Thursday, April 10, 2014

Purebred Polar Bear

Dad, are you sure I'm all polar bear?
Yes, son, what else would you be?
You -- you're a polar bear?
And Mom, she's all polar bear?
Of course.
Grandma and grandpa, they are 100% polar bears?
Polar bears.
And Mom's mother and father, are they pure polar bears?
So you are certain that I am a purebred polar bear?
What the hell, son?! Why would you think that you are not all polar bear?

Because I'm fucking freezing!

So, early this winter I was pretty sure I was not even a polar beardoodle. It got cold early in November; I showed up to an MRA vertical training in normal attire for the conditions, and found that I quickly became completely useless -- fingers like Jimmy Dean links still in the freezer box, feet that would qualify as wood if wood could transmit excruciating pain, shivering and huddled and fuzzy-brained and pathetic and whiny.

I started understanding about snowbirds. Seriously considered recusing myself from the upcoming recertification weekend on the grounds that I would not be any kind of asset.

But before I conceded defeat, I took some steps.

Started suiting up and working outside for at least four hours a day every day that it was cold.

Admitted that my 22-year-old all-leather spring mountaineering boots were not going to cut it. Not because they aren't still great boots -- they are quality Italian footwear in fine condition -- but because it's not just asses that spread out in the decades between mid-20's and late-40's. Suckers are just too tight for winter use on my middle-aged feet. The sloppsy-woppsy Sorels that I had been using for farm chores and hunting are out of the question for mountaineering, and modern plastic mountaineering boots substitute blood and bruises for frostbite. So I bought a pair of insulated Columbia winter boots that kind of split the difference, and, astonishingly, with push of a button will draw on rechargeable batteries to heat my toes. (I have worn virtually nothing else outdoors since Thanksgiving.)

At our MRA regional team recert in Vermont in December we started the first morning with dead car batteries and -10°F. Out all day doing rope work, it never got above 10°F, there were periods of inactivity, and all of us were fine. Just fine. No cinderblock feet or stupid fingers or hypothermia stumbles. Even me.  In a month I'd gone from a pathetic equatorial poikilothermic lizard-woman to a fucking purebred polar bear.

That all ya got, Green Mountains?

It's been the consistently coldest winter in years, and there I am outside in my Carhartts during the day and then later doing my night chores and looking for more little jobs that need doing (and can be done in single-digit temperatures and significant snow cover*) so I can stay out longer. Maybe I could bring some more firewood from the shed to the front porch? Prune something? Shovel this walk again?

Indoors, the Thermostat Wars rage.

55°F at the thermostat (which is a few feet from the back door and its integral dog door, thus the coldest part of the house) makes for perfectly comfortable indoor temperatures. And we have the woodstove insert in the living room for sitting of an evening and baking like iguanas with a red lightbulb.

Nevertheless, I catch Perfesser Chaos turning the thermostat to a shvitzing 65° while he is sitting in the room next to Vulcan's forge and the weather station ten feet from the stove says 78°.

Ferchrissakesputasweateron. The oil bill this winter is already more than double last year's, and a man could have died in the effort to keep our pipes from freezing. There is no need to burn more money. At any given time there are no fewer than five rooms of the house occupied only by torpid stink bugs and Asian ladybeetles. Although they enjoy the heat, they contribute nothing towards the oil bill.

I might be, for this year at least, a born-again Ursus maritimus, but I am not alone.

Moe's health makes him miserable in the damp cold of fall, or during mild winters like last year's mudfest, but when things get really frigid he and his excessive not-fat-fluffiness are at home in the snowdrifts. It has always been thus, since he went on his first frosty mountaintop bivouac at the tender age of four months, and instead of emulating his mother and serving as my sleeping bag hot water bottle, he declared himself a timberwolf, scratched a nest in the leaves, curled up in a ball and denned solo.

Now, Moe looks the part.  Really, look at him. You just know that when John Thornton dies he's ready to go lead the wild brothers.

He's the guy in the middle. 
But Charlie?

Baby girl Charlie?

Little fur-less Charlie?

Charlie whose mother tucks in under the bedpillows every night? The scion of the little bitch who rides home from SAR training in the passenger's lap so she can have a heated seat and the full blast of the car blower?


Yes, somehow Charlie pup turned out purebred polar bear. Runs all day in snow up to her puppy wazoo, wants more. Breaks through the creek and comes out bejeweled with instant ice, whatevs. Takes her bones and kongs and stolen ski boots out the dog door so she can enjoy them in a snowdrift. Waits in a frigid car sprawled out tits up. Spurns our blankets and offers to cuddle. Has grown a thick polar bear pelt on her puppy belly, contrary to the family tradition of nekkid bellies.

Her siblings apparently agree. Her brother in Louisiana has the fewest options, so he just lives in the pond.

Not a nutria.

Her sister up in Ultima Thule has embraced her heritage

The elusive Loch Ness Mary

Last summer, when Charlie was born, was the coolest in a long time.

I have some bad news for her about this thing called "July."

* This eliminates all fence-building, any manipulation of shatterable plastics or glass or splitable lumber, power tool use, pasture maintenance, garden clean-up, fence-line clearing, manure management, energy-sapping stockwork -- in short, farming.