Zero is the New 30
Sometime in the mid-naughts* people started referring to 30 as the new 20 and 40 as the new 30. While it seems like merely a positive affirmation that people in their 40s (today) are as vibrant and youthful as people in the past who were in their 30s, this week’s polar vortex*** had me thinking about this in terms of weather.
I used to think the teens and low 20s were cold, temperature-wise, with zero being the point at which my Midwestern resolve started to die. I know the mercury dipped below zero when I was little, and I remember playing outside when it was cold, but I don’t remember liking it all that much. And I definitely remember indoor recess. Days when my hair would freeze while I was waiting for the bus or coming home from swim practice. Fogged glasses and steamy exhalations that I used to pretend were from smoking. Cold so sharp it took my breath away and made my eyes water (and then freeze). I liked building snow forts, sure, and downhill skiing, but you can bet I bundled up for these activities and spent hours afterward thawing out. Nothing quite compares to the icy burn of snow sprayed in your face when you’re sledding.
Then I moved to New York City and its (mostly) milder, coastal winters. Whenever I shivered walking around in temps in the 20s and 30s (the average temperatures for winter in the city), my local friends would tease me for not being hardier. “You’re from Wisconsin,” they’d say. “That’s much farther north. Isn’t it so much colder there?” And I’d point to a map and show them that in reality, where I’m from in west central Wisconsin lies not that much farther north on the globe.***** “Besides,” I’d say, “we don’t walk around in it.” In New York, however, I was walking everywhere in the winter. To the subway. To the grocery store. To work. To the restaurants, bars, shops. It’s lucky I didn’t get frostbite; I have pretty poor circulation and my toes have turned white a few times since I moved to Minnesota.
This is my fifth (fifth!) winter in Minnesota and all of the previous four have been hard. It is so much colder here than New York, despite what I previously thought. But I made an early resolution back in late November not to let this winter get me down. I will not be miserable this year. I will not sacrifice comfort for fashion (see below). I will take care of my health, especially my hands and feet. I will dress warmly, even if I look ridiculous doing so (also see below). I will go out and not hibernate, and I will enjoy the winter for its beauty and necessity. Because in addition to being the closest most of us will come to experiencing life on Mars, winter is a time of rest and reflection, a time when the streets sparkle and windows shimmer, a time when we understand the full fleeting beauty of nature. There is nothing quite so lovely as untrampled snow.
December and the first third of January have been frigid to say the least. I have to laugh thinking that Mother Nature is testing me on my resolution. (And my poor sister and her husband, who moved back to Minnesota from milder, coastal Seattle shortly after we had those snowfalls in May.) Back in December we had a stretch when the projected high temperature was zero, and a few of those days we woke up to the high temp for the day, meaning it only got colder as the day went on. A high of zero feels like the weather isn’t even trying. C’mon air temp, just one more degree! A high of zero is like getting excited about getting your refundable deposit back. Whoo-hoo, this money that is rightfully mine is now mine! Wait. I’ve said it before, but zero degrees Fahrenheit is 32 degrees below the point at which water molecules give up.
This recent cold snap has made me re-think zero. I mean, the governor pre-emptively canceled school this past Monday because the actual temperatures they were projecting were well into the double digits below zero for the entire State of Minnesota, with parts of the state seeing actual high temperatures of -20 below, and that’s not factoring in windchill or the vaguely sinister “feels like.” This is mentally defeating and is only mildly tempered by the fact that the rest of the country is similarly cold. (Sorry, Florida, you don’t get a lot of sympathy in the winter. You just don’t.)
Somehow through this weather I’ve managed to stay pretty warm, though. Maybe it’s the positive attitude of not seeing only the negative parts of winter. Maybe it’s the CuddleDuds, SmartWools, earflap hat, long wool coat, Khombus, layers and layers and layers, thick sweaters, tea, and warm mittens (see above). It’s probably a combination of the two. And Wednesday, when it got back up to zero–up to zero–it weirdly felt warmer. I guess zero is the new 30…
*That’s what I like to call the 2000s. Some people call this the “aughts” but they ought to know** that this is a mistaken derivative of “naught,” which means zero/nothing. Aught means anything, whatever, any part. Which I guess could work for that decade as well. Anything goes!
**Does anyone else get that Alanis Morissette song in their head after that phrase? You (huh) you (huh) you/oughta know…
***Polar Vortex sounds like the latest flavor of Powerade, probably in honor of the Winter Olympics. Or a Russian wrestler’s nickname. “Now entering the ring, Polar Vortex!**** Check out that double-roundhouse…so cold!” A polar vortex, according to Wikipedia, is also known as a “circumpolar whirl,” which sounds like a new ride at Six Flags. It’s like being in a snow globe while it’s shaken!
****Who would win in a fight: Polar Vortex or The Tundra Tornado? Siberian Cyclone or Subzero Tsunami?
Bad related joke:
What do you call a flurry of fleecewear? A Gore-Tex vortex.
*****Maybe three or four degrees latitudinally, out of 180 possible (90 in either direction from the Equator, which is–you guessed it–zero degrees).