Listening Post: Brass monkey cold

A brass monkey–used to hold a pyramid of cannon balls next to a naval battery. When it gets cold enough, the brass shrinks and the balls roll off. It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

It’s been hard to get out of bed the last couple of days. Cold. Way cold. A hundred thousand years of genetic memory yammers at me: “Don’t go out of the cave! There’s nothing out there but darkness, ice, hypothermia, and a sabre-tooth tiger.” But I put on the long johns and the thermal tee, the jeans and the flannel shirt, fat socks and boots, the raglan-knit sweater, the headband, the hooded parka, the thinsulate gloves–and venture out to see if the 16-year-old Toyota with the five-year-old battery will start. Damn–it starts. I’m wearing so many layers I can’t reach over my shoulder to grab the seat belt; the air blowing out of the defroster is so cold I can feel my corneas crack.

I admit it. I’m a weenie about the cold. Having a sufficient amount of native paranoia, I don’t appreciate it when nature itself piles on. Ellen put it like this. “Most times you go outside, breathe in, and you don’t even notice. Mornings like this, you breathe in and say ‘I don’t think I want this stuff inside me.'” Humans are a little feeble in this regard. Ellen’s llamas are perfectly happy to stay out no matter the deepness of the cold–you can’t get them to go inside. Snow up to the hocks and piling on their backs–no problemo. Show-offs.

But for me, nothing seems right. Everything sounds different: trees pop and crack, the snow creaks underfoot. The birds shut up. Everything looks different: there is no softness to the light, the hardened stars hang untwinkling at night. And no part of my body is in contact with the world. It’s beautiful in the same way NASA photos are beautiful–sharp, severe, and experienced from a great distance. The Florida Keys would be about the right distance, I think.


11 Comments on “Listening Post: Brass monkey cold”

  1. Ruth Cassin says:

    Dale Hobson, you gave me a couple of good chuckles. Thanks. Ruth Cassin

  2. Eric Krantz says:

    As cold as it is (10 below on Lake George this morning) it still beats 90 and humid. Saying that, I’m glad we don’t have to deal with this for more than three or four months.

  3. Michael Greer says:

    So cold that your hands get stiff even with good gloves. So cold that the car seat feels like a park bench. So cold that the kitchen door hinges are covered with frost in an otherwise nice, warm room.

  4. J.Cook says:

    well put sir. I grew up downstate. I never knew snow could squeak till I moved up here years ago. Take heart Spring somehow will be here soon….and makes all this frigid misery go away.

  5. Reuben says:

    Naw, not at all. I relish this weather. It feels true, the air is tangible, and there is nothing like moonlight on snow.

  6. Teresa Cheetham-Palen says:

    I loved the descriptive language, it was all dead on, however I love the cold. It gives me a feeling of peace when we reach these crispy temperatures. I love to go for a ski on such a day and marvel that my body can heat up and be comfortable despite the wind chill. I loves looking aout my window last night at the crystal clear ski and the bright white of moonlight on snow. Thanks for the submission it was beautifully written.

  7. Ken Hall says:

    The relatively cold week we have experienced this week set no records for cold however the, perhaps 10th largest, snowfall event in the North Country which occurred at the end of Dec 2012 was for all practical purposes completely melted by the wind and high temperatures, which did set some high temperature records locally, right up to the day before the start of said cold event which is ending today, Friday.

  8. Gini Dutcher says:

    think of Clarence Petty walking to and from school from Coreys to Saranac Lake, through deep snow and this kind of weather, twice a week 80 yrs ago!!

  9. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    at Dale – well put, except I do like this weather and wouldn’t choose to be any distance from it…albeit knowing it will be spring in a few months.

    at Michael Greer – the reason my hands are so stiff in the gloves is because I have so many glove liners on that by the time I put my hands in the real gloves my fingers can’t bend – kinda like that kid in “A Christmas Story” by the time his mother gets his snowsuit, boots, scarf, hat, hood, etc on him.

    at Reuben – I absolutely agree…as long as I can then go inside and stand next to the wood stove!

  10. Anne Burnham says:

    Hi Dale,

    Despite the cold, I had the pleasure of a Full Moon Walk across a mountain reservoir on Sat Nite. Of course, by that time it was only around 0 degrees F, so maybe our group were still cold wienies. I went out every day in the past week because my dog Freddie(how do I send you his photo on this?) looked at me with ” those eyes” . The Sunday supplement swore that dog owners live longer for just this reason: EVERY DAY WALKS.

    Anne B

  11. David Brill says:

    I love this! I relocated here from LI 10 years ago and the only winter I regret was the non-winter of last year. Most of the locals I meet at the market and elsewhere seem to feel the same way, last year was a flop as winter. I feel the same way about the summer as you do about the winter. Anything above 70 degrees is too hot. You probably are healthier than I am, though. A bit of hypertension will certainly cause one to prefer cold to hot.

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