Friday, January 31, 2014

Knowing the cold

Before this winter, I thought I knew a few things about cold weather. After all, I'd been blogging about it since 2005, and we've lived in this house, more or less, since 2008. But, every winter is different. This winter is challenging my nerves, but it is different. So here's what I have learned:

1) I can tell the temperature in the morning by the action of the storm door. If it is below -15, there is no pressure in the pressure door closer thingy. So the door slams, and it's cold.

2) I can tell the temperature by the bedroom floor. If it is below -20, my feet will go numb in less than a minute. It's cold.

3) I can generally, but less accurately, tell the temperature by how my nose feels when it's sticking out of the nest of down comforter and wool blanket. It depends largely on whether I stoked the wood stove in the middle of the night (most nights unfortunately I cannot muster whatever it takes to do that!)  

4) My car will start at any temperature it has encountered thus far. The battery gets a bit sluggish when the temperature is below -30.

5) The creak of the compacted snow underfoot sounds a lot different at -30 than it does at 0.

6) When you set out with the specific goal of seeing a snowy owl, you will not find one.

And so it goes. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Where the rivers freeze and the summer ends

The winter of 2013-2014 has, by all accounts, been brutal. I am proud to be a Minnesotan, and I take a certain sinister pleasure in hearing weather reports from states on the Eastern Seaboard, where six inches of snow and 10 degrees above zero is considered a "snowpocalypse". We Minnesotans are winter tough. The city of International Falls regularly reports the lowest temperatures in the nation. But this winter has been unusually relentless. I hear it is the second coldest winter on record in Duluth, MN. And that is from a city that has seen its share of cold.

It started in early December, the day I finally bought a car for Vinny, a 2010 Ford Fusion with high highway miles but in beautiful shape. We had decided the 1990 F150 pickup had too many things that needed fixing, and gas mileage was not acceptable. The day after we signed the papers and brought it home, it snowed. So much snow that both of our cars got stuck in the driveway coming home.

Then it got cold. Seriously, bone chilling, 30 below zero cold. We got the cars dug out, and paid $85 for having the driveway plowed. Too much snow for our 4 wheeler with plow attachment. We realized the recent delivery of wood was comprised of mostly birch. Any Minnesotan or New Englander will tell you that, while birch is great for starting a fire, it burns hot and fast and does not have the staying power of oak or maple. Still, it is wood and it is heat, so that's a good thing.

Still, we use propane to heat the cabin. A very inefficient setup, but we like having that space. I bought 250 gallons in early November. Right after New Year's, the tank was at about 5 percent, and we called for an emergency weekend delivery. When I saw the bill, I was floored. $2.29 a gallon, plus a $100 "off hours" charge. Luckily I have credit with the company, and did not have to pay it in cash.

That seems like a bargain now, with prices above $4 per gallon and rising daily. The Midwest, for various reasons, is in a propane supply crisis. If the tank had not run low when it did, the 300 gallons would have cost us twice as much. And that is for "luxury" heat. We could close up the cabin and have everything, including the Xbox, in the house where the wood stove is. But for now, we're good, but if the propane runs out, I will not buy more.

We will get through it, and spring will come. And I have many more stories to tell