Greetings from the polar vortex. If you are anywhere in or around the American Midwest or central Canada, then you know what this is all about. The last two days have seen the region clobbered by heavy snowfall, blinding snow squalls and freeway-whiteouts (imagine a dense, moving pocket of snow that clouds up your windshield), and of course, record-setting lows and their bitter, bitter winds. In Chicago alone, this early morning, lows dipped down to -28 C/-21 F (-39 C/-39 F if you happened to catch a side of wind with that). We were colder than parts of Antarctica, Alaska, and apparently, Mars.
What does strange Martian winter feel like? Frightening. It’s the kind of weather that hardens the world in ice, slickening the footsteps on past snows into unyielding, ankle-twisting formations. It’s the winter that will take the air out of your tires and leave you stranded a near-mile from home, just because (luckily, on the warmer of the 2 days, at -21 C). You’ll spend the afternoon re-heating at a strip mall sub and sandwich joint, waiting for the tow truck to arrive, and when it does, an exhausted mustachioed man in a blue sweatshirt lifts your felled car away and your heart sinks to know he’s been at it all day. You walk that near-mile home at your best speed, but the darkening sky and the growing sharpening in your knees suddenly reminds you that there are parts of your body that are made entirely of flash-freezable fluid.
On the way, passing 6-foot snowdrifts in pharmacy parking lots, you notice a curiosity: an abandoned bottle of perfectly good, uncorked Merlot is peering out of a snow bank. You try to imagine a scenario that starts with “purchase fancy wine” and ends with “leave fancy wine in the snow.” You wonder if you should adopt said wine. Then you fear it’s a trap! (and then you realize that, at this moment, the outside world is a trap). Hastily, you leave the abandoned wine in its place, but take it as incontrovertible proof that the cosmic order of things has shifted. Is shifting. The graininess of the picture of the bottle reminds you of UFO-sighting photography.
You arrive home safely — not frost-bitten but frost-nipped, a little reddened and unprepared for the sting of thawing out (ow!).
While indoors, the mind quickens and grows squirrel-jittery about staving off any incoming freeze. As the temperatures inside plummet along with the blustering world outside (an apartment built in the 1960s has presumably outworn some of its original insulation!), the utility of duvets is no longer theoretical. Alongside radiant heat, fleece, and woolen anything, duvets become the best thing ever invented and you spend the entire night rolled up in goose down, marveling at the small, storm-free world undercover. Overnight, as thick beads of ice form on the insides of the window panes, you consider the dual warming meanings of night cap. In the frigid 6 a.m. air, the wordplay makes sudden, amusing sense — and, come to think of it, also explains why your instinct, during the past 2 days, was to start knitting yourself a hat, in worsted weight on tiny #3 needles, so that the stitches pull in real close.
In other words, it’s been cold.
I hope you are staying warm and keeping safe, wherever you happen to be.