LAKE MACBRIDE— Iowa is having a regular winter. By that I mean the cold temperatures and snow resonate with winter memories from grade school. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was nothing to bundle up and walk to school in 20 below zero weather. It was accepted as another part of life in Iowa. Not so much any more.
With the advent of radio, television, the Internet and mobile phone mass messaging, information and opinions about the weather are easy to disseminate. Opinions, like a two hour school delay, or cancellation because of inclement weather, blast forth to citizens with a clear and present danger. Keep the kids safe, it’s too cold outside.
It’s hard to argue with taking precautions so children don’t get frostbitten toes and fingers. At the same time, I don’t believe my parents were any less concerned than today’s parents when they tied a scarf around my face so tightly that my neck got stiff, and sent me through the subzero weather for a several blocks walk to school. Something else has changed.
Tempted to insert comments about the nanny state that regulates behavior so as to mitigate liability should some child be hurt in the cold, that’s not where I’m going. School administrators have a job to do, and one hopes they are doing the best they can.
This cold weather is clear evidence of the effects of global warming, just as the weird winters of recent memory, early springs and droughts have been. Not going there either, although there’s a lot I could say.
On this 14 below zero morning, I’m remembering my college anthropology teacher June Helm, and her lectures about working with indigenous people in the Northwest Territories. How people lived in a climate we recognized, but seemed so different.
They made lives grounded in their environment, and what was available. It was something hard to emulate then, when we were used to availability of a wide variety of goods at the end of nascent global supply chains. Our lives seemed so abundant and protected compared to what we now call the First Nations Helm discussed. Their lives were spare, different, diverse, and resilient. That seems relevant.
The anthropology department at the University of Iowa was just getting started when I was in college. I was an undisciplined student who received a low grade. Nonetheless, I learned we needn’t distance ourselves from the shivering cold, but can embrace it. We can make a life in it. Importantly, if within a circle of family and friends, we are unaware of what others take for granted, and separate from mass culture, it’s okay to build on that.
This knowledge doesn’t make the cold less bitter. It does help one cope, and that is something brilliant on another cold night before sunrise in Iowa.