December 10th, 2007
A day or two ago, I got the feeling that winter has set in. Maybe you know the feeling.
I looked outside the bedroom window. The trees had a bit of white all over. The tall grass in the distance had a sheen of gray on it. The sky was a uniform gray. Small ice pellets hit at our window. As far as the eye could see, not a sign of anything that wasn’t frozen.
As I stood in our warm 68-degree house, I was reminded of how little separates us from the frozen outdoors. A few inches of wood and insulation is all. How easy it is to fret about the rapidly rising cost of propane these days, the cost of heating a house. But still, how easy we have it compared to the people that came before in this house.
They had to keep a fire going for warmth, keep a ready supply of firewood for the winter, figure a way to get the warmth throughout the house. All with insulation that wasn’t as good as we have, windows that didn’t shut as tight as ours, doors that were draftier. As is typical today, our furnace has safety systems designed to detect problems and shut itself down if something weird happens. Back then, indoor heat was a dangerous thing. There’s been at least one chimney fire in this house, an event which often claimed the entire house and sometimes the lives of its inhabitants. Ten feet from my desk, there’s a rounded out black spot on the floor where, perhaps 70 years ago, someone opened the door to a wood stove, only to be surprised by a burning log falling out to the wood floor.
Today, we can’t use wood heat due to Terah’s asthma. We had the chimney removed to boost the energy efficiency of the house with modern heat. Out back in the trees north of the house, there is a pile of bricks, saved from our chimney for future use. Each brick has a scorched side, darkened from the chimney fire and decades of use.
As we experienced firsthand in the ice storm of 2005 (see also more stories and pictures), it doesn’t take much to be thrown back a hundred years from a convenient modern heat to our non-automated, non-mechized, past. All it takes is a tree to snap too close to the right power line anywhere between our house and the generating station — which I think is 80 miles away — to make our house mighty cold. Even though I still have a stack of firewood, it wouldn’t do us much good these days.
With that in mind, today I was listening to the radio while driving in to work. How lovely to hear this quote:
“The National Weather Service will issue a Winter Storm Warning effective at noon today, lasting through 6AM tomorrow.” We are to expect rain, freezing rain, ice pellets, and ice. A “wintry mix” is the technical term for it, I believe.
Temperatures were just a few degrees warmer than expected this afternoon, so we got mainly rain. What we will get tonight is an open question yet. I’m sure that schoolchildren all over the state are hoping for ice and lots of it. Personally, I feel that it’s only been three years since I spent a week carrying a saw in my trunk in order to be able to clear my driveway every time I left home or got back home. I think I’m owed another year or two off. I also wouldn’t mind avoiding the giant branch sitting on the ground right in front of the front door, or the 40-degree indoor temperatures, or the lack of running water due to lack of electricity.
But these crisp, cold winter days are a rare thing to enjoy these days. We get a month or two of stifling heat each summer, but only a week or two to enjoy this really cold part of winter. I miss the snowdrifts when we don’t get them.
So, mother nature, bring it on. I’ll be waiting with my camera and a glass of hot chocolate. Because even without electricity, I can still light a burner on our oven with a match.