The Power of Cold
landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.
Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
– Andrew Wyeth
The snow is blowing hard outside now. What started as a gentle snowfall of quiet, drifting flurries at sunrise is now a careening, spinning bedlam of snow, dashing madly here and there against the increasingly fierce northwest winds scouring these gray winter hills. The accumulation is not much, just a couple of inches so far, but as I stare out the window, mesmerized by the intricate dance of wind and ice, I realize I want more. Deeper snow, howling wind, more accumulation. I want a blizzard. I want to see snow piling up against the front door. I want to have big winds, the kind of winds that rattle your bones and shake the house.
I love big storms. Whether it’s a crashing, booming late summer thunderstorm or a bitterly cold January nor’easter, I delight in these displays of power and strength. They put things in a clearer perspective, inspiring not just a profound sense of awe and wonderment, but also helping me more fully appreciate the vast extent of our frailties and helplessness against the face of such enormous power. This is good, I think. We need to better understand our relationship with our planet and the forces of nature that so dominate our lives and limit our endeavors. With all our human skills and technological abilities, all of our grand accomplishments and societal advances, it is a sobering thought that all of this, in the twinkling of an eye, can be forever changed by the passing of a single powerful storm.
It is not the frisky snowfall that holds my attention right now. It is the forecast for the arrival of brutally frigid Arctic air roaring in tonight, bringing with it the kind of deep, incomprehensible cold that captures the imagination and staggers the senses. We have been waiting in anxious anticipation for this weather front for over a week. The cold air mass is moving into the eastern part of the country today with the kind of temperatures unseen in this region in twenty years! The lowest temperature ever observed here on the farm was a bone-chilling -18 degrees recorded during the brutal winter of 1985-86. Tonight’s low is forecast to be -6 to -8 degrees with even colder double-digit numbers on the higher mountaintops. With 40 mph winds added to the mix, we could experience wind chill temperatures of -30 degrees!
The storm is to be short-lived, lasting for only a couple of days, but this is not the kind of cold to be taken lightly. We have made preparations above and beyond what we normally do for typical cold winter blasts. We have all the necessary food and fuels at-hand and the large stack of firewood out back provides assurances we will stay warm inside as the temperatures plummet outside. I even went so far as to drain our solar hot water collector to protect against freezing and possible burst pipes. We use a combination of non-toxic anti-freeze and water as the heating medium in our collector. The addition of anti-freeze is supposed to prevent the water from freezing but, with these extraordinary temperatures, it is probably wise not to take any chances.
The temperature at 7 a.m. this morning was a chilly, but bearable 30 degrees; right now, at 4 p.m. the temperature stands at 9 degrees and continues to fall. It looks to be a long, cold night for many people.
I leave you now with a poem written by my dear friend, Fran Cook. Fran is a kind, sweet soul, getting on in age and suffering with poor health, but never failing to have a gentle smile and warm embrace every time we meet. Fran is a marvelous poet and essayist, a fact I did not realize for years. She was once a vendor at our Ashe County Farmers Market where she sold her unique handcrafted products. One Saturday at the Market, Fran came up to me at our booth and gave me several sheets of paper with handwritten text. She said, “I thought you might like to read this.” What follows is one of her original pieces which I think is quite apropos under the current conditions:
“A Circle of Life
Notes on an Apple Tree”
There’s a bare place against the sky
in our pasture
Where a winter storm blew down an
old apple tree.
The spring breeze whispers questioningly
through branches that are no
As the tree lies huddled in its shame
upon the ground,
Broken half-way off, bare branches
touching earth, quivering expectantly
of life that is no longer there.
Trees on either side, robed in brilliant
pink and white blooms, bend
Conscious of their own mortality,
Grateful that the winter is so far away
When their friend will complete her life
As next year’s fire wood.
– Fran Cook