Saturday, January 17

Cold Hard Facts About This Frozen Year

Everyone's suffering from the cold this winter, it seems; my niece in North Carolina just wrote to me that it's in the twenties down there, causing the natives to think the end of the world has arrived on the steely wings of a sub-arctic front. Or are we just plain suffering this winter? A survey publicized in the media yesterday said that over half of all Americans now identify themselves as somehow struggling, up markedly from even the last several months. On a comforting note, I suppose, the same survey did not identify a similar increase in those identifying themselves as "suffering," the only category given as lower and less enviable than "struggling."

My sister, living even further north than I, near the Twin Cities of Minnesota, writes in her usual philosophic manner about the cold as she experienced it this week: "…the air is indeed as clean and clear as it probably ever gets in the 21st century, blown straight down from the Arctic and surprisingly unsoiled by our human exhalations. Every short walk in this cold, thin air is like stepping outside with a new pair of glasses – the edges of every object sharpened into clear focus, the light so bright, the tree branches etched so finely against the sky. It IS beautiful." Ministers, such as she, have an uncanny propensity to identify the good in what seems to the superficial, like me, the bad and ugly.

She's right, though. If you can bear to look up, it is beautiful, at least when the sky clears and finds its way to blue again. It is not easy to appreciate, though, when you walk with your coat collar turned up, and your muffler wound round your head like some amateurish woolen mummification, and your hat pulled down to your tensely tucked eyebrows; it's genuinely hard to see either beauty or desolation from underneath all this heavy clothing. Having your top and bottom eyelashes freeze together when you do something as seemingly innocuous as blinking makes it hard to perceive the true beauty of the frozen wasteland, too.

I came home from work yesterday evening and went to fill up the tea kettle. Nothing came out of the kitchen faucet. I turned it to the left. Turned it to the right. Went and checked the bathroom faucets. They worked fine. Returned to the kitchen and tried again, to the left, to the right. Nothing. It looked fine under the sink in the cabinet, which left me one basic choice. Watch the News Hour with Jim Lehrer or go down in the basement (even colder than my drafty main floor) and check the water pipes. Since I didn't know what to look for among the many lines of overhead piping down there, I did the sensible thing and filled up the tea kettle in the bathroom, made a nice steaming toddy, and curled up to allow Jim and David and Mark and Gwen and all the rest make me feel intellectually deficit if well-informed from under a thick Mexican blanket in what is known as my Bonus Room.

It was a good choice. Even David Brooks is grinning like a kid at the prospect of Obama's Tuesday inauguration, and the story about the plane landing in the Hudson was just about the most positive news item that's hit the airwaves (or maybe the water waves?) in all of the last year. I was filled with a renewal of optimism, an audacity of hope, if you will. After the broadcast, armed with a flashlight and a hair dryer, I made my way boldly into the basement and not only succeeded in thawing out the plumbing without anything bursting but also changed the furnace filter.

Now if only I can bear to get out of my nice warm bed this morning, as snow swirls freshly outside my window, doing its best to look winsome. Maybe after I watch a good foreign movie here on my laptop computer... let's see.. "Beijing Bicycle?" "Babu Riba?"... what's on the nightstand here...