Miranda, you know her. That kind, always helpful woman who is encouraging and upbeat. … She asked the other day, “So how is the cold?” … Funny… I would love to have a clinic in the dead of winter here just for her, just for that!
I am not in Texas, land of the free, home of the warmth. I am in Indiana, land of the corn and home of the ever-changing-weather. Furthermore, we live in the belt below Lake Michigan where all the excess moisture gets deposited each winter … Kind of like a landfill for snow and ice. Recently I asked someone in Texas about their winters and with a completely straight face they told me, “Well, it really does get quite cold, it can get to 30!!!”
I recognize that for some 30 is really cold. Technically it is below freezing. I also realize that up here in the winterwonderland, we prepare for cold in a different manner. We prep the roads before hand and we have warehouses full of salt and road additive. We have ice scrapers and chains and some of us give up and drive snow machines instead of vehicles. And we have the clothing to adequately deal with weather that makes 30 degrees look like a picnic on Mercury.
So we are prepared… somewhat. Frankly there is only preparing and being ready. You cannot overcome nature and no amount of prep beats ice. Ice wins.
We also have wind chill. Wind chill is a glorious thing. Designed by our creator to remind us of our human limitations and frailty it serves quite well as a humbling force all on its own. The following little example serves as a warning to any who disrespect the cold and windchill (Miranda)… as I did that fateful morning a few years ago.
-19 while not unheard of, is still on the basement floor of what we normally expect here in the icebox of America, better known as South Bend, Indiana. The weatherman, dressed in a bright floral shirt, sipping his morning java, smiling and warm, offhandedly mentioned that the “breeze” outside was reaching 20 mph with gusts to 35 mph. This pushed the windchill to below -50, dangerous in any state, no matter how used to cold you might be.
Like anyone who has livestock or animals, it doesn’t really matter what the weather is, if it’s your birthday, or you aren’t feeling up to snuff, those animals need cared for. We had planned to put in electric and water to our north field the next summer, but for now the only option we had was to bucket water three times a day out to the stock tank at the gate. I am a fan of procrastination when it comes to things like, taking the trash out, just mash that thing down with your foot! But when it comes to doing the chores I am a bit OCD. So I bundled up in my coveralls, put on all my accessories, hat, mittens (everyone knows mittens are warmer than gloves) and muck boots with two pair of socks.
There really isn’t a way to explain the smack you get when you step from 65 to -50. It will make you gasp and then deeply regret it. It’s amazing how cold can also be burning, but anyone who has experienced it is nodding right now. So I was hurrying, as much as my heavily swaddled 5 foot frame could hurry. I had my two 5 gallon pails of water and had 2 more sitting inside the back door. One trip to the barn, two trips with the water. It really wasnt that hard. But there is always that small moment of worry when you go out each morning in weather so fierce, when you round the corner for the first time each morning and you see them there, healthy, waiting, steam streaming from their noses, hoar frost clinging to their eyelashes and whiskers. That moment, filled with relief is probably one of the best feelings I can imagine. But the pent up energy of fighting against weather that would rob you of your warmth can actually make you perspire just a little bit.
I threw the hay over the fence and picked up the buckets of water. The tank was just far enough away from the gate that I had to go inside the field to dump it. Which meant I had to open the gate. Might not seem like a huge deal to you….. oh-it-gets-to-30! people. Let me assure you… it is! The gate is metal, my hands are little white girl hands. I am not a weakling, but there is no callous on earth that metal can not match. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, mittens are warmer, but they fall real short on manual dexterity. And while I was hustling back and forth, I built up just a small amount of moisture on my skin. I also had a lot on my mind and I wasn’t thinking, which changed quickly. I pulled my mitten off with my teeth and reached out for the gate clasp. The moment I gripped the gate my mind started a loud beeping of alarm. Warning, warning!
I dont’ precisely remember but i’m pretty sure what came out of my mouth was not edifying! I had been trying to multitask and was clutching one 5 gallon bucket of steaming water in one hand while my other hand was now stuck to the gate. I leaned in and breathed on my hand, no luck. Leaned a little closer to try to melt my hand off the gate with my hot breath and touched my nose to the fence. In a panic I yanked back.
In certain situations there comes a moment of determination where you know what you need to do and you know it’s going to get ugly. This was one of those situations. Grit your teeth and yank. I pulled back and felt a ripping stinging feeling that I walled off in my mind to deal with at a later time. The problem with multitasking is…. I stink at it. I forgot about the bucket of water that I was holding and as I pulled away from the gate, I started moving backward at a pretty good rate. I went to throw my arm behind me to brace for the fall I knew was coming only to remember that I was clutching 5 gallons of quickly chilling water. I also realized too late that the second bucket of water was directly behind me so that when I took a quick step back I tripped over it. I sat down hard in the snow and the water sat down with me. One bucket coated my chest and waist and the bucket on the ground behind me leaked into the legs of my coveralls right at the knee.
I remember looking up at the two young steers who stood there looking back at me, expectantly and disapprovingly. It is a good thing I was not carrying at that moment because they both would have been butchered prematurely!
I got myself up off the ground, I was now flying on pure adrenaline. Part anger at myself and the metal gate, part nagging fear of how quickly water, thinly dispersed onto fabric, will freeze in -50 temps. I gathered the buckets and headed for the house.
Our field is not awfully far from our house, but in -50 degrees, it is like the journey to Mecca. My legs started to feel heavy and looking down at them I noticed they were starting to get shiny. I started to move faster. But they were starting to feel stiffer and the knees weren’t bending properly. By the time I got to the house I had to hobble left and right like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz. I got to the back deck only to realize that I had to go up 3 steps to the back door and the knees of my coveralls were now totally frozen. It was only 3 steps for pity sake, but at that moment it could have been Mount Everest. I stood there for a moment, but the clock was ticking.
I tried to lean back while at the same time lifting my leg up forward onto the step and leaned a little too far. I fell backward. But this time, unlike out at the field, I couldn’t just bend my knees and get up. I floundered around like a mermaid out of water, freezing fast. I finally got myself in enough of a splits position to get myself upright and sat down backwards on the steps and pulled myself up the stairs like hauling up frozen logs. Finally up on top of the deck I was only 3 feet from my destination. Heaven is surely 65 degrees! I reached for the doorknob (with mittened hands!) … frozen. I started laughing. Are you kidding me? They will find me in the spring, 6 inches from safety and this face loomed in front of me.
I could go in the back of the garage, attached right next to the house, and into the house through there. I had to go down three steps on the other side of the deck but I had gravity on my side and at this point I was ok with just throwing myself down and crawling in!
But we never use the door into the back of the garage and there was a 2 foot drift, packed by weeks of accumulation and I knew I’d never get in there. I knew that there was a butane torch in the barn and I thought about melting the door latch but I wasn’t quite sure I could get there in my current board-like state. I decided that was my best option and managed to hobbled my way there. I must have looked like a little short Frankenstein and I am pretty sure if someone had video taped it, I would have been sitting pretty on a fat cash prize from America’s Funniest Videos, but there were no other idiots out in this weather… just me.
Out of the wind in the barn, I started feeling the stinging burn that precedes the more serious lack of feeling. I pulled out my Kerosene 125,000 BTU hurricane heater (my pride and joy) and fumbled through the filling, plugging and lighting process. Anyone who has heard a hurricane heater knows that the sound is a little overwhelming, but I promise you that the London Symphony Orchestra never sounded as good as that heavy whoosh and roar of forced air. I stood exhausted, pondering my next move on getting the back door open… or should I try for the front door in the hopes that I could ring the doorbell and one of my children would come and open it. They knew I was outside doing chores. I had told them to stay inside, it was too cold, I would only be a few minutes…. My youngest was probably still asleep upstairs and the other two were suppose to be starting school. I had a practice of tricking them sometimes (jokingly) and testing their focus and commitment by suddenly screaming… ice cream truck!!!! and running out the front door to see if they would fall for it. There are no ice cream trucks where we live and they quickly learned to stick their noses in their books and ignore all outside stimuli. I had one child who found ironic turn abouts fair play to be a bigger delight than it should have been and I knew she would be the one to break the rules and unlock the door, which they were also never to do if I was not in the house. But she would have to get past her older, conscientious, brother, who took his job of being “in charge” seriously.
I stood there wondering where the butane torch might be. Where a lighter might be and if torching the door was going to cause me more problems than it solved. I felt the feeling coming back into my legs but it was the smell that caught my attention more quickly. Kerosene heaters are incredibly safe. Lots of people freak out about the use of space heaters and caution and common sense are always the rule of the day, but … not apparently THIS day! If the line is not clean in your forced air Kerosene heater, you can occasionally get what is called a flame out. It is just what the name implies. And when someone who has been frozen solid by Indiana’s finest weather, stands in front of said heater, while their mind wanders to how to tackle the job of getting back inside to the warmth of their home… bad things can happen. 125,000 BTU is a fairly effective heating range to toast the ice off frozen coveralls… and then set them on fire.
I looked down just in time to see them start turning black and then start to glow. I screamed and did the only logical thing available to me. I stripped… faster than a girl I knew in college …. never mind, different story. I am not sure at what point my coveralls had been coated in thermite to make them so flammable, but they flamed up faster than I really thought they should! I might later consider writing a letter to the Carharts company complete with pictures but right now, I was standing in the unheated barn and had gone from inconvenient to precariously dangerous. I peered out the window. So close, and yet so far. Not an hour before I had crawled from my nice warm bed, made coffee and stepped into my coveralls to begin this comedy of errors. All the layers I pulled on were in the form of mittens, socks and hat. The rest of my body, swaddled in heavy carharts would not need heavy layers. Having planned to race back to the house, pour some coffee and curl up under a blanket on the couch, I saw no need for layers of long underwear, pants, shirts, and sweaters…. as such, I had thrown on the coveralls pretty much in the same manner I had exited the bed, which is to say, in no way correct “apparel” for any public weather, let along -50!
I started to laugh again, I didn’t have my phone with me, again, I had no plans of this turning into a greek tragedy or epic tale. And who would I call anyway? We have no neighbors to speak of, the only friends close enough were a quiet, proper family a few miles away… He was the pastor of a small conservative church…. I smiled at the thought of that. Well THAT would get me some prayer I bet!
I tested the coveralls for hot spots and redonned them. They were a lot easier to pull on now, they fit kind of like a dress but at least it provided me some protection from the wind. I grabbed the only other option I had in the barn, a tarp. I decided to head straight for the front door and the doorbell.
An hour later I had collapsed on the couch, after having made it inside, thanks to my attentive children. I redressed and watered the calves… more carefully this time. Propped the door unlatched this time and promised myself that I would shovel the garage entryway the next day…. or the day after that. I put my fingers in my coffee, smiling. It was so deliciously hot. My mind wandered to possibly bathing in hot coffee when I heard the weatherman on the news. I turned to see his bright face smiling. The forecast tomorrow… -7…. I smiled, heatwave!
Yesterday Miranda posted a picture of Mark riding a pretty mare that is in training with them. The sun was shining, the grass was green. Mark appeared to be in a nice shirt… long sleeve, but not insulated!…. comfortable….
I’m pretty sure this was the look on my face…
Stay warm friends! And good luck to all those competing in the Mustang Magic competition January 20-23.