Hitting The Bottom

I think we’ve hit the bottom of winter. This is to say I think we’re past the half way mark, not that the worst is over. I certainly hope the worst is over, but sometimes winter gives the worst in the second half. It’s been a pretty tough first half of the winter, so I’m not sure what the weather can do to make things worse. Sitting here at the end of January I like to think that we’re at the bottom and now things must start going up. It’s how I put a smile on my face.

Life has been interesting. The weather has managed a good deal of subzero nights and some windy days as well. Then we’ve had some heavy snow falls, so life around here is becoming exceedingly house-bound. The unpacked snow outside is nearly up to my thighs. Wading is about all you can do, and this means nobody can effectively go outside to play, or get some fresh air and sunshine. Snow sits on the roofs and icicles hang everywhere. The upstairs window I can look out from where I sit at my computer is three-quarters or more blocked with this complete sheet of icicles all fused together. It’s like an ice wall.

At times it seems like the whole world is hunkered down against the snow and biting cold. In the morning I knock the solid ice out of the chicken’s water dish and fill it with hot water so it won’t freeze quite so fast. The chickens only venture out of their coop long enough to eat and drink. Mostly they spend their time inside standing around and looking miserable. They’ve stopped laying eggs, and a flock of starlings has taken up living inside the chicken coop, pooping all over things, and flying out like a whirlwind of feathers whenever I step inside.

Winter in these northern climes is when cabin fever sets in. I don’t think I suffer from this as badly as other people. If you’re outgoing and social, being stuck within the same four walls staring at the same bleak landscape outside can be a depression inducing experience. I, being introverted and a very focused person, can remained fixed on the task with which I am occupying myself, and not look up to consider the world outside, or the length of time it’s been since any pleasant weather has come around. Also it helps that I’ve been outside more than other people, and the cold weather doesn’t bother me as much.

This is not to say that things are exactly easy for me. Rather than being stuck indoors, what bothers me very much is the darkness of winter. The short days and long nights of winter are very grim. Forget about cold temperatures, or heaps of snow, what I find depressing is going out for my morning bike ride when it is still dark out. What is depressing is darkness coming at six in the evening . . . or earlier. The winter solstice is an important marker for me. It means daylight is coming back once again. Unfortunately, daylight at seven does not come for many, many more days. So I just plow ahead, counting off the days until the world is properly lit again.

I’m outside more than other people because I do snow shoveling, and I absolutely refuse to give up my thrice weekly bicycle ride. I don’t find snow shoveling unpleasant, though I usually do feel like I have better things to do with my time. It is a chance to get outside, but when the snow begins to fall too often, or in too large amounts, it begins to feel like an excessive waste of time. We have large drifts on either side of the driveway now.

Riding a bicycle in winter weather can be a miserable experience, but not so miserable as people might think. Cold temperatures are not the worst thing about riding a bicycle in the winter. With moderate bundling up I’ve found that riding a bicycle at zero Fahrenheit is an acceptable experience. Sub-zero is increasingly more uncomfortable, and I haven’t gone out in much lower than -15. What is worst about riding in the winter is when there is snow on the road, or when there is a stiff wind–both of which have happened too often for my liking this winter. Snow makes riding a slippery experience, gums up my chain, and freezes in my gears. Right now I’m stuck in one gear because all the rest have frozen full of ice and snow. I have to bring the bicycle into the house and defrost it and oil the chain. (Salt and sand work terrors on a bicycle.) A stiff cold breeze makes riding hard and unpleasant.

I stick to my bicycle riding no matter what the weather to defy winter, keep some semblance of normality, and get out of the house for a short while. This has made me into something of the local lunatic. I’m not exactly sure what people think when they see me out riding in the snow and freezing weather, but I can almost see their thoughts on their faces when they give me a peculiar look, or shake their heads. Nobody realizes it isn’t really that bad, and it amuses me. I grin very large when I see people giving me the funny stare when I ride by. It’s not every day that people think you are crazy.

Besides shoveling snow and bicycling in all sorts of inclement weather I’ve been accruing hands on experience thawing frozen pipes. Mrs. B, whose husband passed away a year ago, has been having trouble with her pipes freezing and I have been dealing with the problem. It seems like I no sooner fix one problem than another one appears. I’ve defrosted pipes, run heating tape, and insulated pipes, all in an effort to keep the water flowing. Sub-zero temperatures and a biting wind make for a difficult combination. I like to think that, after spending countless hours on my hands and knees in a half basement, I now have the problem licked. Only time, and more cold weather, will show if I’m right.

If freezing pipes weren’t enough problem for Mrs. B ice dams have formed on her roof and water began leaking into her house. So I went over recently to shovel some snow off her roof. In the back of her house there is a pretty steep drop and she was understandably nervous about me going out onto her snowy and icy roof. I’ve shoveled snow off roofs before (in fact, I’m doing more roof shoveling this Saturday) and I know how slippery a shingled roof can be. But I am not ashamed to go crawling around on my hands and knees, or my belly if necessary, to keep from falling off the roof.

I also have a morbid and perhaps flippant sense of humor that I put to good use in such situations. As I was preparing to crawl out the window Mrs. B continued to fret. I turned back and said, “Oh, you can just go back downstairs. You don’t need to worry. If you see me fly by the window you’ll know that I’ve fallen off the roof.” Since the snow on the ground was thigh deep I wasn’t sure how hurt I would be if I did fall off, and I thought the idea of me slipping off the roof with an “AAAIIEEEE!” and then streaking by the downstairs window in transit to land in a snow drift was funny. Mrs. B did not.

Winter drags on, but I remind myself that it must come to an end. I’ve still at least another month of riding my bicycle in the snow. Last year there was still a heavy snow pack in the middle of March, but it melted eventually. Now is the time of year to make great plans of what will be done once the weather has warmed, and savor the fact that right now I don’t need the mow the lawn.