Al Batt: My winter bucket list is a short one: Stay warm

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Into the mouth of the wolf, we go.

Al Batt

I catch myself bundled beyond recognition and talking to a thermometer, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

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Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to winter we go. Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of winter. It’s the Great White. Do you imagine the toothy grin of a shark? I picture the icicle smile of winter. It’s Gilligan’s Winter and we’re stuck in it.

Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on Dec. 21, when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is located south of the equator and runs through Australia, Chile, Brazil, South Africa and Iowa. I might be mistaken about the Iowa part. It could be Idaho. This astronomical moment marks the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. I’m not sure what day is the tallest. Merriam-Webster told me solstice got its name from sol, the Latin word for “sun.” During the solstice, the angle between the sun’s rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator appears to stand still, so some smart aleck added sol to sistere, which means “to stand still,” and came up with solstitium. Middle English speakers shortened solstitium to solstice in the 14th century because they knew I’d misspell “solstitium” on a big test during my sophomore year. The Southern Hemisphere marks the beginning of summer on Dec. 21.

I like winter, but I get the feeling it doesn’t always like me. It tries to shed itself of humans. Don’t hate winter; it will hate you back. Winter isn’t the best Christmas gift, but we get it each year, no matter what the weather, just as we receive candy canes, no matter what the flavor.

One day, I’m raking the leaves. The next day, winter has become my personal trainer and I need to borrow a snow shovel to shovel enough snow to uncover my snow shovel. Sisyphus shoveled snow. And mysteriously, I now have a glove in every pocket.

Winter is the season of second thoughts. Roads close, and obligations are postponed or canceled. George Herbert wrote, “Every mile is two in winter.”

Dylan Thomas, who was no George Herbert, wrote, “I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was 12 or whether it snowed for 12 days and 12 nights when I was 6.”

A fellow told me he’d gotten stuck in the snow in one of our southern states. He had to drive a mile back to town and buy a shovel so he could get out. Here we have discussions similar to this, “What’s the weather like today?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see anything through all the wind and snow.”

Where? Why? How? When? What? It’s a winter wonderland. Winter is when our economy goes onto the cold standard, noses run in families, it’s warmer in the freezer than outside and it’s too cold to talk about the cold. We hear transplants say, “I’ve lived here for 12 years. That’s 33 winters, nine summers, three springs and three falls.”

Minnesota has a blanket policy. The more blankets, the better. We all know this poem: Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31, excepting February alone, and that has 28 days clear and 29 in each leap year. But January could have up to 300 days.

My neighbor Crandall isn’t a fan of the cold and doesn’t smoke his smelly pipe during the winter because he hates the smell of burning mittens. He stares dreamily at a calendar until going in search of warmer weather; once driving from Minnesota to Florida so quickly, there was still Minnesota snow on his car when he reached Fort Myers.

I think winters are more agreeable than they were when power cords commonly dangled from the grilles of automobiles so that engine block heaters could warm an engine prior to starting. Cars are better or winters are kinder. The fire in our woodstove froze one year. Now I change apps until I find the one with the best weather.

The most popular winter sport here is talking about past winters.

Why do I stay here?

I’ve assessed my marble collection. I’ve lost a few.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.