Frozen Balls on a Brass Monkey

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Photo courtesy NOAA

Friends in Thunder Bay report that it’s 40ºF below. It’s not a good day to stick one’s tongue on a flagpole. It is worse to be at sea during days like today. Sub-zero temperatures can freeze the balls off a brass monkey! The cold doesn’t hurt the monkey but wrecks havoc on a frigate’s deck and crew who get in the way of random balls.  According to maritime lore, tall ships used to carry a hundred or more cannons. The cannon balls took up a lot of space in cramped quarters. Ship shape meant stacking the heavy lead cannonballs like pyramids on brass platforms called monkeys. When temperatures grew very cold, the balls would shrink (“like a frightened turtle”) and the pyramid fell to disarray. The cannonballs tumbled off the brass monkey and rolled willy nilly around the deck. Sailor do not play dodge ball with cannon balls. Unknown-2

As Mercury falls it is really hard leave the warmth of a cozy bed and move about the day. We are prisoners of science. Heat moves from warm things to cold things. Body heat dissipates as soon as our feet hit the chilly floor. Take away heat and things move slower. Remove heat and things that are fluid go solid. That’s probably why things said in the heat of a moment can leave us cold with a rock-hard resolve not to make the first move towards an apology. Our emotions seize up like old engines on frosty mornings.

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USS Glacier (1956) Courtesy rossea.inf

Sailing in frigid weather is nastier than the mammary glands of Holden Caulfield’s witch. Brass monkeys makes me think about the Coast Guard crews patrolling Boston Harbor on this frigid day. Though sheathed in neoprene and thick protective jackets their service is another painful repercussion from a loose canon that rained hellfire on Marathon runners.

Tis the season to chill – but we simply aren’t built to hibernate. Go ahead, spend the evening sitting by a warm hearth with a hot toddy. You might even lose weight by just warming up since adding heat to a cold thing makes its molecules move faster. Program that into your Fitbit!

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Sioux Harbor

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