Friday's Weekend Column
Bitter Cold

by James Glaser
December 12, 2003

Twenty two degrees below zero is getting down to a bitter cold and with even a breath of wind it is too cold work outside. This is the time that those heading out to Florida or Arizona know that they waited too long.

Many people stay until after Christmas before becoming snow birds, but years like this makes more and more of them leave right after Thanksgiving. Every year I hear of someone that left for the winter, they turned off the water and drained the pipes so they wouldn't freeze, and they then headed south after turning off their heat, thinking that they are saving money.

Every spring somebody will ask me why all the nails on their sheet rock have popped out or why one wall came up six inches. The worst that happens is a basement wall will crack or maybe caved in. The heat in your house keeps the ground right next to the walls from freezing and when you turn that heat off a water filled clay soil can expand like an ice cube and push your basement wall in.

Right around our house are lots of maple trees and when it gets this cold you can hear them pop and snap as the moisture in the tree freezes and expands. No one cuts these trees for lumber because there are so many flaws in this wood from the cold. Every house I have lived in up here has popped or snapped on a real cold night. That is what happens to that sheet rock. The 2x4s expand and contract in the cold with the heat off in your house and that works the nails out.

I don't do that type of repair work as it is real hard to bid. All people have to do is keep the house at 45 degrees and they would have no problem. You need a neighbor to check often that the heat is still on and all they really have to do is watch for frosted windows. There are also new products that let you call home and it will tell you the temperature in the house.

I said at these cold temperatures it was too cold to work outside, but there is one group of workers that want this kind of weather and that is the Logger. They need the cold to make their winter roads out through the muskeg.

Now that I think about it the Ridge Runner Snowmobile Club has been looking forward to this cold too. Last week the Trail Groomer, a huge snow machine that has tracks that spread out the ruts created by lots of snowmobiles going down a trail, broke through in the bog and they had a heck of a time getting it out. Many of there trails need the cold to make them useable.

Most people figure that the ice on the lake is not thick enough for fishing yet, but right now I can hear some faint groans from the lake making ice. Step outside and it sounds like the whole lake is moving, which it is. Sometimes it freezes so fast and expands that huge pressure ridges form and can make barriers several feet high. Sometimes a huge crack will open up, so no matter how great the ice is, a person should be real careful out on the ice at night. People that get hurt out there on snowmobiles are usually driving faster than their headlights let them see and when open water shows up, they are going to fast to stop in time.

Kids, kids like snow no matter how cold it is outside. Give some kids a good hill and some sleds or even large sheets of cardboard and they have hours of fun. You have to keep an eye out for frost bite and ears are a good target for that, but you seldom hear of somebody getting that cold. Little kids are running around and pumping warm blood to every part of their body. The Adults watching them are the ones that get cold because they can't run around like those kids can.

To tell you the truth, I look forward to this type of cold. I have the workshop across the road that is heated, we have plenty of food, and I can tell you that the colder it gets the quieter it is outside. The birds and squirrels at the feeder are like a wildlife program on TV and now they will wait right there for me to come out and feed them.

Little chickadees will sit right on the feeder if I am careful how fast I walk up to them. Then all the birds in the trees start yelling and their is a constant feeding pattern for a couple hours. We put out black sunflower seeds and the birds will grab one and fly to a branch and open it by holding it in their beak and hitting that branch, they then fly back for another. Blue Jays will take ten to fifteen seeds at a time and the Pine Grosbeaks will all come for a community meal and eat together. All the other birds are pretty individual, but those grosbeaks seem to get along.

This time of year is when our area becomes a real community. Any church dinners are well attended by every denomination. Every benefit is a success. You get shut in at home for awhile and you want any excuse to get out and talk to other people. Real cold days mean lots of sunshine. It warms up when we get a cloud cover, but after a few days of cloudy weather you can tell that people need some sunshine. You get a week of cloudy weather and you don't even want to go to town because everyone is in a bad mood. One day with a bright sun and everyone is all smiles and fun to be with.

The last couple of nights were the full moon and with a clear sky and lots of snow, you could look out the window at 2 am and see the deer walking down the road. Every tree casts a moon shadow that is clear and crisp. When the sun comes up over the trees on the east side of the lake it makes everything so bright it can hurt your eyes.

One draw back this time of year is that it is getting dark by four in the afternoon and the sun isn't up until just before eight. I think December 20th is the shortest day, but it seems like it takes months before the days start getting longer. Charmaine and I will be sitting here thinking about heading to bed and realize that it is only seven o'clock, but it has been dark for hours.

Let me tell you that when there is no moon, it is very dark up here. No city lights and if I work past dark over at the shop and don't have a flashlight, it is scary walking back to the house. I am careful about not leaving things out I could trip on, but I have.

The weather man is telling us we have about three more days of real cold and then a warm up into the twenties. Like I said I do like this cold, but it does have its down side. Our furnace is coming on a lot and LP gas it expensive this year. Short runs of cold are OK . I can however, look forward to a Christmas time warm-up.

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