Saturday, January 26, 2013

Coldest Night

January 22, 2013
At Home This Morning

It seems the cold snap we had a few weeks ago was just a “warm-up”
for Old Man Winter’s run at us.

I don’t feel like venturing outside this morning, and am glad to be prepared for these lower temperatures.

Flannel sheet on the bed

Long-johns at the ready

Draft-dodgers in the windowsill

And a treat for when I get home from work, near midnight!

But I am not complaining. Most of us modern folk have but brief contact with the bitter cold, dashing from heated building to heated car to heated building again. The fruits of modern technology --  including polypro underwear, super-insulated homes, efficient woodstoves, and central heating  --have lessened the impacts of normal winter weather.
What would a night like this have been, in Thoreau’s time?
Fortunately, we have his Journal, and he is the best one to tell us:

The coldest night for a long, long time was last.
Sheets froze stiff about the faces.
Cat mewed to have the door opened,
but was at first disinclined to go out.
When she came in at nine she smelt of meadow-hay.
We all took her up and smelled of her, it was so fragrant.
Had cuddled in some barn.

People dreaded to go to bed.
The ground cracked in the night
as if a powder-mill had blown up,
and the timbers of the house also.
My pail of water was frozen in the morning
so that I could not break it.
Must leave many buttons unbuttoned,
owing to numb fingers.
Iron was like fire in the hands.

Thermometer at about 7:30 A.M.
gone into the bulb, -19 degrees at least.
The cold has stopped the clock.

Every bearded man in the street is a graybeard.
cheese, etc., etc., all frozen.
See the inside of your cellar door all covered
and sparkling with frost like Golconda.

Pity the poor who have not a large wood-pile.
The latches are white with frost,
and every nail-head in entries, etc., has a white cap.

The chopper hesitates to go to the woods.
Yet I see S.W.—stumping past,
three quarters of a mile for his morning dram.
   HDT Journal, February 7, 1855


  1. Any idea who S.W. is? Must have been a hardy soul.

  2. Love frostflowers on windows!

  3. Brrrrr! Reminds me of one Christmas morning back in the 70s, before we had our walls insulated. We usually walked to Christmas Mass at 9am, but waited that year to go at 11, when the temperature had climbed to 15 below. (Our kids have never forgiven us for making them walk the 6 blocks to church, especially our daughter, who was wearing new barrettes in her still-damp hair and did not want to cover them with a hat.) There was frost all over the baseboards, and a paper sack of garbage I'd set by the kitchen door had frozen to the floor when I went to take it out, spilling the garbage all over. The following year we installed insulation in our walls.