Frozen, and Not from Global Warming

It's been cold for so long, and it's only early winter.  I have jackets of different thicknesses lying around the house, ready to layer or remove as the temperature outside fluctuates by fifty degrees.  My plants are covered as they struggle to survive the winter that is normally mild in this sub-tropical location.  Something is happening, and it's not just my imagination.

As I write, I have on three layers of tops along with a thick wool lap-robe covering my legs.  My hands and face are cold despite the gas heat that runs almost continually.  Outside is dark under a new moon and quiet with no one, human or otherwise, on the streets.  The night sounds I usually hear — the hum of distant traffic, the rustle of animals near the house, the occasional vehicle passing the door — are absent.  The only sound I hear is the unsettling cry of a pack of coyotes in the distance, celebrating a kill.  It's a frozen world, and a taste of what the world would be like year-round if we entered a new Ice Age.

There is silence and a near total lack of activity.  There are no lights on in the houses along the streets.  Everyone is curled up under blankets and comforters, enjoying a long winter's nap.  When they arise, they should be well rested, but there will be little to do since it is too cold to walk or jog, and all the young plants will have been frozen.  One can sit inside, read as long as one's eyes and attention last, watch TV, scan the news and markets, and of course eat.  That is hardly a recipe for health and happiness.

Scandinavians are used to it, but Scandinavians also have the world's highest suicide rates.  Those of us who live in Florida, and who came to Florida to escape it, are not.  We enjoy the warm, balmy days with a south breeze and cumulus clouds rising in the morning.  Even the humidity is welcome, since it comforts the joints and sinuses, wrapping one's tired body in its huge hands like a newborn.  On warm, humid mornings, we drink our coffee outside and walk and do errands before it gets too hot.  The morning sky is softly pink and orange, promising a new day filled with life-sustaining heat and afternoon rain.  Then there is the strong odor of growing things, and of death and decay as well, and the pungent smell of grasses and herbs and flowers in bloom, but that is all months away.

What I have now is the cold office with the armrests themselves chilling the sleeves of my jacket, cold feet and face, and infinite darkness and silence.  This is what the afterlife must be for those whom God has not redeemed, but it's not the afterlife that bothers me at this moment — it's the cold in my feet and legs and back, even with three layers, and the absolute emptiness of the nighttime hours.

Cold seeps through even the warmest jacket I own, admittedly not the warmest available, but one I'd always thought would be too warm.  The small wool carpet beneath my desk is designed to keep my feet warm, but it doesn't.  The "room temperature" bottled water is cool on my tongue, and the metal surface of the computer is like frozen iron.  The only real warmth comes from the thick wool sweater that I use as a lap robe.  For some reason, that rustic, hand-knit sweater that I bought in Varna, woven from the wool of sheep that probably lived nearby, captures the warmth of my legs and holds it.

I slept well at first under my three thick covers, and when I awoke just after three, my lower body was toasty.  I was tempted to stay in bed but got up in the cold, a few minutes before I could get settled with my thick jacket, lap robe, and water bottle and work amid the intense early-morning silence.  The sleep was deep and refreshing, and I feel more or less restored.  I massage my left hand for warmth and blood flow.  Somewhere out there, even at this insane hour, there are others, probably with their own jackets and lap robes, working or at least emailing or surfing the net or watching TV.  I feel better knowing that.  "Men work together, whether they work together or apart."

In the quiet and peace, I lapse into a meditative state, unable to write or even think.  Slow heartbeat and intense calm, breathing maybe seven times a minute.  It's a luxury to sit calmly and let the time pass, knowing somehow that in this manner, the time is not lost, as it would be watching news or sports or surfing the net.  Those distractions are silenced like the normal traffic sounds or animals in the night.  In the absence of thought and speech, there is a restful fullness, more rich and rewarding than any conscious activity.  Without intending to, I've stumbled on these minutes of freedom.

Now my office chair is completely comfortable.  There is no need to attend to the body, no itching or squirming or shifting about.  I feel not so much "light" as "absent."  Every part of my body is grounded, my hands folded softly in my lap and my back straight and free of pain.  Above all, the breathing is slow and relaxed.  Everything is being attended to, and there is no need to worry.  There is nowhere better to be and nothing more important to do.

But meditation cannot last forever.  After twenty minutes, I return to thought, and with it sensations of the cold and a bit of hunger, which I quell with a sip of water.  Time to return to that waste of time that we call work.  

I suppose it is healthy to fast and to rest completely, but not for months on end.  Not for those who are retired and who wish to live outside in the Florida warmth and sunshine.  Nothing so sweet as sitting outside on a warm evening with a sky full of stars and a mild breeze blowing from the south or the west.  An outside table with friends, with their laughter and smiles and slow, calm breathing, happy in the night's warm pleasure.

But now those pleasures have been suspended.  So far, 2022–23 has been one of the coldest winters in Florida's history.  Highly paid climate scientists insist that is the result of "global warming."  Yeah, right.

Let it be warm again, with those lovely mornings when I sit outside the grocery waiting for my wife to finish her shopping and watch the pink sunrise coloring the tall morning clouds, and inhale a deep and satisfying breath knowing that all around me life continues, multiplies, and reproduces, and that this warmth is as it should be.  The warm and fruitful earth that we enjoy, at least for while.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Image via Pxhere.

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