A few observations from inside the polar vortex:
– For what seems like the first time in days, I saw birds this morning and heard them singing. This seems like a good sign. Where do they go when it gets this cold? There are, of course, places that are even colder on a regular basis and I find myself wondering how the birds survive there-how anything survives there.
– There is something deeply unsettling about a polar vortex that makes it difficult to fall asleep at night, and it’s not just the cold. I lay in bed on Sunday night thinking about homeless people. And then the stray cats. Imagining humans and animals in sub-zero temperature is not soothing bedtime material.
– Weather this cold makes houses talk. I don’t know whether this is good or bad. Last night, our house banged like it was a cast-iron skillet being hit with a brick every half hour or so. One news report said wood can move as much as 1/8 of an inch as it contracts in the cold. We crossed our fingers that it wasn’t the sound of the pipes freezing and took comfort in the fact that the house has been around 170 years. In all that time, it’s probably seen much colder temperatures than this.
– There is something malicious about weather this cold. It kills people. I strands us far away from each other. It locks us up inside our houses. I watch the ice form on the inside of our windows and think that if all the comforts of civilization were to fall away, there would be nothing I could do. Weather this cold is like a sharp nip on our ankles, reminding us who’s in charge on this planet and it’s not us.
– On the other hand, at a local restaurant today, we watched an older man shuffle in. The waitress asked him how he was. A guy from the kitchen came out and asked him if he was keeping warm. He suggested he might need a heavier coat. They sat him down and brought him a cup of coffee and a bag of chips. He was a regular and they were worried about him.
They asked an expert on global climate change recently what people could do in the face of the dire predictions of disaster. Find a good community, he said. A place where people take care of each other. We’ll be needing it more than ever. In Madison, I think we’re ready.