Over Easy: Yes It’s Cold, Just the Way We Like It

For the Valley News
Friday, January 25, 2019

As I begin typing, the air temperature is barely in positive territory, a measly 1 degree above zero. It is just after 3 in the afternoon, and there is nowhere to go but down.

Still, I feel content. We have books aplenty, oil in the tank and wood on the woodpile, and my socks are made of merino wool. People underestimate the power of warm feet.

I was so bundled up for my morning walk that only my nose was affected by the wind-chill. It stung a little and my proboscis turned a weak shade of red, like a pale winter tomato.

Sometime later, a man in a grocery store line overheard me saying to my wife that I might take another walk in the afternoon. “No one would blame you if you didn’t,” he quipped.

I saluted his quip, but proceeded to hike in our little Siberia. Damn the rime ice, full speed ahead!

Walk two came after 4 p.m. in the deepening dusk, when the temperature had slipped to minus 2. I reached my 10,000 steps for the day, on snow as crunchy as potato chips, to satisfy my Fitbit overlord. In my mind, I earned a spot in the pantheon of polar explorers: Shackleton, Peary and That Guy Who You See Walking in West Lebanon.

I realize that not everyone shares my proactive approach to winter. A lady in the bread store recently grumbled that she’s already had enough of this season. Well, lady, January has taken up residence in the guest room, and February and March have reservations.

Of course, there are siren calls from warmer climes. I recently clicked through one of those online slideshows about the best places to retire. (Avert your eyes from the popup ads about male enhancement pills and popup photos of women who apparently received a volume discount on plastic surgery.) Without exception, the highlights did not mention snowdrifts and icicles. No, they promised parks and bike trails (well-thawed), and long walks on the beach, sans waterproof hikers.

But I am not ready to go there, not yet. Humans have been around for millennia, and I do not think we evolved to take extended perambulations on coastal sand formations. And, as romantic as they may seem, at the end of a long walk on the beach you have a long walk back. Nobody ever mentions that, or how your calves ache.

No, life is real and life is earnest, as Longfellow wrote, and there is nothing more real and earnest than New England in winter, where cold is just the start of the story. There’s the wintry mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain and ice pellets, everything but frozen giblets.

But the hardships of winter don’t have to have the final word. An article on these very pages last Saturday reported that plucky Finland finished first in the 2018 World Happiness Report. (The U.S. ranked 18th, not far ahead of Mexico.) Finland is no tropical paradise, and I assume its weather shares the meteorological mood swings of the Upper Valley.

The others in the top 10 are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. Countries with real winters dominate. (Of those without them, New Zealand has spectacular scenery, and Australia has beer.)

Among the ways Finns cope, according to last Saturday’s article by Ford von Reyn, of Thetford, who lived among them for a time, are enjoying strong coffee, free and plentiful cross-country ski trails and bike paths, good schools, inexpensive high-quality healthcare, and a pervasive sauna culture.

I suspect that the Finnish language may also keep them in good spirits. Their word for spark plugs is sytytystulppa, for example. Hyppytyynytyydytys, according to the website of “The Finnish Teacher,” means “bouncy-cushion satisfaction.”

Don’t tell me that these are not whimsical people.

But more to the point, knowing that higher education and healthcare won’t ruin you or your children financially must make life somewhat more carefree.

Still, it’s the saunas that startle. There is no polite way to say this, but many of them are taken — avert your eyes if you are of Puritan blood — buck naked!

I don’t know if Americans are ready for such personal transparency, but if we could follow the Finns, perhaps it would disabuse us of the notion that any are without flaws. Conservative or liberal, few would be so quick to get on a high horse with their posterior exposed. No, better to sit, sweat and let your thoughts simmer.

That would be far better than the online rush to snap judgments, which is roiling our politics and culture. We are slowly learning, or should be, that many things that snap, snap right back.

As I finish typing, in a session a day after I began, the temperature is now 11 and the noontime sun is bright and strong. I can close my eyes and imagine summer.

Soon I will put on my shoes again and walk on the snowy sidewalks. The snow is not crunchy anymore and, because it has not melted and refrozen, the footing is sure.

I suppose I could take a long walk in the snow. There may be romance in that, even with all these layers surrounding me.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.