Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Very, very cold

Yesterday it was about 50 degrees F when I left home in the morning, about 35 degrees when I left work in the afternoon, about 12 degrees when I went to bed, and about -1 degree when I woke up this morning.

There's nothing like a tangible weather front, one that can be seen on more than just a weather map, one that can be seen coming, one that can be felt by all the senses.

There was the day I was at the lake, watching lightning of a storm further south. I noticed the black clouds moving toward me and stayed to watch the front advance. I felt the temperature drop and swear I could sense a change in pressure. Fascinated, I watched the line of the downpour as it advanced past 57th Street beach (where everyone ran screaming) until suddenly I was behind it, soaked.

Last night when I got off the bus I didn't feel especially cold, but flakes of snow were starting to appear in the lights. In front of The Park Shore, I noticed that my hands felt cold and achy, and the wind picked up in moment. The storm predicted had begun.

I might have had the wrong key out for the back gate because at first it wouldn't open. I couldn't see with my hair blowing in my face and my eyes watering, and my fingers were now between achy and numb. Under my coat, sweater, and heavy shirt, I started to shiver with cold and wind. If necessary, I could always go around to the front door, but it would take longer, and I wanted to get inside as quickly as possible.

Then, while struggling with the lock, I experienced a very brief panic—a sensation that I had to get out of the elements now, or else. At that moment, the gate opened. For the rest of the evening, wind gusts occasionally shook the building and snow obscured the night, but I was warm.

When Sir Edmund Hillary died, I read the obituaries, then I skimmed some articles about an English climber who, depending on the version of the story you believe, was left to die or was left for dead by other Everest climbers. The writers described the conditions on Everest, but how can anyone convey what has to be experienced to be understood?

Reading about what extreme cold, high winds, and lack of oxygen can do to the human body reminded me that there are those who thrive on danger because with it comes excitement, glory, or notoriety, or all three. I am not one of them; I will never climb Everest. While I may not be the adventurous type, however, I am an imaginative one, and underlying these moments of panic are flashes of imagination and empathy, some sense of what it is like to experience uncertainty about pain and suffering, about life and death. It's not rational; I had no real fear of freezing to death by The Flamingo's back gate. For a second or two, though, I was pure animal, unsure and afraid of the future.

And very, very cold.

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