The needle on my thermometer has been floating around zero
a lot lately. My woodstove is thick with the hot glow of orange-red
coals and it hungrily converts backyard stacks of fuel (lugged
in by the armful) into heat and ash. Ice leaves short-lived
crystalline patterns on the inside of a storm window, sparkling
and reflecting short glimmers of light until the morning sun
heats things up enough to melt the fractal geometry into a
streak of condensation. The icy trench out to the woodpile
looks more like a luge run than a footpath.
Outside, the gardens are buried, the deep snow smoothing edges
into slight slopes. The white surface is broken here and there
by sticks and branch trellises that once supported tender
vegetables and flowering vines, which now are the stuff of
my winter fantasies. The last salad I picked was on Thanksgiving.
My preferred mode of transportation, my bicycle, hasnít left
its shed since around the time of that last salad.
The end of January and February are the toughest winter months
for me. George W.ís war threats and the mounting cold of continuous
days below freezing accompanied by arctic winds havenít made
things any easier. Winter is about one-third through, but
itís not giving much sign it plans to lighten up soon. Regardless
of how bad the weather gets, spring will eventually come.
I find some solace in that simple inevitability. In the interim,
there are some winter activities I engage in that help me
survive the seasonís freeze.
Staying warm is one of my most urgent winter activities. It
involves keeping the stove hot with a steady feed of wood
(biomass), wearing thick hiking socks, layering clothes, eating
hot food and drinking too much coffee. Feeding the stove entails
short treks to the woodpile outdoors, which requires more
layers of clothes: the addition of boots, gloves and a warm
hat to insulate my body against the cold. With all the additional
clothing needed to go outside, I look about twice my normal
With the cold spell weíve been having lately Iíve been firing
up my secondary heating system, a natural gas boiler with
water-filled radiators, for a few hours each evening. I put
in a high-efficiency system a few years back and once I get
it heated up I can turn down the thermostat to shut it off
and the radiators will continue to give off heat for hours.
Behind each radiator Iíve placed a sheet of foil-covered insulation
to reflect heat and form a buffer against the cold wall.
I have more than 40 houseplants scattered throughout my home
that help to add moisture to the dry inside air. These plants
also provide me with a hopeful bit of vegetative life to tend
in a world of leafless trees and frozen earth. Their need
for light leads me to maximize the natural light coming into
my home during the day, which is good for both me and the
plants. On a shelf above my kitchen sink Iím cloning some
of these plants, rooting cuttings in clear, cylinder-shaped
glass vases. The patterns of root growth are interesting and
provide a living contrast to the frozen cold outside. I will
eventually pot the plants for gifts and/or repatriate them
with their mother plants for added size and vigor.
I have installed insulating shades over most of the windows
in my house. I keep some of these translucent white shades
closed for the entire winter because there is little light
passing through their windows during the day. They are on
tracks and fit snugly into the window frame, cutting down
on the cool breezes generated by cold window glass even with
the good storm windows I have in place. I open most of the
shades in the morning to let the dayís solar energy in and
close them at night to reduce heat loss.
While I may be consuming a bit more fair-trade coffee during
these cool days, I have reduced the energy input into the
brew. My girlfriend, Mary Anne, gave me a hand-cranked coffee
grinder as a holiday gift. It replaced an electric one that
sounded like a dental drill for elephants. Hand-ground coffee
is supposed to be more flavorful, as well as making a small
reduction in my electricity usage. I guess my coffee is now
more energy efficient.
During this time, Iíve also begun planning for my 2003 gardens.
Iíve been looking through a stack of colorful seed catalogues,
thumbing through and organizing the packets of seeds I have
from prior seasons and checking on the seeds I saved from
last yearís plants. The seed catalogues provide bright spring
fantasy material as I start sketching garden plans. Iíve also
been cleaning up all the plastic trays and containers I use
to start seeds. Most of these containers have been reused
through a number of growing seasons. In February, I will start
some cold-hardy salad greens indoors so they will be ready
for an early spring transfer to the garden.
Iíve been outside a little more than usual this winter. The
war mongering of George W. has provided an additional set
of winter outdoor activity opportunities. Demonstrations against
his planned war in Iraq and his devastating economic, environmental
and energy policies have led to more winter street activities
then Iíve seen since the Vietnam War days. Demonstrating in
frigid weather requires plenty of layers of clothes (get out
the thermal underwear), good boots, warm socks and well-insulated
gloves and hats. A thermos of hot tea or coffee can also help
outdoor activists stay warm.
In an earlier column this year, I provided an internet location
for a great area peace and social justice calendar that can
now be found at www.social-capital.org/calendar. Check it
out for the latest selection of area winter anti-war activities
or give the Social Justice Center a call at 434-4037. Stay
warm and stay active!