From My WindowIssue Date: January 6, 2022
By Jane Thibodeau Martin
Setting Down for the Ride
This is the part of winter I think of as "setting down for the ride." This is a horse racing term, and means a jockey communicates to the horse that it is time to get serious, buckle down and put out its best effort toward the end of a horse race. It is all about the mental adjustments to serious winter weather. January is the beginning of the winter not the end, but the mental commitment to make the effort to make the best of it has to be a conscious effort, a "setting down" on my part.
This morning when I went for the dog walk it was 15 below zero with wind chill. Because there is about four inches of distorting light powder snow in the woods, it took a bit of deciphering to identify the maker of the fresh tracks we encountered. Clearly deer; probably a coyote; squirrels; a solitary rabbit, and I think the fisher. I am always amazed at their ability to withstand conditions like this; and we will have weather well below zero for two more nights. A human unequipped with the ability to make a fire, find shelter or put on quality outerwear would be unlikely to survive even a single night of what these animals will persevere through.
But I also thought about the earliest settlers of Northern Wisconsin. The onset of deep winter meant eating home canned provisions, staples like flour, and potatoes and apples out of the root cellar. No fresh citrus; no greens; and only the few eggs hens lay at this time of year. I am spoiled with access to fresh fruits and vegetables; for them it was just the way life was. They probably saw few, if any, people outside their family unit in mid-winter. Travel in deep snow would be limited to snowshoes or animal-pulled sleds, and that only if the snow wasn't too drifted for the animals to make progress. Kerosene lamps or firelight were the only nighttime illumination; no television, radio or library books for entertainment.
Their work did not end. Doing laundry would be an ordeal, heating the water to wash and stringing up clothing in the house to dry. Feeding wood to the heat source was a safety critical job. The animals needed care on farms, with every task more laborious in the cold, snow and ice; while the wives of lumberjacks single parented while the men were in the woods living in rough camps.
The outdoor clothing available was nothing like our modern fabrics; once wet it was very difficult to dry. I saw a picture of a lumbering camp bunkhouse; clothing was hanging everywhere there was space in an attempt to dry it. Even in my childhood, a trip outdoors for the kids meant hours of Mom trying to dry out snow pants and mittens, with boots propped open with our toy blocks in front of the registers. An unmistakable aroma of damp musty boot liners filled the house but brought with it a few hours of humidity, actually welcomed as the coal furnace dried the air completely. Even so, the winter clothes of my 50-60's childhood were much better than what was available even 25 years earlier.
There were no telephones, in an emergency help was summoned by a messenger struggling through the snow to the nearest place where help could be found ?? if there was any such place. People who got sick often died at home tended by their family as there was no help available at all. There weren't any antibiotics yet; so my maternal grandmother died young from a strep throat.
No, my winter is made cozy and comfortable with all kinds of entertainment; amazing varieties of food at the grocery store, and excellent winter clothing for my daily excursions for fresh air, exercise and mental stimulation. (I don't care at all about style, I am not a clothes shopper, but I am a discerning connoisseur of good boots.) If there is an emergency, help is only a phone call away. I simply have little to complain about, and before I know it, the days will be much longer; the weather milder and the first delirious whiff of spring is in the air.
For some hardy Wisconsin residents, this is the BEST time of the year, not the worst. They are out ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing or skiing; thriving on what sends others with the heath and means to do so fleeing further south to escape.
A tried and true strategy to feel better if you hate winter modeled by many awesome people among us is to give thought to those who need or appreciate some extra help or companionship at this time of year. Getting mail for a shut in; delivering a casserole or some freshly baked muffins and a minute of conversation, or shoveling and cleaning off a snow-covered car for someone physically unable to do so makes their long days brighter and will make you feel like the thoughtful and kind human being you are. A win-win. No matter how bad you think you've got it, there is always someone much worse off. Look around, they are all around us. I am continuously stunned by people in our very midst stressing over how they are going to pay their heating bills or who live without hot running water. Yes, I know some of these people, they are real.
I will do a bit of whining at some point. But I only need to think about those who lived in northern Wisconsin before me or some of those among us now with serious struggles to be filled with gratitude at how fortunate I truly am.
Book I just finished: "Dead Lines ?? Slices of Life from the Obit Beat" by George Hesselberg, non-fiction. Available on Amazon or better yet, a bookstore could order it. Be careful since there are several books titled "Dead Lines." This book is absolutely fascinating. It is by a retired journalist at the Wisconsin State Journal, and is about interesting people and animals he encountered during his career who died. It isn't obituaries in the traditional sense, it is more like little short stories about fascinating Wisconsin people and/or animals. A long-dead and never-identified man dressed in women's clothing found stuffed in a chimney; a beloved polar bear at the zoo; a homeless woman who spoke flawless French; and a man who made swords for famous movies and lived in New Glarus, only venturing from his shop/residence once a day to the local pub. Everyone in the book is from the greater Madison area of our state. This book was a " and if you enjoy interesting people or history you'll like it. Many thanks sister Laura. Book up next: "Nature's Best Hope," recommended by a column reader.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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