Monday, January 3, 2011

Winters of Yore

You know those people who claim that they belong in another era? Not me. I wouldn't even want to go back fifty years, much less several hundred.

For a brief time when I was young, I lived in the military housing on the grounds of the Air Force Academy. The USAFA is set against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Part of the sprawling acreage is woodland; the rest is rolling foothills covered in prairie. There's far more open acreage than developed land. Somewhere on the grounds of the USAFA is a preserved settler's cabin. You can't go in, but you can peer through the window.

  (this isn't a drawing of the actual cabin. The one shown here is a bit bigger than the real thing, but it's close.)

The cabin is barely big enough for a table and a bed. Narrow stairs lead up to a loft. Think "Little House on the Prairie" then shrink it by 80%. That's what real log cabins were like back then. 

While snowdrifts usually melt between storms on the Colorado prairie, higher up in the mountains where the miners lived, snow accumulated from December through April.  If those miners were lucky enough to have a cabin, being stuck inside 400 square feet with several smelly, grumpy, disease-ridden, dentally-challenged, stir-crazy men for five months was probably as hard on the mind as it was on the body. I don’t even want to imagine the hardships endured by the ones who lived in tents.  I know that people survived that, but I'd never want to be one of them.

If I were magically whisked away to the past (Can one be scientifically whisked away into the past? I think I'd prefer that.) I know that I wouldn't survive. One mistake, and I'd be a goner. I can imagine my bare butt freezing solid to the outhouse seat in the middle of the night, and my cabin mates finding a rather undignified corpsesicle in the morning. Or the food I canned would have improperly sealed and I'd die of botulism. Or I'd foolishly invite Alferd Packer* into my my cabin in the middle of a snowstorm, and that would be all she wrote for my plump, delectable ass.
Winter now isn't what winter was then. Winter now is the Nutcracker Suite ballet, beautifully wrapped gifts under a twinkling tree, skiing, trips to Cancun, and five pounds of weight gain from all the holiday goodies. It's excess, not deprivation. So no matter how low I can get during the hours of winter darkness, I try to think about things such as watching bright red cardinals at the snow capped bird feeder or pine needles preserved in a coating of ice and be immensely grateful that while the northern hemisphere sleeps and dreams of spring, in this century, none of that beauty is lethal - as long as I stay inside.

*After I wrote this, I realized that outside of Colorado, few people would know who Mr. Packer was. He's probably the only accused cannibal in US history  - maybe world history - to have a university dining hall named after him.


  1. Hey, Kathleen,

    I learn something every week here at the grip. I'd never heard of Packer, but obviously he struck some chord, given the surprising number of buildings, tents, albums and so on dedicated to his memory!

    You're right of course. Winter can kill, and often did, even fifty years ago. Heck, it still does.

    With regard to going back in time, I've often contemplated the fact that if I had been born in medieval times, before eyeglasses were invented, I would have effectively been a cripple or at least extremely vulnerable.

  2. Lisabet - Yeah, my eyesight is terrible too. Not to mention that knowledge we take for granted would get us killed. At least if we went forward in time, we could write historical novels set way back in 2011!

    I think the whole Alferd Packer thing shows the western US sense of humor. I love that the Alfrerd Packer Grill's slogan is "Have a friend for lunch!"

  3. hi Kathleen;

    A university dining hall?? Damn. What do they serve there?

    I wonder what the past would be like also. We have it very good here. My dad took me to visit an iron mine in Minnesota and it made me appreciate my dull job a lot more. I'm very curious now about Alfred packer.

    You don't suppose they named the Green Bay Packers for him?


  4. Hi Kathleen.

    winter from the right side of the double glazing loses its threat but keeps its beauty. I hadn't thought about this before.

    I also didn't know about Packer either. Bizarre stuff

  5. Garce - I think the Packers are something different.
    I'd like to think that the Alferd Packer Memorial Dining Hall at least serves ribs.

    Mike - We keep removing ourselves from sensation, further and further away, until we're more voyuer than participant. Instead of keeping us safer though, I wonder if it makes us more vulnerable to the natural world. We can't cope with it anymore.


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