The serious part of winter has arrived here in Western Massachusetts – we got a foot of snow between Christmas and New Year’s, and it is, admittedly, very pretty.
It’s also sticking around, because along with the snow, we’ve also got to the “really, ridiculously cold” part of winter. By “ridiculous”, I mean that when I left the house this morning it was -2.
-2 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’d sort of forgotten, what with last year’s mild winter, how much extra effort this sort of cold involves; every time you go outside, unless you’re very brave or very stupid or absolutely 100% keys-clutched-in-your-hand certain that you will and can be going inside in a period of time that can be measured in seconds without using both hands, you have to gear up. Okay, it’s not Antarctica, but the ten-minute walk to my bus stop (too cold to bike all the way in, and the bike racks freeze to the buses at anything below -5°C) requires at least three layers and as much skin coverage as possible. This morning, my sunglasses fogged up; when it didn’t clear after a few minutes tipped further down my nose, I took them off to investigate further. The thin layer of fog had frozen to them. That’s what we’re dealing with, here.
These were the circumstances when we picked up a friend from the airport yesterday and took her back to her house – we’d been cat-sitting – to discover that it was a bit chilly inside. No problem; we turned up the thermostat. She offered us a cup of tea.
Everyone sat down around the kitchen table and resolved to wait for it to warm up; they had a central heating system powered by an oil furnace in the basement, it just needed a little bit of time. In a classic inversion of the frogs-in-boiling-water fable, each of us sat and drank our tea and chatted and pulled our outdoor gear back on piece by piece, because it would be terribly rude to complain of being cold when the other two people weren’t saying anything.Besides, the analogue thermostat was reading about 52°F, which is cold but not ridiculous. And it was going to start warming up any minute now.
Two hours later, we established that a) the furnace had run out of oil sometime in the last two days, and b) the actual temperature in the house was pretty close to freezing. I think the last time I was in a house that cold, I was visiting student friends in Dunedin. We managed to rustle up enough electric heaters to keep the place liveable overnight, before the oil company could come the next day, but it was a salutory lesson in not putting off having your heating supplies filled up until after you go away for the h0lidays. At best you might freeze your pipes. At worst, you’ll freeze yourself, and that’s no fun for anyone.
Technically, this isn’t even the coldest week of the year on average; that’s the next three weeks. Then we might make it back up to New Zealand winter temperatures by the end of March. The novelty will wear off sometime in February. Till then – hey. It is beautiful.