David Bouchier: The Winter Of Our Discontent

Jan 8, 2018

I’m thoroughly tired of this winter already, and I bet you are too. There’s something ominous about a long spell of cold weather. It’s a harsh reminder that we are living on a slightly warm ball of rock in the middle of an infinite space where the temperature is around -250° C, just a few clicks of the thermostat above absolute zero. How fragile our comfortable lives can be! If our machines fail or our fuel runs out, how quickly nature will reclaim her territory, and her temperature. Even now I can hear the furnace rumbling and gasping in the basement, trying and failing to push back the cold of the universe.

We can’t even be sure of our bad weather. It comes and goes all through the winter months, creating a whiplash effect. One day the high temperature is 10, the next day 40. There’s no telling what to expect, so we can’t just hibernate comfortably like bears or marmots. If you live in Alaska or at the South Pole you know what to expect, but we never do.

Human civilization began in warm, welcoming places. What madness brought us to this unpredictable latitude, where just dealing with the weather takes up so much time and money? We spend months in summer trying to stay cool at enormous expense, and much of the winter dealing with and paying for snow and ice.

The Pilgrim Fathers must have realized their mistake soon after they landed at Plymouth Rock. Half of them died during the first winter in New England. But they stubbornly refused to make the obvious decision and head south. Just because we can live somewhere doesn’t mean that we should, any more that “All you can eat” equates with “All you should eat.” Somewhere between the possibility and the decision common sense should intervene, but rarely does. It’s significant that, when people grow old and acquire wisdom, they immediately move to Florida.

Those of us who remain in the Northeast are the unfortunate inheritors of the obstinate Puritan tradition that allowed these bleak latitudes to be populated in the first place. Humans are fond of inhabiting places unfit for habitation. Las Vegas, for example, is no more sustainable in the long run than a base camp on Mercury. It's one of the strongest arguments I know against human rationality. Would reasonable creatures live in Maine or Alaska or the Scottish Hebrides? They would not. Any truly rational species would confine its activities between latitudes 30 degrees North and 30 degrees South, and leave the rest of the earth to animals with lots of fur, skiers, and heating oil salesmen.

If I feel sorry for myself at this time of year, which I do, I bundle up and go down to the local pond to feed the ducks, who are practically frozen on to the ice. They quack at me mournfully, as if it’s my fault. It’s all very well for you, they seem to say, with your heated car and your heated house. But, when I remind them that they can fly, and recommend immediate migration, and point helpfully towards the south, they stay exactly where they are: stubborn, immovable, determined to suffer, just like us.

Copyright: David Bouchier