Winter Over

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South Pole Marker. Image courtesy NOAA

We northerners expect and generally prepare for cold and darkness every winter but our mind-bodies seem to favor hot, bright summer days. My closet is crammed with high tech outerwear that lies dormant despite Mercury levels that have sunk to the teens. Sporadic urges to don layers of fleece and goose down are no match for a primordial desire to winter over within the heat radius of our fireplace. My MacBook Pro serves as a lap warmer. A muffled subconscious whisper is counseling me to get out of this rut or succumb to the Arctic Syndrome.

This is the season of the Arctic Stare, a look described by polar researchers as a 12 foot stare in a 10 foot room. During winter our minds periodically slide into fugue states. Our thoughts are aswinter blank as empty sonnets. Many northerners describe winter moods as depressed and irritable. They go to bed early to avoid the boredom associated with long, dark evenings but have trouble sleeping. Folks dismiss absentmindedness as a symptom of Cabin Fever. Some feel lonely but don’t return calls or set up play dates. They get iced in.

The Blanchette Bridge carried me across the Missouri River on a recent frigid winter afternoon. A friend spied a tiny johnboat down on the river moving south amidst ice chunks. She shook her head, “What a fool. If anything happens in that cold water he’s dead in less than 60 seconds.”

I shuddered, “Like a cold fish?” I pictured dead fish spread evenly on mounds of crushed ice in seafood departments.

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Champlins Fish Market, Galilee RI

“No”, explained my friend, who happens to be an expert on all things that kill people. “Cold water at 50ºF causes ventricular fibrillation in people. The heart beats fast but erratic and fails to pump blood properly. This causes a massive heart attack and death. On the other hand, frigid waters trigger fish to relax and enter a phase called winter dormancy. They move very little but are not frozen. It’s different from hibernating but necessary for procreation.”

Freezing ambient air and water stir up the birds and bees?

Yes. Anyone who went to college north of the Mason Dixon line is familiar with winter dormancy. Undergrads hate to leave their snug, pheromone saturated burrows between winter solstice and spring equinox. Cold weather disturbs their heart rhythms.  They become lethargic and fake hibernation by spending 12 to 18 hours at a crack sleeping. Youth have a different sense of time than bears that stick to their caves and avoid socializing until the spring thaw. Coeds are impatient with winter and seek the comfort of communal heat. They tend to rejuvenate long past nightfall on winter weekends. The Sirens of tweets and texts beckon even the most comatose of bedheads to rise from musky bunks. Tribes of sleepwalkers gather. Loud rhythmic music with a strong backbeat resets cardiac rhythms. Lips burn from quaffing high-octane liquids that slosh from one red solo cup to the next. Arctic stares melt into steamy lascivious looks. Warm embraces beget hot kisses that lead to quivering hearts. Birds fly. Bees buzz.

People aren’t meant to hibernate. The best antidote for Winter Over Syndrome – for those of us not fortunate enough to migrate to warmer climes – is to bundle up, get outside, and warm your heart by doing something nice for someone else. It beats lying dormant at the bottom of a river next to a cold fish.

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Slumbering Kayaks on the Narrow River

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