Saturday, January 22, 2011

Twenty Below What?

This week’s cuticle cracking temperatures make me grateful to live in a place too harsh for the masses and thus better equip me to handle the bitter cold. A native Vermonter once remarked to me “if it weren’t for the two weeks a year below zero, everyone would live here”. Tucked in the corner of one of my favorite coffee shops, I am surrounded by the artwork of Pete Sutherland whose work it seems could be based on favorite snapshots from a life well lived. Scenes of music and camping, old women baking, and pillow fights make me think the artist and I might get along as we seem to share an affinity for uncomplicated and contented moments. I do not typically appreciate art the way the trained eye knows to do, but I know what makes me feel. For me, good art makes us feel something familiar and incommunicable through a medium other than itself. It becomes the only method of delivering yourself to you in any given moment. The images around me make me feel home and safe and as though my grandmother must be somewhere close by with an aromatic pot of red sauce simmering.

The ‘why bother’ latte I have ordered is the perfect mix of non fat milk, decaf espresso and a hint of maple, and is topped with a perfect foamy leaf design. A father and son plant their cross country skis in a snow bank just outside the door and expel breaths we can all see as they transition from outside to in. It looks cold outside and my hands still carry a mild sting from the exposure of this morning’s barn chores. Still, inside it is nothing but ten different flavors of warm. Energetic talk of entertaining tweets from local personalities, dairy conferences, and the decisions we make as teenagers fill the shop’s atmosphere. There are high fives exchanged between friends who clearly agree on something, and the quiet but discernable talk of women much older than myself still trying to make sense of the lives they have lived and of what lies ahead. As one patron leaves he yells back to the barista, “It’s supposed to hit 20 below tonight, you know”. The barista wishes him well and instructs him to “stay warm”. If he were truly to have heeded the good advice, we would never have walked out the door.

Living in harsh climates means braving the temperatures, packing the 4x4 with ski gear and spending a day with hand warmers stuck inside already top of the line gloves. It demands that you resist the urge to say no to a snowshoe hike because it is too cold out. It requires going with the dogs in the knee deep snow when they need to go outside. On some days, during those legendary two weeks that keep the masses from building in our open space, it is in fact too cold to go outside. But on those days, if you can keep your mind quiet and your spirit still, you will find warmth in ways you’ll never see blow in on the summer winds. With my column almost finished, a stranger asks if he can share my table. I look up from my laptop and in a voice I hardly recognize say “I’d love it”. Perhaps, our harshest temperatures bring out the best in us all.

With its delicate leaf now reduced to a slight foam residue that resembles the remnants of a bubble bath, the last sip of my latte is still as sweet. Tipping back the bowl of a mug I ordered makes it necessary to lift the brim of my baseball cap as I enthusiastically finish it off. A warm picture indeed.

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