Commentary by Ward Degler
I’m not a big fan of snow. Not like I was a million years ago when the city used to close Suicide Hill and turn it over to kids for sledding. Today, I have to drive in the stuff and shovel it from my driveway.
Even so, snow isn’t really scary. Not the way extreme cold is scary. When the mercury drops into the single digits, I fret.
I worry that the water pipes will freeze, and that my car won’t start, and even if it does that it will frost up along the way and leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere.
I spent the winter of 1978 on a farm in Minnesota. The house was built in 1848 and had been but slightly improved since then. There was no insulation, and frost turned the walls white and the windows opaque. The propane furnace didn’t stand a chance, and my wood-burning stove glowed red hot 24 hours a day.
We wrapped the water pipes with electric tapes, but they froze, anyway. We had a hand pump out by the barn where we drew water for the cows and chickens. Some days it was also the only water we had for cooking and washing.
There was a large thermometer nailed to a tree outside the kitchen door, and for a solid 30 days it never budged above 25-below. I finally got tired of looking at it and turned it around so I couldn’t see it.
I had two cars, an ancient pickup and a tractor, and they all had tank heaters that got plugged in every night. I prayed the electricity wouldn’t fail. It was so cold that when I shut the car door one morning the window shattered.
The wind blew nonstop, and my driveway and the county road drifted closed every night. I coaxed the tractor to life and plowed a path through to the highway every morning before breakfast.
Then, one morning we woke to silence. The wind had abated during the night and the sun was warm in the eastern sky. I went out to the thermometer and turned it around. It had warmed up to 10-below and we were jubilant. We felt like bears coming out of their cave after a long hibernation.
Most of this has been reduced to a faded memory, of course. But there was snow on the ground this morning, the wind was blowing and the temperature had sunk to single digits.
I automatically checked the water pipes and wondered if my car would start.