Archived Story

Is mild weather more deadly than severe?

Published 9:10am Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

It was a day welcomed only by fracture clinics, collision shops and meteorologists.

That’s what my neighbor Crandall grumbles each time we get an ice storm.

Hockey games had been canceled due to ice.

Unintentional ice skating abounded.

I don’t dislike snow. Grandma stressed the importance of snow by saying things like, “Open winter, full graveyard.” Other grandmothers said, “A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.”

The sayings alluded to the ruthlessness of a mild winter. There was a colloquial belief that a mild winter resulted in a higher mortality than usual. I don’t know if statistics prove this. There are people, who when encountering abnormally mild temperatures, don’t prepare as earnestly for cold weather as they should. This might result in illnesses, when the weather patterns change and the unprepared suffer the consequences of their laxity.

The mild weather could bring about abnormal biological conditions (molds, fungi, insects, contagion, etc.) that could result in increased sickness. This belief might have originated on the assumption that weather balances its extremes. A warmer-than-normal winter would eventually be matched by colder-than-normal weather — perhaps during a growing season. This might have resulted in crop failures and food shortages, leading to a fat churchyard.

Fat churchyard or not, ice storms are nasty.

In days past, my domicile would have been described thus, “He lives close to the main road.”

I walked, trying not to skip, to the mailbox on that main road to get the mail. I was dressed for winter, except for the lack of socks. I was sockless because the mailbox is south of the house. I was the Harry Nilsson song from “Midnight Cowboy” incarnate, “Goin’ where the weather suits my clothes.” I gathered the stamped stuff and headed back onto a driveway slanting uphill to our hovel.

There’s something in a Minnesota winter to offend everyone. It had thundered, it had rained, it had frozen, it was January. We had ice. The trees were glazed. The driveway collected ice as a beard collects crumbs. I walked while silently repeating the mantra, “Walk nice, there’s ice.”

I took one step forward and slid two steps backward. I was Sisyphus on one of his bad days.

I turned around and attempted to walk back to the mailbox. Before long, I had backed my way to the house.

Safe inside my home, I looked toward the heavens and said, “Thank you!”

I was thankful for avoiding an ice cream headache (brain freeze or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia) and for not slipping and falling on a cold day that looked like an ig. An ig is an igloo without the loo. Falling is a stunt that shouldn’t be attempted at home even if you are a trained professional.

I recalled the words of Meister Eckhart, a German theologian who lived from 1260-1327, “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”

It was far from the only prayer I’ve uttered, but I hoped it would suffice.

Later in the day, a friend called and told me about the cars he’d seen on The Weather Channel that were sliding helplessly on icy roads. He related their difficulties in such a way that it might have been a case of schadenfreude (shahd-n-froi-duh), a German word that describes a satisfaction or pleasure felt at another’s misfortune.

I didn’t want to wallow in the dark corners of an icy winter, so I worked.

Robert Benchley wrote, “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”

I’m a freelance writer. It’s my job. If I don’t write, I don’t get paid. I love my job, but I took time away from impending deadlines to attend a cancer auction, to deal with paperwork (I’m affiliated with IHOP — the International House Of Paperwork) involving funding for a volunteer fire department, and to spend time in the company of volunteer fire and ambulance crews. I visited with volunteers at a library and took part in a Salvation Army board meeting while my wife did similar duty for the food shelf.

My takeaway from those gatherings was, “What a wonderful collection of caring people join me here on earth.”

There are so many volunteers (paid the minimum wage of $0 an hour) who strive to do good things. To help. To make life easier for others. Momentous accomplishments derive from small acts of kindness. Little things add up to greatness.

For all those volunteers, I offer a simple prayer, “Thank you.”


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.