There’s an old column, sadly no longer online, that Jason Peters wrote for Front Porch Republic about the cold. Specifically it was about why he walked to his office on campus every day, no matter the temperature. There was value in being cold, he thought. And so on the days when the temperature was its coldest, those were the best and most important days for his mile and a half walk.
I’ve always felt similarly. Last year we had a couple days in Lincoln when the temperature got down to -25, which it almost never does and may never again. It was only the second or third time in my life it’s gotten that cold. So on one of those nights, after Joie and the kids were in bed, I put on my Tottenham hoodie, a knee length black wool coat I’ve had since college, grabbed the scarf my parents gave me when I moved to Minnesota, and set out on a walk around my neighborhood. It was -27 as I left and the windchill was in the -30s.
The cold has a way of asserting itself to you, grabbing you by the collar and telling you that you are human, that you are flesh and bone living in a world outside your control and in which you are frequently at its mercy. Though this is simply the experience of being human, there are countless ways that our post-industrial world has equipped us to insulate ourselves from these things. A car with a heater in it means that in winter months I can not only transcend the human scale spatially, but I can also do it while never even experiencing the cold. My point here isn’t to say that these technologies are just inherently bad for this reason, but rather merely to note that taken in aggregate many of our technologies have had the effect of obscuring to us what it means to live in a body in a world. But when you allow yourself to be cold, you can’t really escape this blunt fact.
One of the best memories I have from my year living in St Paul, MN after college was a Sunday evening after church. I was attending a church plant that met at night in a rented church building about a mile and a half from my house. So I would walk to church every week. On this night, a gentle snow was falling and so I decided to only take side streets the whole way home. The sun had gone down some time ago, the night was all around me, and as the snow fell I could look up and see it, backlit by the gentle glow of street lights. It was the quietest I can ever remember St Paul being. I thought of the old Joy Davidman poem “Snow in Madrid,” written of a snowstorm in Madrid that happened amidst the Spanish Civil War:
Men before perishing
See with unwounded eye
For once a gentle thing
Fall from the sky.
If you wish to recover “the real,” I think one good option might be to simply allow yourself to feel the cold next time a cold snap hits your town. There’s something humanizing about it. On that note, enjoy this: