It must have been Robert Louis Stevenson who said that talk about the weather was the “nadir and scoff of good conversationalists”. If he didn’t, he should have. In my humble opinion however it is not the low point of a conversation to start with the weather but it may be if you end one there. Weather is the great leveler because as we know He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5. Weather is the one thing that affects all of us, even the shut-ins, because for a time we all become shut-ins. There is something elemental about 20 below. It really can be deadly, and a few minutes outside without a hat and gloves and boots will bring that reality home.
Up here in the North country we like to say that 20 below keeps the riff raff out or some such nonsense. We take to the old bromide that when it gets below zero it kills the flu bugs and we get healthier. This is usually offered up by someone who has spent 3 weeks in the house sneezing, coughing, and the new craze, dabbing themselves with essential oils. Although oil of cloves jammed up a nostril can be exhilarating, in the main I would forgo the experience. The keeping the riff raff out phrase is usually offered by someone that has spent 6 weeks in Phoenix enduring the riff raff at the pool and the golf course.
What I have come to appreciate, although I don’t claim to understand it, is the decorating that takes place after Christmas, with the theme of weather. Gone is the tree and the Chrismons and the wreaths of green and red. In their place are Snowmen wrapped in scarfs and wearing toques with vacuous smiles under carrot noses standing by a frosty trees and they are cute, but they convey a sad reality. Step out of the warm confines of the living room and stand on the front porch, or venture out to start your car early in the morning, and you look pretty much like those snowmen. Toqued and scarfed and dabbed up with oil the vacuous smile comes on in about 30 seconds although, if truth be told, it is not a smile but a rictus.
There is something beautiful about a birch forest in starlight under a blanket of snow. “The woods are lovely dark and deep” has created more commentary than one would think 7 words would evince. But in this corner of my home this simple decoration evinces that image without the cold. My cat doesn’t mind sitting in the midst of this winter wonderland but if I throw him out into the real thing he will no doubt have some issues. Interesting that we bring indoors the very images of the outside world the indoors is meant to save us from.
Anyway it is cold out there. To all of you from the North country that have run away to Phoenix or Mesa or Palm Springs, I offer this invitation – since 20 below does indeed keep the riff raff out, when it gets to be 40 above we will welcome you back with open arms, a vacuous smile and probably with a toque on our heads. Please forgive the smell of cloves, and we promise we won’t talk about the weather.