Friend says: “This is the coldest day of the year.”
I look at him with a measure of skepticism; it is, in fact, 20ish on the above-zero side of the thermometer’s scale. Gone to memory is the minus 25 or so of last week. That was cold. Plus 20? Not even close.
He clarifies: ‘That’s speaking on an historical basis.” He goes on to explain that the coldest day of the typical year is 30 days after the Winter Solstice on December 21. Same for the summer: July 21, 30 days after the June 21 Summer Solstice, ranks up there for yearly high. It takes that much time in summer for the mass of earth to warm up under long days of sunlight. Late July; that’s the time of heat.
Winter is the same; a month or so for the icebox to sink down and hold the cold, for the frost to work deep, for the chunk of earth in northern Wisconsin to go rock-hard. January 21 is, on average, the day of cold in a normal year.
I suppose one day has to take the crown for cold. And the logic of a month past Winter Solstice makes sense. So January 21 it is. I can live with that.
A year ago, if you are wondering, it was 19 below on the morning of the 21st and every night from then until February 11 had below zero temperatures. Every. Single. Night. It was a bugger, was last winter. Granted the 21st was not the coldest but it held its own on the cold weather hit parade.
There is a thought of late that the impact of last winter’s cold lingers to this day. That we were so worn down by the cold that we were scarred deeper than we thought, that even today, even this winter, we feel the burden of last year. Some say that skiers seem less enthused; some see drop in numbers of ice anglers; some see a general funk, a low level fog that settles in, a low grade malaise that festers to this day.
Some believe that and who am I to say whether or not it is true. I’m old enough to be old fashioned and old fashioned thought says, if you’ve got winter, go outside and ski. So that’s what I do. Did it last year; do it this year; hope to do it next year.
Sometimes it’s not that easy; there’s work to do and some days off just get away from you. I do what I can with it and on the days off I block in some time and get on skis. There’s nothing heroic about that. There’s nothing special about it. And that’s the point I guess: We all need to find something that means something to us and do it, do it often and do it the best we can. For me in winter, that’s skiing.
I don’t always do it well; I don’t always do it as long as I might. But I always feel better for having done it and really, isn’t that what it should come down to, doing something we enjoy and feeling better for having done so?
Big picture stuff, that’s not important. Heroic efforts? Save it; you don’t have to climb El Cap as the duo did last week. Epic adventures? No need. Better, really, to find something we have some control over, something we can do on our terms. Something like skiing. Something, in short, unlike a football game.
Yes. A football game. Or, more to the point, The Football Game, the one last Sunday. That one.
Last year we were left stumbling by the unceasing cold that settled like a 60-day cloud of depression; this year gut punched by the Packers, an ache that will linger long after the cold fades. The cold is easy to deal with; go inside and sit by the heater. The Packers’ floperoo is another story. It hurt deep. It will hurt long. It will be about as easy to get over as a badly mis-spelled tattoo; “Go Pock Go” done up in green and gold ink.
Monday brought the sight of grown men, haggard and pale as if they’d been witness to a horrible accident. Which I suppose has a thread of truth to it when you think about it. For once on a chill January day talk of weather and cold did not surface. No, it was more a mournful dirge: “My gawd, the two-point conversion”. “The interception; why did he sit down?”; “The onside kick…”
Then my friend; “Historically speaking the 21st is the coldest day of the year”.
I did what any sane person would do; I went skiing.
I skied on the day that is, historically, the coldest day of the year, which, this year was not very cold, history not withstanding. The tracks were firm and well defined and the snow temperature was just right; the skis glided fast and easy. I skied faster than I usually do and it was easy to fool myself into thinking it’s because I’m in good shape and ready to fly. That is not true. It is just that on this day the skis were a perfect match for the snow.
There is something so satisfying, no matter what the pursuit, when it all works right. I don’t care what you do, there are days that things fall in place and it all comes together and it reminds you of what it can all be. You know the days; days when the walleyes bite or the ducks come through on migration or the black-berries hang ripe and full or when the chip shot defies all logic and rolls in the cup. Days like that. Days when there seems to be no effort, only reward. Days when the wind is always at your back.
That was the ski day I had on the day that can be the coldest of the year but was not, not this time around.
I skied the days near January 21 last year, days that the temperature barely nudged above zero and when the snow was soft and slow and clouds came down to the horizon and seemed to carry weight and despair. It was a time of effort with scant satisfaction. The skis were slow in the cold; my technique was poor; I struggled. I’d come home in a bad mood and a chill that sunk to my core. I’d stand in a hot shower and wait for my fingers and toes to warm up. Then I’d put on an extra sweater and warm up hot drinks and wrap my fingers around the cup for the warmth it held.
Those days were the days of the Winter of 2014. Those days became the weeks of cold. The weeks extended into the months and into the late season and did not end until springtime. And now I wonder if they extend to this winter; that some are still worn down by it all and are staying inside because of it.
It might be true. It may be possible. These things can happen. You might have a tough winter or you might have a bad day in the Packer Nation and it may hold on your for a while. Perhaps a long while.
I don’t know much about these things. It’s too complicated. Me, I’ll take a few hours on skis when the day is mild no matter what the average might be, a day when the skis glide fast and easy and things fall in place the way they should. A day when I have something to say about the outcome of it all.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.