Ice crept in under doorways and wind polished the sky: minus seventeen degrees on the thermometer, minus thirty six with windchill. Skin would be frostbitten in five or ten minutes depending on your source of information, which I decided not to test.
People in Michigan are hardy in the cold – it’s called winter; life goes on – so when I tell you everything’s been closed and cancelled for the last two days you know it’s serious. I put on my thick Chilean alpaca sweater and found I could stand on the porch for a few minutes wearing it. I had to find out what this kind of cold felt like.
The first thing I felt was a bold slap on my cheeks, the kind you usually get from wind. But at this particular moment there was no wind. Air this cold didn’t need to be moving to assault you.
The next thing I noticed was how quiet it was. Was this a feature of extreme cold, or was it due to lack of traffic, birds, dog walkers, or any form of life at all except me?
In a few moments a faint creep of chill rattled at my hands, feet, and legs in their ordinary wool and leather. That was when I realized all the parts of me covered by the sweater, wrists to neck to hips, were warm. This was not only how the alpacas of Chile withstood the climate of the Andes, it was how the Inca did. Strange as this cold is to me here now, there are places in the world where people have always dealt with it.
Doug built a fire in the fireplace. The state’s Department of Natural Resources stopped requiring a permit to collect downed firewood in state forests, for the duration of the Polar Vortex. We’re burning wood that came down in our own backyard in last year’s storms, relying on the squirrels to keep planting walnuts, acorns, and wild cherry pits for a perpetual new crop of trees. If the deer don’t eat all the saplings, the woods will continue to restore themselves.