Hubby and the Snowbank

From the town garage down the road we can see Mount Washington a few miles away,
where the weather station at the summit has officially recorded forty-seven degrees below zero.  People who live here consider weather their hobby,  bursting, like frozen pipes, with pride over its reputation of high winds, thick ice, long-lasting snow cover, and extreme temperatures. If the thermometer  near the birdfeeder doesn’t show twenty below, at most, a couple of times during the winter, the thing needs a good cleaning.

Despite recent New Hampshire weather trends that have the thermometer’s mercury shrinking and stretching like a rubber band, the mean temperature is still cold, colder than it has to be, colder than it is near the ocean, and certainly too cold for whatever unpleasant chores we would otherwise have to be doing if it weren’t so cold.  This is not to say that such weather is unmanageable.  Extreme weather hatches tales that out-exaggerate even the most expansive fish stories.

So to hear my husband tell it, the cold is his Darth Vader, his universe’s evil force that stiffens his ligaments and tendons, cramps his muscles, and at regular intervals throughout the day backs him up to the woodstove, where, relieved, he heats his hiney.  His favorite chair sits upstairs directly above the stove like a padded cocoon he curls up in to watch the nightly news.  He does this wearing a tuque like the ones local loggers wear.  He also wears sweatpants, a turtleneck jersey, a sweater, and thick socks.  Indoors.  Right above the woodstove whose thermometer registers six or seven hundred degrees.  Certainly he has earned this comfort, having spent a good portion of his outdoor time felling, chainsawing, splitting, and stacking whatever firewood the lot surrounding our cabin offers up.  Though he is by trade a software engineer, he has embraced the romance of wood heat and now claims one of the most extensive and well designed woodpiles in town.  He has even built a metal-roofed shed to keep the snow and ice off firewood slated for immediate consumption.  There the wood, previously baked in unsheltered rows during the summer, enjoys further seasoning before it is rolled into the house on a cart and aligned piece by piece, like bits of computer code, in the floor-to-ceiling rack he has built to contain it.  From there, each piece is in its turn served onto a bed of  radiating coals that lasts from November to May.  It makes a nice heat, decent payback for the cold that requires it.

Hubby comes from a family that prides itself on one-upmanship.  If one of them holds a record for, say, the lowest price ever paid for a two-by-four, the others line up to break the record.  So it’s understandable that Hubby, like his father before him, must not only one-up the weather, he also must claim the family record as he does  it.  Hubby’s father is a proud member of the Polar Bear Club, a group of elders who take an ocean dip each year on January 1, then boast about it the rest of the year, conveniently failing to mention that the ocean they ritually endure is the Gulf of Mexico.

From his heated chair Hubby can see the outdoor thermometer rising and falling--mostly falling--and narrates the details in telephone conversations and online forums.   He’s an accomplished skier who well understands the physics of hypothermia, so snow,  heaped into a fluffy windrow at the side of the road, seems more like a warm pillow to him than the icy lump it is destined to become .  He confidently recounts stories of other mountain men who survive in snowcaves that shelter them from sub-zero wind chills.   I, on the other hand, keep my bed-pillow on the windowsill of a casement window I crank open to enjoy natural air-conditioning all year round.  This habit horrifies Hubby, who will likely never fully recover from the first time he witnessed snowflakes blowing onto my sleeping head.  Hubby’s relationship with the cold is as nuanced as a marriage, and, like many Coös Countymen,  he loves to talk about it, and he loves a good story even more.

I was enjoying a winter’s nap under my open window on New Year’s Day when the snowplow came scraping and scratching its way up the steep, gravel incline that leads to our cabin.  Usually the plow driver phones ahead to make sure nothing blocks his straight shot to the top, but this time the call went unanswered.  So when I heard the plow and jumped out of bed to be sure the driveway was clear, Hubby was nowhere to be found.  Yanking on my coat, I ran for the door, only to see Hubby, Hubby’s hatless head, Hubby’s naked arms, back, chest, and legs backgrounded against the cloud of snow he was brooming from the top of his car.  It was Hubby all right, rosy as a newborn and just as dumb, one-upping in a snowbank his father’s annual baptism in the Gulf of Mexico.

From the shelter of the plowtruck’s cab, the driver also caught sight of Hubby, whose flimsy, summer shorts were obscured by the snow cloud around his car as the plow blasted its way up the hill.  The plowman, who has kept the driveway passable for decades, has beheld many an oddity in the course of this duty, none of them worth stopping for, lest his truck slide backwards down the hill into the highway or over the edge of the driveway into the woods.  He just kept coming.  Finally at the top he stopped and rolled down his window, speechless but obviously relieved to see Hubby was wearing shorts.

Hubby strolled from his snowbank to the truck and poked his head in through the open the window.

“So what are YOU wearing in this weather?  A coat?”

The dazed plowman smiled politely and congratulated Hubby on his appropriate footwear.   Hubby lifted one foot from the snowbank he was standing in.  He was wearing socks, thin cotton socks that would have been soaked from snowmelt if the temperature had allowed it.

The plowman quickly turned his truck and headed for the highway.  Hubby continued brooming the snow from his car, then returned to the cabin to put on his tuque, his sweatpants, his turtleneck, his sweater, and his thick, dry socks.

“I was considering,” he said, “leaving the shorts in the drawer.”

Good thing he didn’t.  It’s only January, and we need the driveway plowed at least two more months.

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