This entire episode was a bit of a surprise. We had been led astray by all those days of relative warmth. Sure, there were a couple of months when clouds and sunless gloom prevailed on the walk to the woodshed but the weather was not biting, cruel, nor inhibiting. This arctic attack was an affront, not unprecedented by anyone of my age but still, a slap in the face.

It used to be this riffraff-removing weather simply was to be confronted with a fond embrace. Yes, I was told we must embrace this, stand tall, put one foot in front of the other, face to the wind and go out as if this was acceptable. It is life in the north and we are great warriors. To not take this tact was to be weak, to be soft, unfit and undeserving. The “bar full of elbows” down at the local watering hole have always said, “How can we know warmth if we have not known the cold?” I am now crying, but not publicly.

Camping in the subzero of Alaska

My itinerant son, the one living only miles from the arctic, for reasons unknown, and his charming wife have taken to the way of the Athabaskan and live, hunt and dream of nights of camping in the land frozen—- but they might say, wild and alive lands of Alaska. They send pictures to me of whiskey frozen, of tents engulfed in tundra cold. “Here old man, here is vitality, here is place to live and taste the world of a thousand years travelled by hardier men than you.” I cringed.

Damn, the whiskey froze.

I listened but try as will, what at the moment is of interest is WARMTH, the comfort of warmth, the delightful sensation of being genuinely comfortable, unhindered in any way by the bite of a winter’s day too cold for a soul like me. Yes, I do enjoy just a reminder of the fact it can be cold and uncomfortable but at this frozen moment, it is warmth I seek.

Just today, in pursuit of wood, I paused and thought of those that came before and strained to wonder if the warmth I have known ever really crept into their lives. What about the early settlers, the Native Americans, the Vikings, the cave dwellers of Europe?  Is this easily-to-obtain warmth the invention of modern man?

Because of my creeping age, it is easy to remember the days when in my grandparent’s farmhouse in Grayslake Illinois, the only room being aggressively heated was the kitchen. There are stories from Honey Creek in Sauk County of Ann’s ancestry having to put the potatoes under the bed hoping to prevent freezing in the wintertime. Ray talks of Native settlements on Sunset Lake right here in Portage County and lives they must have led. Warmth? Possibly in the summer with face to the sun on some spring morning, but winter? I just stood there for a moment in the evening asking how, how could they have known warmth? I suppose it is perspective. Maybe it was there but fleeting.

I remember leaning against our teepee at Fort Bridger in Wyoming during a fall gathering feeling the sun, hearing the sound of others chatting and dreaming. I was warm but I also remember being in the same teepee at Bents Fort in Southern Colorado for New Year’s celebration.  It was cold at six below. Still, our two thinly-clad children ran around the fire and dove into the Hudson Bay blankets. If asked, and I believe they were, they said they were indeed warm, plenty warm. Perspective I suspect.

In my return to the kitchen, the old wood-burning stove was in full heat as the grandkid had fired it up. He remarked how warm it was and sat close to it absorbing every aspect of that radiant heat. He, like me, will always remember that warmth.

In these cold winter times, this glorious warmth comes from the burning of oak, our once-regal maple and black locust. Recently in a moment of youthful reflection, the kid asked how people in eighteen-eighty living on the great plains of Kansas could stay warm when there was hardly a tree, nothing to burn. We talked of buffalo chips and corn stalks, maybe some cottonwood, sagebrush but realized reveling in warmth may not have been an option. Then came coal, then natural gas and oil, fossil fuel, the onetime endowment of solar power from those millions of years ago.

I turned my back to the kitchen stove under the smell of warm cinnamon rolls and took in the warmth knowing not everyone has had the continual access to the heat I enjoyed. We have had it all. I was thankful. If I could give any wish to a person through all of time, it would be warmth in these times of cold.

Axel the dog after a walk with our son Ian. Warmth?

A Nap with Music

Just today, I was doing research for this column titled Naps with Music. The contemplation/research (done during a light sleeping episode) was intense but a touch foggy, as I tended to drift off to grandiose images of myself actually being somebody. Prior to shifting into dreamtime, it had been my intention to mentally make a note of the pleasures that exist during a tidy nap in front of the old warm stove while in the company of soothing music. My research on this afternoon proved fleeting. I did not write anything down nor commit anything to memory—at least that I can repeat here.

Still, on my return to reality (whatever that is in these days of plagues and insurgencies) the topic was very fresh in my log-term thinking. It was there because I have always enjoyed these respites even though nothing really comes of them other than waking refreshed and sparkling with joy.

The day was perfect, overcast even more heavily than most days in the last fifty with no threat of the intruding sun. Some would say there was a gloom, maybe a pall of sorts, and no breeze. The chickadees and juncos were spending an inordinate amount of their free time casually flitting in and out of the brush pile. Many were taking a lead from me wanting to nap peacefully. 

The music choices for my anticipated naps seem to vary depending on my mood and hopes for the remaining part of the day. Seldom would I approach some eastern European concoction in D minor for fear of finding myself lost in frozen steppes of Russia or even skating across Lake Baikal in subzero weather. The music has to be inspiring and image producing. This leaves most vocal performance off limits. James Brown doing I Feel Good is appropriate for a nap wakeup but not for the power down.  

Bach Sonatas or partitas are pleasant but can be a touch nervous, maybe too many notes. Still something in D major can be refreshing, up lifting, a touch pushy, but mostly glorious. Recently, the magical tunes played on a Swedish nyckelharpa and accompanied with a Hardanger fiddle are found to be sublime, possibly because of my Swedish ancestry coming back, or is it a Viking thing. Because of my successful well-behaved sleep, I doubt the latter.

In addition to the well-chosen music, the actual initiation of nappy time has to be perfect. I like to have the woodstove warmed by oak, moderate but not hot. Importantly, the stove must be set up in such a way as to last unaltered for forty-five minutes, not rising in temperature, not cooling. Consistency in the name of the game. 

Not critical, but of value for optimal dozing, lights can be off. Now even at mid-day, this means it will almost be dark because of the aforementioned Wisconsin’s dreary clime. My personal choice for napping posture is to sprawl out on the sofa, feet extended away from davenport maybe a full three feet. This is all done while slouched in a sitting position so that as I nap my mouth gaps open but I can’t drool uncontrollably. While I find this comfortable, some tell me I look like a wounded civil war soldier taking my last ’nap’ against a fallen log. Others in the family also seem to think my breathing is affected by this position in that it seems I emit a ‘death rattle’ while flopped out in repose. Of course, this is nonsense because, in truth, I am only in metaphorical heaven.

There does have to be a little clarity here because while I am only describing my own pleasures; this activity is not for everyone. I don’t have to work. I am age challenged and have already spent 60 years working. It is also true this desire possibly might be set off by day-drinking, say a nice port at 2:00. My point being, don’t look at this as advice but simply as an anecdotal experience by someone who now has idle time, and maybe an idle mind. However, from my position of being a life coach, it can be said that an afternoon nap is a beautiful thing.

At the moment, the Midwinter Waltz is starting to play, and I’m slouching after the oak has been added to the fire. My eyes are struggling to stay open. There is no guilt.

Once awake, there will be tea, Constant Comment if I recall, a new snap in my giddy-up and just maybe the sun will return.