Outdoor Adventure: Dealing with the deep freeze
On a clear December morning with the sky rosy in the east and the morning stars overhead, one is taken first by the sheer beauty of it all; stand still, head turned up as if to catch rainfall but not today, today to take it all in, this undeniable beauty of a winter dawn. That is the first impression; a snapshot of wonder.
Then the cold comes down and it can take your breath away and you stumble back to the house wondering how cold it really is. Minus something; that much you know. Minus zero and at a certain point it does not matter; the fine line between cold and real cold and really, really cold lacks clear distinction. Five below zero does not feel much different from 10 below; 10 below no more comfortable than minus 15. It’s not as if you dress differently; at a certain point you bundle up and either deal with it or stay inside and pout about it.
The three dogs are up before dawn now and we let them out into the darkness of the backyard; the weak overhead porch light seems thinner in the cold, as if the cold has overpowered it. The dogs run to the back fence and are lost in the dark shadows there. Whichever one of us lets the dogs out then pulls on a jacket and a hat and steps out into the morning cold. It is too cold to let the dogs out for very long; we need to mind them.
Thor and Riika have been here before; Fenway, at 8 months, has not. Thor and Riika are larger dogs, 60 pounds or so, and, without being overly critical, both have enough body fat to stand the cold. Fenway, the Boston Terrier, does not have an ounce of fat, weighs in at about 18 pounds, and has little feet that have no fur on them at all. His feet remind me of my fingers; long and thin and nothing on them for insulation.
But Fenway is game; if the big dogs go forth he will follow, for in his mind he is their equal. The breeder told us that he is a big dog in a small dog’s body and that seems the case. In the early snowfalls Fenway was not intimidated and raced across the yard, skidding as he cut back like a football receiver playing on snow-covered turf. He loved the snow.
The cold is another story. He cannot deal with the cold. We dress him in a little jacket and he puts up with that, but his feet are another story; no protection for them. He does what he can; he stays with the big dogs, for that is his personality. But after a minute, maybe two, the hard cold simply is too much and he lifts one foot and tries to stand like a three-legged stool, off the snow, away from the cold.
Sometimes it works and he hobbles back to the steps and limps up the stairs to the house. We bring him in, hold his feet in hands; they are like little ice cubes. Sufficiently warmed, he bolts from us and looks for a dog bed.
Other times he falls over in the snow and that is why we leave the comfort of the house on a cold day; so that we can be there if he needs us, to pick him up and carry him, shivering mightily, inside. He looks at use with eyes that suggest puzzlement: How could this backyard, his playground, become so inhospitable? How could his world, defined by the fence that borders the yard, how could this place turn on him?
Riika and Thor come in on their own, often limping on cold feet. We feed them, tell them they are good dogs and they curl up and sleep, none the worse for wear.
But it’s been a tough few weeks for the dogs.
That’s the way it goes in Wisconsin; you get weather. Cold is part of the deal; only question is when it will come and how cold it will be. But you know that in a Wisconsin winter you’ll have to deal with it. Can’t do much to change that. This year it’s early cold; last year it was not. Things even out in the long run.
Last Sunday I left the dogs and the house for a flight to the Twin Cities on a cold morning under hazy skies. The attendant announced that there would be no beverage served; the water lines had frozen. I flew to Minneapolis-St. Paul, boarded another plane, flew to St. Louis. We hit some turbulence and the plane rocked and dipped.
I am not a comfortable traveler in turbulence, however mild. I watch the wings and wonder about stress of the bumps and imagine things failing, big things like wings and tails and engines. In my truck on rough road I can see the bad spots coming and slow down, an option that does not seem readily available to a pilot. And my mind goes to the basic issue of how a plane of that size and weight can actually get off the ground and stay off the ground. No matter how it’s explained to me, it still seems like magic.
I wonder if the bitter cold weakens metal. The plane bumps and rocks again. I do not relax until late in the flight when things smooth out.
We land without incident in St. Louis and I run into two travelers I know from Montana. We immediately do the cold weather comparison, the inevitable exercise of anyone in the cold wherein each party tries to outdo the other.
“Fifteen below,” I offer up for an opening bid and am summarily put in my place by the one: “Wasn’t too bad this morning, ‘bout 22”, and you know that he means below zero but he plays it cool, casual, no big deal. Then he delivers the knockout: “Down to 32 below the other day.” Case closed.
The three of us walk to baggage claim and overhear a fellow traveler on a cell phone (why is it that one must talk on a cell phone as if the listener is hard of hearing?) complain about the St. Louis temperature which is in the twenties, and the three of us meet eye others’ eyes, raise eyebrows and smirk. Twenties? A lightweight.
I spend the next two days at a buying show getting the sales pitch for boots and clothing for next fall and winter. Talk of cold dominates the room; tales of travel compromised on icy roads and snow and cold; explanations from suppliers on why there is nothing available to order today (“We just got slammed with the cold weather. Everything we had is sold out.”); examination on new products for next year and next winter.
I see boots that are fortified to fight the cold; I handle wool clothing, the old standby for winter wear; I feel the heft of thick socks and get a major sales pitch on a blend of goose down and synthetic insulations (“It’s like down on steroids” will be their advertised tag line). I do this all indoors, a long way from home; I check the weather on the computer; it’s still cold back home.
I finish work on Monday afternoon and share the cab with another store owner, also from Montana. He has a smart phone, checks the weather in western Montana; “It’s 27 above right now,” he tells me, “I’ll send it your way.”
I think about it: 27 above zero. Twenty above zero will feel like springtime. Fenway will love it!
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800.