Sub(zero) Culture

Okay I’ll admit this Texas gal is not in her comfort zone right now. In fact, forget comfort – it’s survival mode when the temps drop below zero.

Twenty years ago I moved to Wisconsin, but the winters still scare the hell out of me.

The coldest temperatures I’d ever experienced in Texas were single digits. Pipes would burst. Schools closed. People died! The toughest rednecks, who wouldn’t dare exhibit weakness working in blistering triple digit heat, howled and shivered like puppies.

In Wisconsin, when you use the word “cold” to describe how you feel when an arctic breeze chills you unexpectedly in September, or perhaps when you dip your feet in fifty degree lake water in July, they will most likely give you a friendly smirk.


You keep using this word.
I do not think it means what you think it means.

Let me explain.

In an earlier post I listed everything the kids needed to wear when playing outside in the cold and snow. But when the gauge goes well below zero – school is cancelled. This happened last Friday so we stayed in and made some yummelicious crepes.

Since we were stocked with groceries, the kids had projects and I’m addicted to FaceBook, we remained indoors for a few days; keeping the icy fingers of Jack Frost out of my thermals.

Except for when we had to go out for Harriet’s potty break.

It was twenty four below zero one morning and at this bone chilling temp the moisture in your breath forms little crunchy stalagmites in your nostril hairs. You’ve carefully covered every inch of skin with more than one layer, but then there’s your eyeballs. When they start to freeze, just blink a lot. Calm down. Nobody shot you in the face, that was just the wind.

Hurry up, Harriet! Pinch it off!

Are you imagining a deathly still, quiet day where no one dares set foot outside? Then you would be terribly mistaken. Amazingly, some people sincerely love when the world turns dangerous.

Mark for one. He goes out and chops wood. When he comes inside his hair is frozen stiff with sweat and his cheeks and nose resemble a bad paint by number santa. He explained to me that there’s a certain amount of moisture in the wood that can’t escape, and when it gets so cold it creates a lot of pressure inside. With one blow he can explode the wood easily into many pieces.

My strong, manly woodchoppin’ man. Phew. Now go take a shower.

I’ll pass on the chance to bust frozen logs. And the other activity I’m not too keen on is snowmobiling. Since the riders are practically wearing space suits, twenty below is no problemo. Oh joy, this past weekend was Derby Week. The bike trail located just outside our home is now a snowmobile trail, so the lovely din of chainsaw motors and mystical blue clouds of exhaust from these pioneering machines lulled us to sleep as they went to and fro all night long on their derby pilgrimage.

It makes me want to buy a gun.

Just kidding! (bet their suits are bullet proof, anyway)

Speaking of night(mare) noises, when the temps plummet the house cracks so loudly you expect to see a 2×6 jut through the wall. Structures here are built to withstand a lot. The foundation has to be below the frost line, which here can be as far down as six feet. This frost wall is also insulated so the soil (or basement) provides another barrier from the intense cold. And of course, all the plumbing pipes are wrapped and buried six feet under; fixtures are never put on exterior walls. To be a plumber requires a doctorate here.

As for vehicles, my 1982 Caprice Classic carboat that I drove up from Texas twenty years ago (a.k.a. The Patrol Car) required a block heater to help it survive through the Wisconsin winters. Newer cars don’t need this but people still use them because it cuts down on engine wear. Of course you always keep extra blankets and clothing in your car just in case it becomes the only thing between you and hypothermia.

My northern friends reading this are smirking at me. Truly, these triumphs of engineering and attitude make me appreciate the Wisconsin state of mind, while giving due respect to latitude.

Don’t think I’m all down on outdoor winter activities! Let the temperature gauge get well above zero and then hand me the snow shoes, man. There’s a fabulous outdoor ice rink just blocks from the house. Mark wants to take the kids downhill skiing. At some point I would like to give cross country a try. I’ve even been threatened with ice fishing recently. Bring it on!

When it’s not so “cold.”


(An SUV sits out on the frozen lake while the snowmobiles whiz by the ice fisherman)

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About marlashane

Artist. Explorer. Freethinker. Mother of two children.
This entry was posted in Exploring the USA, Wisconsin and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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