by Scott Wheeler
Locked in the grips of an arctic blast cold enough to freeze anything in its path including human flesh, many of us who live in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom like to talk about the cold and sometimes brutally harsh weather. I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that deep down most of us who call this region home really love this area’s harsh winter weather, or at least take great pride in surviving weather conditions that people living in warmer climates can’t even fathom.
It’s on dreadfully cold mornings, mornings in which the bottom virtually drops out of the thermometer, as temperatures drop to 20, 30, or even 40 degrees below zero, that I probably think most about my departed mother-in-law. Cut out of the mold of a pioneer Vermont woman, she’d sit in her old farmhouse heated by her old Royal Oak wood stove, just waiting for a cold snap to sweep into the region. On those particularly cold mornings she would check her thermometer then call our house to see what we had for a temperature. She’d instantly start her conversation with, “How cold you got?”
Living on a hill where winds blow almost every day of the year, she almost always had the coldest temperature, a fact that she obviously took great pride in. For that matter, on particularly cold or snowy days the first words out of many people’s mouths when greeting people are, “So, how cold did you have? or “How much snow did you get?” It’s almost a boast to say that you were the one with the coldest temperature or the most snow. One could say it’s a badge of honor.
Go to any outdoor skating rink and you’ll see dozens of teenagers, especially the boys, skating around without hats. Woe to those who might embarrass themselves by wearing hats while trying to impress their female counterparts! And they surely wouldn’t want to complain that their deeply frostbitten ears are so painful they think they’re going to break off. Put on a hat? No way.
On opening day of ice fishing season for trout last year, temperatures dipped to almost 40 degrees below zero. Nobody in his right mind would venture out into that cold for any number of fish—or would they? Yup, they sure did, including my brother Kevin and me, along with a host of other fishermen who sat out on Lake Memphremagog in the predawn hours. Wow, it was cold! I’d bait a hook, run back into my fishing shanty to warm up, then run back out to bait another, a ritual that I repeated many times throughout the day. I couldn’t help thinking what our friend Dan would have been doing if he was there that morning. Almost immune to the cold, he’d probably be walking around in a tee shirt, at most a light jacket, with a big smile as he caught fish while I practiced my 100-yard sprints back and forth to the shanty in my four or so layers of clothes.
So why did I venture out on the ice that morning? No, it wasn’t because of the love of eating fish—although my wife loves fish, I’d rather eat my bait than eat trout or salmon. Actually, I think I do things like this for pretty much the same reasons most of us who live here refuse to let winter drive us away—a love of the Kingdom, fierce stubbornness, a desire to withstand God’s wintry wrath, and, at least in my case, a little bit of foolishness.
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