Thursday, January 15, 2004

Deep Freeze

It's been hovering around and below zero for days. Deep breaths hurt the lungs and sting the sinuses. The dog pees on the doorstep and begs to come back inside. The baby's not been outdoors since Tuesday morning. Driving to work in the mornings, the defroster fights a losing battle with the whip of wind against the windshield glass: in streaks and swirls, my breath ices up the window's interior.

Now the overnight low is supposed to be -17 F, and the still air has given way to a wind chill of negative fifty degrees; only in New England's worst winters do the words "winds of 25 to 30 miles per hour" strike such fear into the hearts of mice, men, and prep school students. The kids clamor for a day off, noting that every public school in the entire region has already cancelled classes for the rest of the week; in response, our Dean of Students notes via our bulletin board system that budget cuts have forced state schools to cut bussing for kids who live less than two miles from their school, while we have nice warm student centers for pre-bus congregation, and no walk across campus should take more than four minutes -- notably, just about half the time it should take for frostbite to kick in. That, and tomorrow's midterm. It would take an act of God to close this place.

Tonight on dorm duty the house director called a meeting for the sole purpose of explaining how to layer up. We've already covered the signs of frostbite: tiny white triangles, blue extremities. Half our multiculti, international student body has, quite literally, never been so cold.

The adolescent mind needs a cause, of course, and winter has many. Last week the local sledding death of a ten year old girl on her last run of the day, out of control, in her father's sight, had them clamoring to decry our ban of sledding down the steepest, rock-lined hills on campus, despite the impossibility of any policy but that in our newly litigious society. Before that it was snow days -- how dare we let the busses run with three inches, six inches, twelve or more, despite plows that run all night and a local alcohol-and-sugar mix that keeps the roads sticky and solvent-heavy, the crisp cold air sweet.

I've never liked the cold myself. Like my father before me, true winter weather has always brought actual nerve-ending pain, as deep as bone, as white as light. But in true mind-over-matterhood, I find myself this year more prepared, less bruised by cold than in the past. I wonder if the empathy of fatherhood may have something to do with it. I cried at the death of the ten year old girl, and split my mind again, wanting both the joys of sledding for my as-yet unready duaghter, and simultaneously the eternal bubble-wrap safety of her fragile red-eared body, but I forge out each morning in the now-negative double digits unafraid.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:35 PM |

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