Has anyone ever written a complete book about the cold? About what cold air, cold water and other frigid substances can do to a human’s mind, body and will to live?
I’m guessing that the medical literature on this topic is thick and sprawling. What’s needed is a detailed summary of what persons throughout history have done to outwit the cold and somehow survive.
What items of clothing have they invented? What sort of houses and other shelters have they taken refuge in? Which of the globe’s 195 nations is the coldest, year in and year out? I have read that hot weather kills more people than cold weather does. Can persistent cold, by itself, drive a person mad? How many of these and other questions have been answered?
I grew up cold in small-town Pennsylvania. I was young, stupid and accepting of all weather. Now I’m old and possibly less stupid, and I’ve come to despise cold in most of its common forms.
As I sit here on a Sunday night, waiting for the arrival of a predicted ice storm, I’m part-way into my 17th New England winter. It will probably be no worse than the other 16, but it feels that way.
I often wear four layers of clothing during the day, and almost as many to sleep in. Meanwhile, my cat Ellie snoozes nearby without an ounce of winter protection except for her God-given fur, and without a shiver of concern for the heating bills that will grace my mailbox in weeks to come.
Is my frigid litany a complaint? Sure sounds like it. But my kvetching is diluted by my realizing how lucky I am not to be a postal worker, a police officer, a snowplow driver or any of the thousands of other men and women who must live, work and sometimes die in the embrace of God-given cold. (If I ever meet God, I’ll have some pointed questions for Her.)
Does cold weather discourage writing? Or sex? Let’s take sex first. So far I haven’t heard of a study that asks couples, “Do you make whoopee more in July than in January?” I’m sure the answers would vary greatly between respondents in Alaska and those in Key West. (And thus closeth the sex section of my treatise for today.)
As for frozen-fingered writing, Dr. Zhivago wasn’t completely deterred.
In the 1965 movie version of the Boris Pasternak novel, Zhivago was shown sitting at a table somewhere in the frozen Russian tundra, composing poetry. Perhaps it was a limerick that began “There once was a Cossack named Zlock ...”
You may remember the Stephen King novel and film “The Shining.” The story took place in the snowed-in, isolated Overlook Hotel, where a writer (Jack Nicholson) — crazy as an outhouse rat — sat typing the same sentence over and over.
Other climate-driven examples include “The Revenant,” a film in which Leonardo DiCaprio stays alive by killing, skinning and roasting a bear and then surviving the cold by wrapping the bear hide around him.
Other sources of cold-weather combat are readily available. Topping my “I shall some day read this guy” list is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who described the frost-ridden delights of the Russian gulags — the forced labor camps Moscow maintained from 1930 to 1955 as exit ramps for dissidents and other non-Communist enemies.
(The scene shifts.) It is now Monday afternoon. Outside my window, the 8-inches-of-snow section of the weather system has arrived. However, forecasters are saying that within a few days all traces will probably have melted away. As a new year arrives, we are one-third of the way through our six-month winter. We shall overcome what’s left, one day at a time.
During my 29 years in Pinellas County, I shivered and shook just as I do now, but not as often. The truth is this: Whether we live in Boston or Belleair, sooner or later we all may become companions of the cold.