Tuesday, February 16, 2010

the cold

Many of you have asked how I am dealing with the cold. It certainly is a big adjustment: Australia was much warmer and drier than New England, and Thailand was a humid 90 degrees every day, 85 degrees every night. I became accustomed to dripping sweat, living in a uniform of flip flops, loose shorts, thin t-shirt, sun hat: at home, often just a bathing suit, to better deal with the heat, and to easier jump in and out of our pool. I never loved the heat, but I became comfortable enough in it's wet melting ease.

I came home to cold cold, 0 degrees F (18 C), cold even by Yankee standards. I have delighted in getting at least the end taste of my beloved Winter, but my body has been blatantly slower to adjust than my tastes.

I noticed first and foremost that the cold has made me very aware of my teeth: they feel harder, more brittle, and each of their flaws are made tactile in the cold air. I imagine they are more white, scoured by the cold and gleaming with the pain of the cold.

I am also very aware of my air passages, down to every branching bronchi of my lungs. They, too, feel purified by the cold air, which feels more like liquid than gas and requires sipping. I am limited by how painful the air is in my lungs: I cannot run, and regret a gasp or deep laugh outside.

My eyes feel delicate in the cold, as if the eyelids are made more thin, the lashes more heavy, the liquid in my eyes thicker. My eyes are tired from squinting to keep out the snowflakes, to keep out the white glare of the sun's reflection on the snow. Salty wind-whipped tears trickle out into the New England crowfeet I am developing.

The cold air is dry, desert dry, which ages my skin, making the skin of my hands look and feel like the skin of my mother's hands. My lips become smooth with dryness, and then harsh and rough and a beautiful pink with chapping, then my lips break open like an overripe peach and bleed, the blood soaked up by the parched skin over which it seeps. Chap stick makes no difference: I consider seeking out bear grease.

The heat that keeps away the cold is also uncomfortable: the oven of radiator-baked old wooden houses, the harsh blasts of warm air from doors when opened, the withering wafts from forced-air heating systems. And the exhausting sweat that comes from too many blankets on the bed, not getting your coat off soon enough inside, or the flush from a cup of hot tea.

But the cold is well worth it.

The cold allows for snow, gorgeous quieting heavy blessing of thick white. Today was a snow-globe, a vertigo of fluffy spinning flakes sticking perfectly to the branches and lampposts and making clean and simpler all vistas. Now at twilight, the snow and dusk conspire to negate background, highlight foreground, and wash the world in vibrant glowing shades of light blue. I saw even businessmen transfixed and commenting to strangers on the beauty of the snow today. I appreciate the cold for delicately holding this beauty.

And the cold keeps everyone inside, the animals asleep, the woods open and dormant. I walked with a friend through some rural forest in Rhode Island on Sunday. It was deeply silent except for the surf-roar wind in the uppermost branches: no other people out, no cars, no birdsong, no squirrel chitter, no footsteps (all muffled in the snow), no leaf scuffing or stick cracking, no sound. This pure redemptive quiet was like balm to my overstimulated mind. I appreciate the cold for holding things still and private.

On a mundane level, I enjoy being in the cold because I like coats, hats, and jeans, and I get to wear them again. I enjoy feeling enveloped, bundled, held together, hidden. I enjoy succumbing and entrusting myself to a soft warm bed, burrowing down into cuddly folds of flannel, shivering with delight at the sudden relaxation of my body as it becomes warm. I enjoy the pore-opening brain-melting bliss of a steamy shower. I enjoy being enfolded in a long hug, reveling in the warmth of a friend. These are not things which one can enjoy in a hot climate. And these are all things that make me feel safe, relaxed, loved, and at home. So it seems that home must be someplace cold, at least part of the time.

Bonus slide show: the morning after aforementioned snowstorm, blue blue sky!

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