The Opposite of Heat
This month we’re talking about heat. But I can’t really discuss this topic with any authority and here’s why. I grew up in North Dakota.
Sixty degrees below zero is the coldest temperature ever recorded in my home state. If you’re born and raised in this environment, you receive immunity to cold as a special superpower. It’s sort of a reward, a compensation for having to wear a parka under your Halloween costume while trick or treating.
Elsa from Frozen was obviously a North Dakotan. Remember how she sashayed around her ice palace in that flimsy, off the shoulder dress? Clearly she was not appropriately dressed for the prevailing weather conditions. No coat. No hat. Not even mittens. And yet, as she famously sang, the cold never bothered her anyway. This is how we are in North Dakota. In North Dakota, everyone is Elsa.
When I was growing up it was so cold we had to plug our cars in at night so they’d start in the morning. My car had this little cord that stuck out the front, with a plug at the end, just like a lamp. If you didn’t have access to a garage, you’d grab an extension cord and plug your car into an outlet on the side of the house.
When I graduated from college, I got a job as a television reporter and moved from the greater Fargo metropolitan area to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I went hunting for an apartment and rejected place after place because I couldn’t find a building with an outlet for my car. Someone finally explained that I didn’t have to do that anymore because it was so warm in Sioux Falls. At long last, I was living in the tropics.
In the days before cell phones, everyone in rural North Dakota travelled with a Winter Survival Kit in their car. This kit consisted of a metal Folgers coffee can with a pillar candle inside, a book of matches, candy bars, a blanket and boots.
If you went into the ditch during a snowstorm, you were supposed to stay with your car, light your candle in the coffee can to create heat, clean snow from the tail pipe and run your engine periodically. Then you were instructed to snuggle up in your blanket and eat chocolate until help arrived.
We learned that Mother Nature was not some benevolent goddess with daisies in her hair and Technicolor songbirds chirping on her shoulders. She was a Valkyrie with anger management issues and every winter she actively tried to kill us. You had to look sharp and keep your wits about you if you wanted to survive her furious winter rages.
Now I live on the east coast, outside of Washington, DC and it’s so damn hot here. The humidity is heavy and oppressive, an invisible wool blanket over the outdoors from May through October. It’s like living in a jungle with really bad traffic. After a half an hour outside, I’m a whining, wilting mess. And here’s the worst thing about heat. You can only take off so many clothes before someone arrests you.
But when it’s cold, you just throw on a pair of long underwear and go about your business. I miss that. I miss cold so biting and sharp that you catch your breath when you step outside. I miss cold so intense that your eyes water and your lashes freeze together. Or maybe cold is just the temperature of my warm memories of a place I’ll always love, despite the wind chill.