The calendar says winter doesn’t start until Dec. 21. The calendar lies.
Meteorological winter is, as of the date of this issue, only 10 days old (it starts Dec. 1, according to the National Weather Service), and we’ve already had two very measurable snowfalls and, Saturday night, a low of zero. (Which is not even close to as cold as it can get here this time of year. The low Dec. 9, 1958, was 18 below zero. For that matter, the low Nov. 26, 1978 was 14 below zero. )
One wonders what was in the minds of our ancestors who thought it was a good idea to come to a part of the country whose winters feature temperatures cold enough to kill you and snowfalls deep enough to kill you during snow removal or from crashes caused by said snowfalls. What do you see when you look outside this time of year? Death — trees without leaves, brown grass (when not covered by snow), ice covering roads or paths just waiting to cause you injury or worse.
One highlight, if you want to call it that, of winter is getting sick. You get sick because people are cooped up inside, where germs whose deleterious effects are felt from your head to your stomach (and points below) spread more readily. There are also the effects of artificially heated (and thus very dry) air upon sinuses, eyes, skin, etc.
One reason to hate winter is that surviving the outdoors requires being clothed in layer upon layer. That results in digging through the layers to find your cellphone when it goes off (and when you have children waiting 15 minutes to get to your cellphone really isn’t an option) or your house keys. One of the funniest scenes in the movie “A Christmas Story” is when the narrator’s brother is so wrapped in winter clothing that he can’t move. To quote someone, comedy is tragedy from a distance (i.e. it’s funny because it didn’t happen to you, except that it did). Wearing a hat or footwear that keeps you warm is incompatible with professional personal appearance.
There is also the issue of the great variation in temperatures in your environments. I have observed from years in the workforce that offices in which the majority of workers are female are hotter than I might choose them to be. Then you go outside, and it feels even colder than it actually is. Go home for the day, and since you and not your employer is paying for the heat, you’re cold inside your own house. Repeat the cycle tomorrow. (I also note that schools are considerably warmer than they were in the days when my classmates were complaining about how cold certain rooms of school were. This is not for the comfort of those who work in schools, though.)
The cold also forces this Catch-22 choice for homeowners: Either spend money now to (more) insulate your house and install windows that leak less cold air in, or send increasingly large checks to Alliant Energy or Scenic Rivers Cooperative or an LP gas provider. (Up here in the Arctic Circle, actually, it’s not an either–or choice.) The way to get around the latter choice is to have your own wood supply, but you can’t just light a tree on fire and get heat that is usable for your home0.
Then there’s your automobile(s). One thing I’ve noticed about Platteville is that there are very few houses with a garage that fits more than one car. Since most families have more than one car, at least one car sits outside in the elements. The car experts claim you should not run a car for a few minutes to warm it up, advice that is routinely ignored here in the Great White North because no one wants to drive a cold car, and drivers sometimes get alarmed at the sounds cold cars make. And of course there is the probability of your turning the ignition switch and hearing either sounds incompatible with operation of a car, or no sound at all.
Part of the problem may be my lack of interest in winter activities, due in part to my ineptitude in any athletic-related activity. I work in journalism, so I don’t own a snowmobile. (My father owned a snowmobile, but replaced it with a boat and 6-horsepower motor. After I fell into Lake Monona on its first voyage, that kind of ended my interest in the boat.) My father-in-law did, and my brother-in-law does, engage in ice fishing. I’ll certainly eat their fish, but that is the extent of my interest in standing on ice of uncertain thickness waiting for fish.
I don’t downhill-ski because there is, I believe, a tree somewhere on this planet with my name on it, and that tree is wherever I decide to ski for the first time. I have cross-country skied, where at the end of my first run I did my best Vinko Bogataj impression. (Bogataj was a ski jumper whose epic wipeout was featured in the beginning of every episode of ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports” from 1970 until the end of the series. All you need to know is these four words: “the agony of defeat.”)
Based on my rant so far, I can think of only one good thing about winter — high school and college basketball. (Watching, not playing; see two paragraphs ago.) If you were a UW sports fan in the 1970s, you’re also a hockey fan, because in the 1970s the only Badger sport that won anything was the hockey team. The only hockey in this area is the Dubuque Fighting Saints, which are entertaining to watch and, as of last season, successful. The closest high school team is in Monroe, which is in a co-op with Darlington, Albany, Orfordville Parkview, Pecatonica, Beloit Turner, Freeport (yes, as in Illinois) and Lena (ditto). Somewhere out of all that you get a team called the Avalanche.)
The first person who hired me for a newspaper job claimed to like winter, and wrote at least one opinion piece asking those of us who hated winter to refrain from complaining about it. His obituary last year noted that he and his wife after retirement “spent parts of each winter in Florida, Arizona, Georgia, California or Texas.”