covers over your fingers on a fingerless glove. 

"No." I say. "What's the point?" Sure, our intensely frozen steering wheels will hurt our hands for a minute or two, but it's a hurt that doesn't penetrate. It's a pleasant kind of pain. I haven't shivered since November, when I thought 40 was cold. 40 is an abstraction, 40, 110, burning to death, I don't know.

Another night I leave with a couple co-workers to the parking lot, the thermometers registering a minus 12 degree evening. One co-worker says "It's a bit chilly out" like we're discussing a really pleasant spring that's surprisingly dropped into the fifties. Someone else answers with "Really? It's refreshing." The third person agrees. And the ice agrees.

And so do the eagles.

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