COLUMN: The cold we know

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The cold we know
By Aaron J. Brown

Well, look at the bright side. It is warmer here than it is in space, for instance, or in some of the experimental chambers found in your high end chemical laboratories. The weather here is warmer than both the Arctic and the Antarctic. A penguin would vacation here and say to his monogamous life partner, “you know, this is nice but I couldn’t live here.” And she would say, “I could,” and years later when he was eaten by a lion seal, she would.

The January cold snap is nothing new to longtime denizens of northern Minnesota.  In fact, this is all too real for us here on the Iron Range where there are even more heavy metal objects to be touched, moved or lifted at 15 below. Yes, your tongue, and more, will stick to a flag pole in the cold. This was established long ago.

Nevertheless the two weeks of subzero temperatures seen just recently still surprises us at first. Like childbirth (I’m told!), something in the human brain helps forget the pain aching through skin as we attempt to buckle the children into their frigid car seats. After a few days, however, like muscle memory, we no longer remark on the temperature except when records are broken. Perhaps we might ask, “Is it OK to leave this Diet Coke in the car while we eat dinner, or will it explode?” The question merely becomes one of logistics.

Cold like this becomes a reminder of what tens of thousands of years of human life established as the parameters of our survival. If it really was “too cold” there wouldn’t be any gas stations or fast food restaurants in this town, or a town for that matter. Once this reminder is fully realized there is no need to talk about it anymore. We must and then we must not. Wait for the change. It will come.

Until then, you know the sights and sounds of January cold. The steam lifting off the taconite plants and power stations billow wider, as though that’s where clouds come from. School buses run hard, like hungry dinosaurs with pneumonia. Family cars and vans sound like biplanes. We must wear scarves and goggles to run them comfortably, constantly searching the skies for the Red Baron. The side streets of our towns are choked with hard pack snow, as though an army of cement trucks randomly spewed their contents as part of a civil demonstration. And the bite, in our lungs and fingertips: a taste of death, but only a taste.

I tempt fate with these comments, as I’m certain the weather has changed from the time I wrote and submitted this piece to the time it is committed to ink. I am reminded of a book I am reading about early U.S. history, how the War of 1812 could have been prevented if Americans had received the overseas letter offering British concessions before declaring war. I have declared war on cold, and it is too late to stand down now.

I wear the uniform of a cold warrior. When you surrender your claim on fashion and physical attractiveness a world of options become available. Slippers prevent the touch of melting snow by the door on your warm socks. Those flannel pants grandma gave you at Christmas suddenly become more valuable than an iPod. I’ve been wearing my bath robe the way NFL quarterbacks wear those big coats that fit over shoulder pads on the sidelines.

No, it is not pretty. But it is fairly common. And we are just days away from the start of the thaw. Just the start, mind you, but sometimes that is enough.
Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Ah, reading that gave me several smiles and chuckles. I actually don’t mind a cold day like today, because the sun is out and my house has passive solar heat: large south facing windows. The house warms up to about 76, so I can’t complain. I even let the wood stove go out, which might be a problem in 20 minutes, because cloud cover has moved in.

    And then there is the humidity, or lack thereof: The skin on my hands is suffering, but it really is much more comfortable outside than damp cold would be. I know a thing or two about damp cold, as my ancestral area is over on the shore of Lake Michigan. Burrr, that cold (over 20 degrees F)is biting.

    So cold is relative. And maybe, just maybe, it keeps the petty thieves away. Or at least those who are too stupid to wear choppers.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.