Warmth in February


Few of us are as joyful as a dog on her farm. We head out into negative ten degrees so I can get fresh air, which is to say, watch my dog be joyful. With my grandfather’s scarf and her furry toes, we hurry into the sharp wind towards the woods. She merges with white ground and dark trees.

Stepping out of the woods at the hilltop, I keep my back to the wind. The sky shines blue-white. I can feel my skin making vitamin D as I face the sun. It is worth breaking hibernation to feel lifted.

duckslookingThe next morning, our thermometer will read negative thirty. Our kitchen sink pipes will freeze, despite the space heater aimed at them overnight. The car will think we’re joking when we turn the key. Our chickens and ducks, penned in the barn, will be absolutely fine.

Our chickens are mostly cold-hardy breeds, but negative thirty seems to be asking a lot of their feathers. I marvel at their toughness. Then I see a hawk, a crow, and some sparrows in the woods and field. Some birds can handle winter.

Birds can fluff their feathers, trapping air for insulation. The skin on their naked legs can defy the cold. In dangerous low temperatures, birds can reroute blood from their extremities to their organs. Some birds can lower their metabolism, slowing their bodies into a hibernation-type state called torpor. They survive what seems unsurvivable.

winterwindowI am thinking about resilience. Sometimes our lives seem as fragile as birds, but we rise anyway. How does a person survive a cold, dangerous time? One February night could freeze us solid, robbing us of our known world, or it could galvanize some warmth inside us. Do we respond by instinct, our hearts pulsing life to our most necessary parts? Do some of us survive through torpor, numb and still until the thaw?

Perhaps we, like our chickens, get out of the wind and huddle together, sharing the heat of our bodies to endure the night. This deep cold is a story we have shared. The next day, or the next year, or twenty-five years later, we can be amazed that we remain fluid and tender and animate.

Resilience must be a gift from our animal selves. I think of a three-dog night, when humans gauged coldness by how many dogs snuggling around us we needed to live until dawn. We seek connection for survival. We do not contain resilience in our rational minds; it comes from elsewhere.

Despite degrees in the negatives, this February day is radiant. My blood flows warm after the uphill hike, flushing my cheeks and sweating my armpits. I am grinning at the dog whirling across our high field, laughing as she snuffles under the snow and lifts her tufted ears in surprise. This dog is all warmth. I feel alive.



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