Life lessons from the Arctic Vortex

Back to work in 2012

Silver, Top Gun and Magic Penny -13C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I wrote in the previous post, this year I have simplified my goal setting exercise. I do not believe in vague resolutions and do not make them. I do resolve to improve my life in ways that do not always fit into the definition of goals. Some of them are not easy to include in a vision statement, are difficult to measure, but are still important.

Generally I remain optimistic and positive, having survived and overcome severe adversity in Africa, life in Canada in many ways is safe and easy. In a perverse way, that security and lack of dangerous excitement sometimes makes life seem a bit bland.

However I do have the occasional, less than optimum day, when I have to make an effort to prevent challenges, situations or conditions from occupying more of my energy than they deserve. I resolved this year to be more aware of those and take action earlier to avoid their effects.

One condition that has in the past got me down is the winter weather. Having lived most of my life in the tropics where just light frost was a rare event even in higher locations, I am about as comfortable in the current deep freeze as a Saharan camel would be.

It is easy for me to pontificate on making the best of the bitterly cold weather, I was in England during the ice storm that knocked out power at our house here for 24 hours, dropped tree branches on our paddock fence and caused a few other minor problems. Sue coped admirably with the lack of power, light, heat and water. The fences were easily fixed and broken branches tidied up when I got home – a different type of Christmas Day activity.

This week, along with the other estimated 170 million North Americans, we have felt the full blast of the current Arctic Vortex weather. In our old house with poor insulation and a huge wood gobbling furnace, life has been interesting.

Despite a heat lamp, the pipe to the pressure switch on our water pump in the basement froze and had to be thawed out with Sue’s hair dryer. The pump and heat lamp are now enclosed in a protective box.

The dog and cat’s water dish in the back room freezes every few hours – they do have other dishes in warmer parts of the house.

Our back door was white with frost on the inside for 2 days.

Our stock of cut and split wood is dwindling rapidly.

I have worn insulated overalls to do the horse chores 3 days in a row, I had not worn them for over 2 years.

All those and more effects of the weather could be really depressing however there are four lessons that we can learn from this bad winter storm, lessons made clearer by watching how our horses handled the extreme cold.

  • Resilience – A touch of adversity can either break us or make us stronger, this week’s weather is a reminder that life is not always easy.
  • Acceptance – we need to accept that the cold weather is something we cannot change. We either must accept that it is part of living where we do or move ourselves away from it.
  • Endurance – “This too shall pass”, Even though we may get another cold spell, Spring will eventually come, the weather will improve. We only need to survive it for a few days, not a lifetime.
  • Gratitude – Despite the cold, I am still grateful that I have a roof over my head and the means to keep warm. Hundreds of thousands of people in other parts of the world and many in North American cities are not so fortunate. 
  • Gratitude also that perhaps Global warming is not quite as serious a threat as it is made out to be.

Yesterday morning, it was -26 C around -14F with a 50 kph (30 mph) wind creating a wind chill of -40 on both scales. I plodded down to the barn in my insulated overalls, insulated boots, two jackets, gloves inside mittens and with only my eyes peering through a thick woollen balaclava.

Our horses have a large, enclosed on 3 sides, covered shelter with deep straw on the floor. They can go in and out from the small fenced yard a they please, they also have a feeder with a good supply of hay. They were outside the shelter in the full force of the wind, staring at something in the distance, perhaps a snow flurry, perhaps a fallen tree.

When I opened the gate to the bigger paddock, they trotted out then cantered through the deep snow, snorting and kicking up their heels. Later they returned to the hay, they spent some of the day in the shelter, several hours outside in the sun, backs to the wind, tails clamped.

Resilient, accepting, enduring certainly. Grateful? I am not a horse psychologist, certainly not clever enough to know if horses feel gratitude. Appreciation of an instant of kindness, perhaps. Gratitude, doubtful.

Throughout history, horses perhaps more than any other species have endured horrific cruelty, injuries and terrible conditions in the service of man, both in war and peace. They have a reputation of stoicism. Watching ours calmly standing with their backs to the wind enduring Arctic conditions yesterday, I can understand why.

How did you survive the extreme weather? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Peter Wright

 

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  8 comments for “Life lessons from the Arctic Vortex

  1. Roberta
    January 8, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Wonderful, beautiful story about the horses. A lesson for humans, certainly. At least for me. I hate cold. I especially dislike anything below 10 degrees. Add a minus sign before that and I am really miserable. I May not stand out in it, like the horses, but I can’t do anything about it either. I have a room heater (Which I will pay derarly for when electric bills cimes.) which helps, layers of clothes, and hot foods.
    But like you I have endured other things and this too shall pass. Life…like the weather ….is cyclical.

    • January 13, 2014 at 9:09 am

      It’s all relative, I have ridden my horse at -12C in deep snow but in brilliant winter sunshine and no wind. That was with just 1 jacket, jeans and leather chaps, light gloves, I did not feel cold. At other times, I have felt really cold at just below freezing when it is damp, cloudy and windy.

      I think I have written before that it is the short days and lack of sunlight that affects us more than the cold.

  2. January 11, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I’m not sure I’ve ever endured temperatures much below zero. Maybe 0 to -7? But nothing like this deep freeze in the north. It makes me roll my eyes at the news anchors who try to make a big deal out of 17-28 degrees ABOVE zero, here in Houston. God, they must be desperate to walk the frozen Great Lakes on camera. How galling it must be to have to don a winter coat once every few years. (I didn’t, by the way, nor did my son – we braved it all in hoodies and cardigans.) I feel for those of you who are having to tough it out – but as you say, without a bit of adventure, things can get a bit bland. Glad you’ve at least got the means of keeping warm.

    • January 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Mentioning Houston’s weather makes me envious. As I wrote in my reply to Roberta’s comment, it is not just the cold, it’s the other factors too. The coldest I have ever felt – a whole night of bone shaking shivering – was on a rocky hillside in the African bush at just under freezing with no tent, only 1 thin blanket and no warm clothes.

      The rising sun shimmering on my frost encrusted boots and equipment was the most welcome sight imaginable.

    • January 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Mentioning Houston’s weather makes me envious. As I wrote in my reply to Roberta’s comment, it is not just the cold, it’s the other factors too. The coldest I have ever felt – a whole night of bone shaking shivering – was on a rocky hillside in the African bush at just under freezing with no tent, only 1 thin blanket and no warm clothes.

      The rising sun shimmering on my frost encrusted boots and equipment was the most welcome sight imaginable.

      • January 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

        I think you have more survival stories than most people. I’ve camped in below freezing weather. It’s not too bad in a tent. With a sleeping bag, wool socks, longjohns, a thermal blanket, and chemical body warmers. Worst thing I ever endured, in terms of freezing weather, was camping with Girl Scouts in a wooden cabin with screens for windows. I thought my daughter and I might actually die when it got down to 19 degrees. I kept putting clothes on – by the time we left, a couple of days later, I was wearing sweatpants and two pairs of jeans – I absolutely refused to take any clothes OFF, in that cold. Her feet were in socks and plastic baggies to prevent frostbite. I think you’re lucky you didn’t end up with frostbite, Peter.

      • January 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

        I think you have more survival stories than most people. I’ve camped in below freezing weather. It’s not too bad in a tent. With a sleeping bag, wool socks, longjohns, a thermal blanket, and chemical body warmers. Worst thing I ever endured, in terms of freezing weather, was camping with Girl Scouts in a wooden cabin with screens for windows. I thought my daughter and I might actually die when it got down to 19 degrees. I kept putting clothes on – by the time we left, a couple of days later, I was wearing sweatpants and two pairs of jeans – I absolutely refused to take any clothes OFF, in that cold. Her feet were in socks and plastic baggies to prevent frostbite. I think you’re lucky you didn’t end up with frostbite, Peter.

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