In case you haven’t heard (or in case you live on the other side of the world from me; some people do, not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s been pretty cold here in Wisconsin lately. When you don’t remember how long it’s been since the temperature was above the freezing point of water… that’s pretty cold.
For the most part, the temperature hasn’t really been a hardship. It is the Upper Midwest, and it is winter, and we do expect this sort of thing. Half of Wisconsin’s tourist economy, surely, is based on festivals, Brewers games, and trips to The Dells in warm weather, and on hunting, snow sports, and ice fishing in cold weather. If you remove one of these components, we just aren’t ourselves.
Snow sports, however, are dependent upon the type of snow you get. Just ask anyone who’s tried to complete the Birkie in recent years. What’s easy to hand-shovel from the driveway is terrific for skiing but inadequate for building snow forts in the yard. What’s great for the snowmobile trails might make it impossible for you to get out of your driveway. And the cold that freezes the lake solid enough for ice fishing might come with blustery winds that could make your fishing experience utterly miserable.
Last month I got the perfect combination of weather to finally make cross-country skiing possible with skis I had held on to since 1999 and used only once. I had two sets of skis and boots — veteran skis, rescued rentals from a golf course in Ohio that had run out of the right kind of winter weather decades before and were storing the unused ski equipment in a shed and thinking about tossing the whole lot of them. I had the skis cleaned and given a waxless waxing (yeah, even the people who serviced the skis chuckled at that phrase), and went out with a friend to see what kind of skiing could be had literally in my own backyard.
In farm country, the word “backyard” could mean just the part around the house that you keep mowing. In this case, I’m stretching the definition to reach to the edges of my rental property, on the other side of the fields worked by the farmer-neighbor just down the road. At the north edge of “my” property is a marked snowmobile trail, and it takes just a couple of minutes to ski over to it. My friend and I had a blast breaking a fresh trail through and around the fields, even though we fell down sometimes and one of his ski boots separated from its sole about halfway through our adventure.
Last week (with my friend wearing a different set of vintage ski boots, which didn’t split apart until we were almost back to the house) we decided to do a longer ski in the midafternoon, following the snowmobile trail for about another quarter mile before we took a path where snowmobiles were forbidden. It was quiet, peaceful, and lovely at a comfortable 14 degrees. The rolling uphills were challenging; the downslopes, exhilarating. We even saw a few deer hurrying across the snow-covered fields to hide from the local hunters. In the end, our ski loop was nearly three miles long when we got back to my house, cold and weary and with my smartphone’s battery at 1 percent.
That’s when my friend realized that his keys had fallen out of his pocket — possibly close to the house on the return stretch, but most likely right at the furthest point of our route. Now it was 4pm, with the sun setting at 4:30 and the temperatures dipping as the light faded. We switched ski boots for snow boots, grabbed a flashlight, some juice, and a granola bar, and basically did the whole trip over again, but this time hiking through a foot of snow, climbing hills, going over and through barbed-wire fences, and eventually finding the keys right where we knew they would be (“and there was much rejoicing”) and then hiking our way out back to the roads in the dark as the feeling in our fingers and toes started to disappear. Even though a Good Samaritan stopped to give us a ride home for the last mile, it took me an hour or two to warm up back at the house.
I thought that was cold.
I was so wrong.
This weekend a polar inversion is charging at us, and the wind-chill values are forecast to be -40 to -70°F in our area. Many schools cancelled their Monday classes on Friday or Saturday. Keeping the house’s temperature at a comfortable but not indulgent level means a temperature difference of 110 to 140 degrees between inside and outside. Plugging in a heater in each upstairs bedroom often trips the breaker, which has to be located and reset. I have several windows to seal with plastic and double-sided tape and a hair dryer. It’s too cold to be outside to play; the winds will be too high for the roads to be safe from icing and snowdrifts.
We are wearing footie pajamas and double socks and long underwear indoors and having hot chocolate available at every meal. We’re hunkering down and making soup and baking cookies and playing video games and knitting. We suggest you do the same!
What I’m knitting this week:
This pattern is an oldie but a goodie. I’ve knitted this stitch pattern almost more often than I’ve knitted stockinette. It was publicized by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee in 2006 as her One-Row Handspun Scarf pattern. It is a one-row wonder that I’ve surely raved about before; it’s easy to knit, it’s completely reversible, and it doesn’t have a particularly masculine or feminine look to it so it can be used on garments for anyone. I am knitting this with uncharacteristic-for-me Red Heart because of the Tangerine color which is almost exactly Blaze Orange, because during the recon mission for my friend’s car keys a hunter called to us from his hiding place and said we were lucky nobody shot us because we looked like deer. Really? Well, if you can’t tell the difference between bipedal, conversing human beings and white-tailed deer, I suppose I should help you out a bit. Be warned, hunters, that if this works for me I might be knitting up some matching cowls and antler cozies for the local deer herd. When I log this project into Ravelry, I’m planning to call it “Don’t Shoot.”