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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bitter Cold

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Susan Carol Hauser remarks on how long stretches of below zero temperatures get even the hardiest down.


CURWOOD: Some people love the cold. They welcome winter as a time when they can get out on their skis or zip on skates across a frozen lake. But even for these people there is such a thing as too cold. As Susan Carol Hauser observes, when the thermometer hits the negative double digits, the chill becomes profound.

HAUSER: Surfeited with the solitude of a northern Minnesota winter, one day my husband and I called a few friends and asked them over for dinner. Everyone came, even though it was 25 below zero. As they entered the house they stomped snow off their feet, and after they peeled off layers of winter clothes they warmed their hands over the woodstove in the entryway. We spent most of the evening gathered around the small table in the kitchen, talking our way through the weather and listening to a tape of country sounds in summer, songbirds, crows, cows in a distant field. And then we went outside to proclaim our presence on the surface of this sometimes cold and sometimes unforgiving planet.

It was 30 below by then. The moon was full and just rising over the ridge pole of the house. There was no wind, not even a breeze. I brought with me a bottle of bubble soap, the kind used for blowing bubbles through a ring on the end of a wand. When it is very, very cold, the bubbles do strange things. Bravely removing our mittens, we took turns dipping and blowing, dipping and blowing. We blew bubbles into the face of the moon and they twirled there and then settled on the low roof of the porch, where they rolled down its slight slope, pulled by gravity and their own frozen weight. Eventually they found their way to the edge and then to the ground where they shattered, the way dreams do sometimes. Others, when we blew them, puffed up beyond their ability, poofed before our very eyes, and plummeted to earth where they came to rest in a ragged little heap of glycerin crystals.

We oohed and aahed until our noses were no longer warmed by the fire of our excitement. And then we returned to the kitchen, stopping by the stove to remove our wraps and clapping our hands as though in applause. Seated again around the table and reflected in the black mirror of the window, we talked our way into the night, our cheeks alive with the lingering cold. And the isolation of winter, that bitter twin of solitude, broke in our hands like glass, the fragments reflecting the warm and forgiving passion of friendship.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Susan Carol Hauser lives in Puposky, Minnesota, which in itself makes her a cold weather expert. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.



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