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By Staff | Jan 8, 2010

The weather gods have once again bestowed us with the blessing of bitterly cold weather.

Many of us despise subzero temperatures. But like it or not, cold is responsible for numerous good things, including beer and the space shuttle.

Think about it. If we all enjoyed a warm, paradisiacal climate all the time, there would be no motivation to do anything but laze in the shade and scratch oneself. We wouldn’t worry about such trifles as food and shelter; these things would pretty much take care of themselves.

But put a person in a climate that’s below freezing half the year and the dynamics of life abruptly shift. Suddenly we begin to think about what we’ll eat and how to preserve body heat. This is what gave rise to the domestication and storage of grain.

Having access to grain engendered experimentation with fermentation and the miracle of beer. And once a beer recipe is perfected, it would be nice if said recipe were somehow recorded for future reference, necessitating a means to measure and tally. So it is that beer brought forth some of humanity’s more unfathomable concepts such as “arithmetic” and “avoirdupois.”

The event is lost in the mists of time, but I suspect that one day a small group of cave guys were sitting around drinking beer. A can of beer was accidentally dropped and the sudden release of carbonation caused the vessel to shoot across the cave floor.

After the laughter died down, one of the cave guys thoughtfully remarked, “It would really be cool if a guy were to make something like that, only much bigger. Maybe even big enough to carry someone up into the sky!”

“Yeah,” says another cave guy, “But just imagine how much measuring and ciphering that would take!”

All eyes turned toward the brew master. “It could be done,” says he after some quiet consideration, “But it would involve an awful lot of beer!”

Beer and rocketry are by no means the only benefits of the cold. Just think of all the great literature that has been created because of chilliness.

For instance, when a cold front collides with warm summertime air a thunderstorm often results. Without thunderstorms, Mark Twain would have never observed, “The trouble ain’t that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.”

Were the entire earth tropical Jack London would have never produced his epic tales about the cold of the Great White North, no “The Call of the Wild.” While few of us can relate to driving a team of sled dogs, we can all empathize with London’s main character in “To Build a Fire.”

Even during this deep cold I try to maintain my habit of going for a daily constitutional. Much bundling is required before venturing out. This is why few marriage proposals occur in the northland during the wintertime: all that clothing tends to turn us into unattractive androgynous blobs.

But my Nordic blood calls me out into the cold so I’ll pack on several tons of clothing and set off on the wilderness of our township road. Our trusty dog, Sandy, trots ahead.

The slightest breeze will sear exposed flesh and I’ll think, “Whoa, it is cold!” and “Crap! My fingers feel like icicles!” and “If I fall and can’t get up will the dog rescue me? Or will he think ‘Cool! Finger-shaped meat-flavored ice snacks!'”

So I try not to fall. I don’t want to become the canine version of “finger food.”

The winter when I attended first grade at our neighborhood one-room country schoolhouse, a couple of the big kids – sixth graders – defied the rules and went to play on a nearby pond. The ice broke and one of the boys went in and got soaked to the waist.

That must have been a frosty quarter-mile trek back to the schoolhouse. The boy survived, but his dignity didn’t fare so well. He had to spend much of that afternoon standing on the cast iron heat grate above the furnace, covering his bare legs with the teacher’s sweater while his jeans dried.

Whenever it turns bitterly chilly like this, my wife often asks “Why on earth do we live here? Wouldn’t it be better to be someplace tropical?”

I reply that the cold weather keeps out the riffraff. You have to want to live here.

“Fine,” she says, “But what’s wrong with wanting to live someplace warm?”

I argue that those who live in balmy climates can’t truly appreciate the warmth. Besides, if we lived in a tropical beach-type area, we would likely just lounge around all day, eating bananas and scratching and maybe catching an occasional fish.

H-m-m. Maybe she has a point there.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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