Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cold?

It was two degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-18 C) on Bruce’s thermometer this morning. The probe on the front porch registered three minus signs until it reached minus one degree Fahrenheit later in the morning. Birds flocked to the feeder area as I made breakfast. Then thump. Something had hit the bow window hard. A Cooper’s hawk sat below the window and took off as soon as I looked out. All the little birds had fled.

Many schools were cancelled including Tyrone. I couldn’t believe it. In Maine, at 40 below, I removed the heater from the car engine, bundled baby Mark in layers of clothes, and took Steve to first grade and Dave to nursery school in our Volkswagen bus that never warmed up above zero during our half hour ride. No one ever talked of calling school because of the cold.

And here, one year when Bruce was off to a conference in January and the boys had to get to school on their own, I walked them the two miles down to town at zero degrees, we stopped at a restaurant and they had hot chocolate to warm up, and then they walked on to school while I walked home. I remember the hoarfrost clinging to the trees beside the river and forming on my hair. In those days, Tyrone didn’t cancel school because of the cold. No wonder kids stay indoors like their parents, mesmerized by technology and getting fatter day by day. The outdoors has become something to fear.

Yesterday, it was almost as cold, but the Pittsburgh-based environmental/nature show Allegheny Front, carried on WPSU-FM, devoted most of its half hour program to winter sports–cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating–and mentioned that many people get depressed in winter because they stay indoors.

“Get outside. Enjoy the beautiful weather, the tranquility of the forest, etc.” was the essence of their message. But during station breaks, the local announcer kept warning that there was a cold weather alert until 11:00 a.m. Tuesday because of the cold and wind chill! The Allegheny Front folks intoned, “It’s not the weather; it’s wearing the proper clothes,” or something like that. Then, another station break and more warnings. What a disconnect!

I waited until 10:00 a.m. to go out this morning. By then it was two above and windy, but it was lovely walking across First Field to Margaret’s Woods where a song sparrow flew up, and on down Ten Springs Trail where a titmouse foraged on a patch of open ground on the bank.

I sat on the snow, my hot seat beneath me, along Pit Mound Trail to write notes, where I was protected by the wind and the sun shone brightly. Then on down the road, silent except for chickadees feeding on hemlock cones. Under the hemlocks, the stream was frozen. Even the chute was a thick sheet of ice. But at the big pulloff, the stream ran freely. A regular parade of deer tracks headed down for water. The hollow itself gave me a quiet interlude despite the wind that rustled the trees overhead and grew more insistent the farther up the road I walked.

Throughout the day, at the feeder area, I counted 14 bird species altogether including 35 juncos, two goldfinches, 22 mourning doves, two song sparrows, three tree sparrows and a singing house finch. But I heard no Carolina wren song. Could this cold have killed them?

© 2007 Marcia Bonta

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Posted on February 5, 2007, in birds, weather. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I heard a Carolina wren singing around 8:00 o’clock this morning. So at least one seems to be surviving — perhaps by spending the nights in the crawlspace under the Guest House, next to the furnace?

  2. It is a shame so many people are disgusted with (or just simply afraid of) the cold. Sure – it’s cold, but that doesn’t mean one has to stay inside. It is just about wearing the proper clothing. I love this time of year because the morning and evening chill makes everything quiet. When it snows, you can hear it landing all around you – on the grass, on the dried tree branches, on your eyelashes. The summer is wonderful as well, but it’s not silent like winter is.

  3. Thanks, Gina Marie, for weighing in. I also find that I can walk farther and breathe better in the dry cold. I much prefer it to the humid heat of summer.

  4. oh lord. i;m trying to find my family tree and was looking at the old plummer photos. took one look and thought that i was looking in the mirror.my plummer side is from ligoneir ,pa. that man in the photo in plummer hollow just looks like me. i have alot of family in western pa. it’s so beautiful, i wish i was there in the snow. i go on vacation in houtsdale alot; my mothers brother lives there. it’s so breath taking. i’m living in va. beach,va but was born in pgh. pa and people say why you coming up here, when you got the beaches down there.go figure. when i come up to tyrone. i will come to plummer hollow.love the people, love the state.

  5. Thanks for the comment. I guess you must mean the photos I have over at the Geocities site? (I do need to move those over here, into the History section.) They do say that people from PA tend to return sooner or later, I don’t know why. We have the second highest number of retirees of any state, right after Florida! It may not be the most spectacular of the 50 states, but it does seem to have a strong hold on people. Anyway, good to hear from a Plummer.

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