It snowed all day yesterday, and we came home to shovel about six new inches. Overnight the temperature dropped, and when I walked the dogs this morning it was eleven degrees below zero. At that temperature, your nostril hairs freeze, your boots squeak on the hard snow, and your glasses freeze on your face. You get a headache.
But it was so beautiful. During the heavy snow of Saturday, the birds at the park were flying and flying--trying to stay dry, perhaps? The trees were full of twittering sparrows and chickadees and plump, puffed-up robins flitting from branch to branch.
But today was quieter. The scrape of shovel on sidewalk as a few people cleared their front paths. The muffled crunch of tires on snow, as a few cars trundled past. A burst of warmth and chatter at the Catholic church, as the doors opened and eight or nine elderly worshipers, dressed in black, wearing sensible hats, made their careful way down the steps after the Sunday before Christmas service.
But other than that, it was just Boscoe, Riley and me, trudging along, our nostril hairs freezing (mine, anyway), our boots squeaking on the hard packed wind swept snow.
It reminded me of Duluth stories--the time my hair froze to my front door (I have a bad habit of leaving the house with my hair still wet from my shower, even when it's twenty below), and the time when I was very young and we lived through one of the coldest winters on record.
We kids were thrilled by this, delighted with the plummeting temperatures, and kept our eyes on the fast-sinking red line of the skinny old thermometer in the breakfast nook. We cranked up the heat, pressed our palms to the frosted-over glass of the windows above the shimmering radiators to melt away peepholes, got hollered at for leaving our windows cracked at night. (I have always liked fresh air when I'm sleeping, even when that fresh air is frigid.)
One night the temperature plummeted to forty degrees below zero, and my oldest brother, John Patrick, burst down the stairs with great excitement. "They said on the radio that if a person went outside naked in this weather they'd freeze to death in ten minutes!" he said.
My mother shivered and pulled her cardigan around herself a little more tightly.
I was thrilled with this bit of news, to be so close to death, to live in so dangerous and glittering a climate. I tried to envision how they knew this--did WEBC radio strip a DJ bare and shove him out in the cold and stand there with a stopwatch, counting down the minutes, hauling him back inside in the nick of time?
How would you judge such a thing?
John Patrick looked at me with great seriousness. "They try it with monkeys," he said.
This brought a whole new picture to mind--cages and cages of monkeys, kept at the radio station headquarters on Superior Street just for this moment, for these coldest days.
His answer satisfied me.
Now I am older, and I have monkeys of my own, far too pampered and indulged to experiment on. And the thrill of a strange dog visiting next door, or a rabbit in the yard, or a squirrel flicking its tail insouciantly high in the treetops keeps the blood stirring. They are in no danger of freezing, not even at eleven below.