Surviving a Polar Vortex Without Losing Your Mind
“Did you order this weather?”….. This was the question my mother posed to the gas station attendant at the old Amoco station we always went to when I was a kid, whenever the weather conditions were less than favorable. Back in the day, full-service filling stations were still prominent, and my mom NEVER pumped her own gas. In fact, I never touched a gas pump myself until I started driving; full-service was just the way our family rolled. Always full service, always at “Jorgy’s” Amoco (the old fella who owned the station was Jorgensen. Back when gas stations were not only full service at the pump, but were real garages, not merely convenience stores that happen to sell gas as a loss-leader to rake in that mad tobacco and soft drink profit.)
Where was I? Oh yes. The weather. The “Did you order this weather?” weather. The kind of weather we’ve been having here in the midwest all winter long. If you’re not from around these parts, let me clue you in on a little something. This has been one hell of a winter. One for the record books. This is the winter of the Polar Vortex. And it’s starting to wear out its welcome.
People of my generation grew up in the 70’s, and we had a few winters back then that have become standards in the “Back when we were kids” category of stories. Back when we were kids, the Great Blizzard of 78 and Ice Storm of 77 were so bad that school was cancelled for weeks! The drifts were as high as the garage door! We lost power for days!! The Great Winters of the 1970s have become the standard against all subsequent winters have been compared, and until this winter, no season has come anywhere close to measuring up to those glorious childhood winters.
Enter Winter 2014. Finally, just when climate change and global warming had us convinced we’d seen the end of the Apocalyptic Winters, comes the Vortex. A little-known meteorological condition wherein the jet stream veers off path from its typical northerly flow around the Arctic and dips southward. The result? While the rest of the world experiences the 4th warmest January on record (it’s been suggested that the term ‘global warming’ be replaced with ‘global weirding,’ since that’s what seems to be happening) we here in Michigan have been suffocating under a blanket of snow, ice, and desperately cold temperatures. I mean, look at that photo of Michigan. Believe me, it’s as cold down here as it looks from space. This is a picture of the dog posing near the snow pile covering our mailbox. And this was taken BEFORE things started getting really bad!
How are we handling this freakishly cold and snowy winter, when roofs are collapsing under the weight of several feet of snow and water mains are snapping like dry twigs in the brutal cold? Well, some of us are going slightly crazy and shooting at snow plows (I’ve drawn the line at simply cursing them out when they plow the end of the driveway shut, which happens almost daily. Shooting at them is excessive.) We’re dealing with sore backs from the incessant shoveling. Mostly, we’re just trudging through. Those of us without the means to jet off to somewhere warm and tropical have resigned our pale, vitamin D-deprived selves that spring is coming soon. Right? Spring? You out there somewhere?
But remaining positive about the upcoming change of seasons is getting harder. Today for example, when the average high temp is in the mid-30’s, we’ll be lucky to see 10. And there are sub-zero temps and blizzard conditions forecast for tonight and tomorrow. The reality is winter isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So I’ve decided to take a cue from our ancestors, and our friends the bears. Instead of fighting the winter, I’m embracing it and doing what our DNA has evolved to do during the harsh winter months: slow down and hibernate. That’s right: until the ice melts and the sun can warm my skin like it means it, I’m hibernating as best I can.
Until very recently, only about a hundred years ago, we didn’t have the technological ability to live the “normal” life we do today all year round. When it got dark early, we went to bed early. We farmed our asses off and worked long hard days doing whatever was necessary to have the food, wood, clothing, and other necessities we’d need to survive the cold, dark winter. No electric light, no gas heat, no 24 hour grocery stores stocked year-round with tropical fruits. We were self-sufficient, or we were dead. This reminds me of a recent NPR article about how we are living in the most technologically advanced society ever, yet most of us spend most of our time complaining about it. I like to think back to how humans have lived throughout the vast majority of time, and embrace how fortunate we are to have what we have. Especially in the winter.
While I (thankfully, I’ll admit it) didn’t have to slave away all summer to provide the food and heating materials to get my family through winter (We do grow some of our own food, and I’ll proudly admit that too) I am embracing the downtime that winter provides. With almost seven feet of snow and counting this winter, getting around outside is tough. Physical exercise outside when it’s zero degrees is no fun, and may not even be that healthy for us, so why bother? I’ve put on several pounds since last fall, and you know what? So what? Why worry about it, when our bodies are doing what all animals’ bodies do when faced with surviving a tough winter. Stock up on the calories to tide us over until we can get out and moving around again.
Instead of worrying about gaining a few pounds, or fretting over all the things that need to be done outside (I’ll see you in the spring, Christmas lights), and having to bundle up like a spacewalking astronaut to attempt a run outdoors (and risking a broken ankle, or worse), I’m chilling out. I’m celebrating the long evenings spent warm and cozy under several blankets, enjoying a warm cup of coffee or tea, and enjoying some of these books I’ve been meaning to get to for years. Enjoying a cocktail or two. This terrible winter has forced us all to slow down, or suffer miserably trying to maintain our normal hectic pace. And I for one would like to thank it. Our modern society is so fast-paced, so go go go, so always on, always connected, always busy doing something and going somewhere…. why not take a cue from the natural world and the schedules of our ancestors, and just take it easy a bit. As I mentioned earlier, we now have the technological ability to be warm and comfortable and well-fed year-round; instead of complaining about how our internet connections are too slow, or that the price of February strawberries is way too high, why don’t we put things in perspective and enjoy it. Winter has historically been for resting, for rejuvenation, for preparing for the warm bright sunshine of spring, and the rebirth of the natural world around us. It will come. Until then, let’s do what we have to: keep the walks shoveled, and trudge through the messy commutes to and from work… but let’s also do the most to enjoy each season for the special qualities they offer. Bring out your inner bear. Try hibernating. The spring will come. It absolutely will. Let’s enjoy the winter while we can.
And as for the gas station attendants at Jorgy’s full serve Amoco station, who always had to deal with my mom’s inquiring about whether or not they ordered the weather, in between checking the oil and cleaning the windshield? They always answered ‘yes.’