This Cold World


Shivering at the bus stop this morning put us in mind of a memorable passage from Bill Streever’s Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places (a past favorite of the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s Book Club):

The world warms, awash in greenhouse gases, but forty below remains forty below. Thirty degrees with sleet blowing sideways is still thirty degrees with sleet blowing sideways. Cold is a part of day-to-day life, but we often isolate ourselves from it, hiding in overheated houses and retreating to overheated climates, all without understanding what we so eagerly avoid.

We fail to see cold for what it is: the absence of heat, the slowing of molecular motion, a sensation, a perception, a driving force. Cold freezes the nostrils and assaults the lungs. Its presence shapes landscapes. It sculpts forests and herds animals along migration routes or forces them to dig in for the winter or evolve fur and heat-conserving networks of veins….

Imagine July water temperatures of thirty-five degrees. Imagine Frederic Tudor of Boston shipping ice from Walden Pond to India on sailing ships in 1833. Imagine Apsley Cherry-Garrard on his search for penguin eggs at seventy below zero in 1911. Imagine a dahurian larch forest that looks like a stand of Christmas trees on Russia’s Taymyr Peninsula at sixty below or a ground squirrel hibernating until its blood starts to freeze and then shivering itself back to life.

But none of this is imaginary. Our world warms, but cold remains.

And whether you’re burrowed inside your warm house, or tucked away underground, here’s two excellent books from the Land Library’s shelves to help you appreciate the cold winter days!

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich, This Cold House: The Simple Science of Energy Efficiency by Colin Smith


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