It certainly was cold

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/31/20

Where weather is concerned, I prefer warm to cold.

Without polling, I would think my temperature preference might be nearly universal, shared by all sane and sentient citizens.

But if there …

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It certainly was cold

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Where weather is concerned, I prefer warm to cold.

Without polling, I would think my temperature preference might be nearly universal, shared by all sane and sentient citizens.

But if there were truth to my supposition, how could you explain the populations of, say, chilly Buffalo (average high temperature in January of 31 degrees Fahrenheit), New York’s second largest city and home to 258,612 durable residents; or Fargo, North Dakota, which — with a 2018 Census head count numbering 124,844 — is North Dakota’s most populated city and the 222nd most populous city in the U.S., despite an average January high temperature there of 16 degrees? It would seem to defy logic, if not reason, to live in either of those places, or in any comparably cold climate. Yet, amazingly, neither Buffalo nor Fargo are ghost towns.

Putting aside my temperature-driven dream of relocating to, say, Key West for a mid-life career change as, say, barkeep at Sloppy Joe’s, I perversely enjoy a blast of cold weather now and then.

It’s not the cracked, bleeding skin on my poor hands I like, nor removing my bare feet from beneath warm bedding first thing in the morning and planting them on the cold, wood floor.

But for reasons I can’t explain, other than some vague appreciation of the yin/yang notion of complimentary interconnectedness, I do enjoy a taste of the cold stuff once in a while. But only once in a while.

Fortunately for natural-born resistors of cold temperatures, like me, here in our part of the world we usually only endure what I’ll call “bitter cold” for a short span, usually around this time of year. Pittsboro’s average high temperature in January (the coldest month of the year in these parts) is, compared to Fargo, a balmy and reasonable 52 degrees.

Last week, it was much colder than that, the week never warming even enough to melt the icicles hanging from the downspouts of the Chatham News + Record’s Siler City office. I know because I regarded those ephemeral stalactites every day, as if they were a thermometer, hopeful to spy a drip.

Monday night, I left the comfort of home (indoor average January temperature of 68) to take our dog for a short walk. My dog-walking routine used to be more regular — hot, cold, wind, rain, snow; it didn’t matter, I walked the dog — but these days I’m less inclined to venture outdoors in those rare times of extremes. And Monday night’s temperatures, which had fallen about seven degrees south of freezing, felt extreme.

It was cold.

Really cold.

And a bit windy, too, which only makes the cold feel colder.

There are, as already noted, colder places than central North Carolina. There are places so cold all I can only imagine it. Or read about it.

Back indoors after my short walk, reading about such extreme cold is what I did. Something — I think it was the below-freezing temperature — had put me in that mood. I located my paperback copy of Jack London’s short stories, knowing the one I wanted: “To Build A Fire.”

It’s a story about the Gold Rush-era Klondike and the kind of cold weather most people, even those folks in Buffalo and Fargo, usually only read about; and it seemed appropriate bedtime reading on this particular cold night.

In Jack London’s story, a newcomer to the extreme North is traveling by foot with a canine companion on a path along the Yukon River towards a faraway camp where warmth awaits.

The protagonist isn’t a man given to deep thoughts, instead “quick and alert in the things in life,” London writes, “but only in the things and not the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eight odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able to live within narrow limits of heat and cold.”

Had London’s Yukon hiker been more deliberative than described, he might not have met the bad end that awaits at the story’s conclusion.

Treading on, he breaks through some ice, his foot and leg plunging into icy water. Now soaked and unable to grasp matches in his freezing hands, his attempts to build a fire for lifesaving warmth fall short.

Lying in snow, resigned to his unfortunate fate, one of his final thoughts is this simple observation: “It certainly was cold.”

I’ve tried to image what 75 below could feel like, and I really can’t. Twenty-five above is bad enough.

What I know is the very January weather that we experienced last week is uncomfortably cold. Cold enough to cut through layers of clothing. Cold enough to quickly dry out and crack exposed skin. Cold enough to make you worry for anyone or any thing exposed to it for long periods.

Not cold enough, as in London’s story, to freeze spit before it can hit the ground, but cold enough nevertheless.


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