One thing about old age, you can see it coming a long way off. The calendar’s a dead giveaway, but there are other, more ominous signs. You start forgetting ordinary words you’ve used in conversation all your life. You try to avoid driving at night. You make that oof noise every time you get out of a chair.
But one of the most reliable indicators of impending codgerdom is how you feel about snow. The less of it that’s required to set you off about the inconvenience of driving, the danger of falling, and the expense of staying warm, the closer you are to turning into Great Uncle Melvin, or whoever your family’s standard-bearer of doddering cantankerousness happens to be.
It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even like flurries. As soon as there’s the slightest chance of a flake or two, I start worrying about whether the driveway will be navigable, whether the hoophouse will collapse, whether the firewood will be accessible. If we’re likely to get several inches, I start thinking about the trees that are going to crush the house or block the drive, and the power outage that is going to ruin all the food in all of the freezers.
When we get rain instead of snow, and our property, instead of becoming a pristine winter wonderland, turns into a nasty, muddy, slushy mess, I rejoice.
But I don’t just hate the snow for its own sake. I hate it for what it represents, which is the cold.
Kevin and I have chosen, as we push well into middle age, a life that is physically strenuous. We lift, haul, push, pull, bend, stoop, dig, build, bushwhack, lumberjack, and generally move heavy things around pretty much all the time. While our life is certainly not uncomfortable, neither is it luxurious.
Work and austerity, I find I can take in stride. I even enjoy them. It’s cold that gets me.
Kevin was away for about a week and a half, driving across the country with his friend Dave, and I kept the house only minimally heated in his absence. It seemed profligate to heat a whole house (all 900 square feet of it), plus the immediate vicinity where the heat escapes through uninsulated walls and single-pane windows, when it was just for me. I tended to light mean little fires in the wood stove and pull my chair up close, like a Dickensian pauper. I wore several sweaters and a hat, and toughed it out.
And I hated it. I really really hate being cold, and I’m afraid that’s what’s going to be a significant obstacle to success in this, the life we’ve chosen.
Take last week’s duck hunt, for example. Here’s what I wore:
2 pairs wool socks
3 pairs long underwear (2 silk, 1 fleece)
winter-weight running pants
long-sleeved silk undershirt
super-duper synthetic sub-zero running shirt
2 sweaters (cashmere, which is warm but not bulky)
2 hats, one of which was Elmer Fudd-style, with dorky fur-lined earflaps
1 pair winter driving gloves
1 wool mitten, on my left hand
neoprene waders, with chemical warmers in the boots
And I was fine, for the first twenty minutes, or so. Then I started to lose feeling in the fingers of my right hand (the trigger hand). The left hand wasn’t far behind, and the toes followed.
I looked over at Eric, the hunter who let me tag along. He had excellent waders, and a couple of layers under them, but he wasn’t even wearing a proper hat – just a baseball cap. And his right hand was gloveless, so he could use his duck calls properly.
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked
“Nah,” he said. “I have an internal furnace. I almost never get cold.”
I was tempted to sidle up closer, but I recognize that heat-stealing strategies you can deploy with your own husband might be inappropriate with someone else’s.
We sat out in the cold for a little over an hour, and I was relieved when Eric had to round up his decoys and go to work. I hate to say it out loud, but it was too cold for me to want to hunt.
Yesterday morning was similar. Dave was staying with us, and we wanted to get some oysters at one of the spots where the town seeds them. At 7:30, which was low tide, it was about fifteen degrees. We went out to the beach and walked down to the oyster spot.
There was significant skim ice on the water, and we had to break it with our rakes to wade out. Despite two layers of gloves, my fingers turned to icicles. We got our oysters, but only because we were able to get them quickly. Fifteen minutes was about my limit.
Now that Kevin’s home, he’s been manning the woodstove and the house is warmer. It’s not that he’s so concerned with the cold – he cares much less about it than I do – it’s just that his taste in fires, aesthetically, runs to the conflagrational. Still, I keep thinking how nice it would be spend January and February in Florida, or Arizona, or some other place cantankerous codgers retire to.
Not exactly the pioneer spirit, now, is it?