Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |
The cold makes us surly. You can’t deny it. Your body’s reaction to uncomfortably low temperatures produces a unique kind of grumpiness. You feel it in your hunched shoulders as you lean against winter’s icy gust. It’s in the shivers racking your body in wave after wave of penetrating chill, long after you’ve come in from the snow. It’s in the cracked, dry skin and split lips that no amount of moisturizer can moisturize.
And if you’ve been living in the Chippewa Valley for any length of time, that grumpiness can become a kind of lifestyle. You roll out of bed all grouchy, and that grouchiness is fortified once you step outside for a frosty slap on the butt. Day after day, your outlook on life hardens, like an unopened soda can left in your car overnight. Amid the stone cold wee hours of the night, the frigid pressure builds and builds until ... boom. And your car smells like Diet Mountain Dew for the rest of the year. Know what I mean?
I like winter. I really do. I’m not in a huge hurry to see our beautiful snow banks melt (unless it involves a flame thrower). I’ve always accepted and embraced the full winter season, no matter how long it lasts. What’s more, I usually chide (chide, I say!) people who constantly complain about Wisconsin’s cold winter months, as if they were kidnapped and left here against their will by evil little snow goblins. But I must admit, more and more, I find myself muttering creative strings of swear words under my breath as I come in out of the cold.
Perhaps there’s some kind of evolutionary advantage to being straight-up cantankerous during freezing weather.
As I type this, the three-month period I like to call “December, January, and February” has only seen 14 subzero days. That’s not a lot, but it’s enough. Clearly, Old Man Winter is pissed at one of us, and all I want to know is ... which one of you jerks is it? Which one of you mischievous pranksters went and got Old Man Winter’s frost encrusted undies in a bunch? Which one of you people ruined it for all of us? You owe me a cup of creamy hot cocoa, buddy.
Perhaps there’s some kind of evolutionary advantage to being straight-up cantankerous during freezing weather. Maybe the quiet, unfocused rage of a too-cold Midwesterner triggers an accelerated calorie burn, keeping us warmer. It may also cause our bodies to secrete a pheromone which repels wintertime predators known to feast on early humanoids, such as saber-toothed tigers, polar bears, other meaner humanoids, and snowy owls. I’m not really sure, as I’ve never studied wintertime predator repulsion pheromones. I suspect no one has.
Gaping holes in my understanding of biology aside, there must be some kind of purpose for our glacial crotchetiness, right?
I have another theory about how frozen nose hairs can pierce nerve endings connected to the part of your brain responsible for INCREDULOUS SCOWLS. But like biology, beyond the occasional trim, I’m no expert on nose hair.
Whatever the reason, it happens. We get irritated. We get disgruntled. We get mean. And it spreads. Once enough people get good and grumpy, we affect everything. Like a peevish polar vortex, we create a massive weather system of bad vibes and sullen blizzards. Have I used enough metaphors and adjectives yet? (Never.) The point is, everyone’s in a bad mood. So let’s try not to be, OK? That’s easier said than done, but let’s try to not take winter so gosh darn personally. The cold weather is not out to get you. So bundle up and be polite. Wrap yourself up in kindness like it’s a big cozy snowsuit or some crap like that.
If you can’t embrace winter, you can at least take a deep, chilly breath and know that this is temporary – around here, winter ends. If you’re reading this (and I’m pretty sure you are), there’s a good chance you have somewhere somewhat warm to sleep tonight. And that right there is something to celebrate. So throw on your party sweater. Spring will be here soon enough.