I tiptoed down to the living room and peered outside at the thermometer.
Then I tiptoed back upstairs so as not to wake the dog.
“It’s 1 degree out,” I whispered to her in a library voice.
Lying on her stomach, with a pillow over her head, she took the bait.
“Aarmpf,” she said.
Then I let her have it.
“That means,” I said, pausing for effect, keeping my voice low and steady, “It’s 7 degrees below zero with the windchill.”
It was probably shock that kept her from immediately bolting upright.
“Arpf,” she replied, barely audible, in her sleep.
I let the severity of this revelation sink in and tiptoed back to the kitchen so as not to wake the dog.
It was 5 a.m.
Inside I chuckled gleefully, as I planned my next move.
Long underwear? Probably.
Facemask? Good idea, and good luck finding it.
Socks, gloves, coffee? All, check.
Ice cleats. Not available.
I was ready to hit the pavement that was covered, as it were, with a nice slick hard pack like a bobsled course, but damn the torpedoes, right?
When I closed the front door behind me, not much outside had changed from the night before. The air was quiet. A few cars trundled past on the main road. The snow in the yard looked as if it were part of a manger scene. The strings of heat from neighboring chimneys climbed like snakes from a basket. They flickered when they met a breeze at elevation, as if in hesitation.
It was cold as all get out.
For some reason, as I get closer to my senile years, I like the cold as much as I think I did as a kid, when I didn’t like it much at all, but spent most of my time in it anyways because, well, it was the 1970s.
For the untrained, this was before the invention of the PS4. There was a creek behind the house and a square mile or more of woods and field.
That was the logic.
Go play, parents would say, and we obliged, because there wasn’t much talking back through five layers of clothing, facemasks, hats and insulated boots.
If someone pushed you outside, it’s where you stayed until you got up, or they opened the door.
These days I’m almost giddy when I revel at the cold and snow.
A friend who has made the walk with me throughout the Frozen North thinks it’s because as we get old, we realize weather is temporal, a short reality bordering on fiction that swiftly passes, leaving us in a primordial state of looking back mostly, and analytically considering what lies ahead.
Bunk, I say.
Cold is cold. Take it or leave it.
As I stood on the front steps with the door closed behind me, I was already remembering how in times past I jogged in 5-below weather as I trained for a couple days to be a biathlete.
Those guns are expensive though, and I didn’t have the shoes for it, I recalled.
Then out of the mist of morning and memory there was Freddy, a kid from grade school, chopping a hole in the river ice with a hatchet trying to retrieve a mink he had caught in a trap. Its $15 pelt could be the difference between a new bike in the spring with a bar between the seat and handlebars, or his sister’s hand-me-down.
Looming over Freddy and me, the sky was glass and cloudless. The moon was a pinpoint.
“Run back to the house and get the axe,” Freddy, who was much bigger than me, and who liked to punch me in the arm, hissed.
It was probably 5-below, back then. I don’t recall wind, except what whirled behind me as I sprinted the mile or more through the woods back to his house for the axe.
Our friendship didn’t last. But a certain love of the cold survived.
Seven degrees below zero, according to the weather charts, is a temperature that is “very cold and very uncomfortable.”
Standing on the steps much older, the age that my neighbors say goes hand-in-hand with wisdom, I felt the icy burn and set out to test my attachment to discomfort.
• • •
Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.