the rickety furnaces i depend on
When the temperatures stay this low, for this long, I think about the planet as a dangerous place. I think about the homeless, or just people who live in drafty houses. I think about the fact that anyone exposed could actually die or lose limbs in these temperatures.
Our church is an hour drive from us, in Chesterton, and going actually seemed kind of risky this past Sunday. I mean, our car is reliable, but it still felt like a flimsy separation between us and the howling desert of ice that we drove through just to show up (very late) to liturgy. At coffee hour I was recruited to a table of women– all mothers of various ages– including the priest’s very sweet wife. She uncerimoniously pinched my wrist and informed Esme that her mother “did not eat enough calories.” What? Firstly, I must say that I in fact pig out. Lately I have been eating no less than four tofutti cuties per day, for example. Secondly, my wrist is not the place to pinch if you are going to measure the percentage of my body fat unless you want to get a false reading. Nevertheless, the discussion about how to eat nourishing foods while breastfeeding made me quietly recommit to a high calorie breakfast, so this morning I woke up and made buckwheat pancakes and baked pears with cinnamon.
I was lying awake thinking of these things and also of a story my grandfather told me about WWII. He was stationed in the Aleutian Islands (Alaska), where he said that the temps were so low that they had to read the thermometer from a distance, with binoculars, to get a true reading. If a man approached the mercury too closely, his body heat would cause it to rise.
I don’t know how cold it would have to get to create such a phenomenon, but it was negative five degrees when Jeff left for school the other day.
I started taking vitamin D to keep seasonal affective disorder at bay, and it seems to work. I have energy to accomplish things around the apartment and don’t get plowed under the frost and shadow, taking Esme with me. Our social calendar is also pretty full this month, which helps tremendously. I have a girl’s game night, dinner with friends, a folk festival at the University of Chicago, and another meeting with some friends in Indianapolis all lined up. Oh, and some friends volunteered to babysit Esme so that Jeff and I can go out on Valentine’s Day. Knowing that all of these things are coming up really helps keep me from my usual post-holiday gloominess.
But all of it feels like a room full of rickety furnaces against the cold outside. I’m frantically tending them, stoking them. What if one of those furnaces were to falter and give out? My computer died, and it’s usually one of my surest life lines against isolation and stagnation at home. I can feel the draft blowing from the particular corner. I’m spoiled, for sure. How did people survive winters in decades past? I know my brother-in-law from Wisconsin says they all got together at people’s houses, all the time, to play games and watch the Packers. If you can’t do that, I imagine the whole thing turning into a nonfiction version of Ethan Frome.