Gladin: Wishing for a cold climate, then wondering why

Feb. 09, 2013 @ 08:30 AM

It must have been a steamy, sultry day in late July when I made the mistake of wishing to live in a cold climate.  I am a Southerner who hates the summer.  Usually, when spring starts poking its head up near the end of winter I am begging, “Not yet.”  Spring is too brief in North Carolina.  Summer elbows its way in like a schoolyard bully.  He makes life miserable for everyone, and keeps the gentle autumn at bay far too long.

Last week I cleaned my car in shorts and a tank-top, and less than 24 hours later broke a thick crust of ice on the horse’s watering troughs.  Only in the South can temperatures plummet 50 degrees in less than a day’s span and then soar again.  I found myself hanging wool socks to dry in warm sunshine the day after I’d worn them to break the aforementioned ice.

I am convinced that my heat-induced wish for a cold climate is what brought on the winter of 2010 — the one that lasted through May.  I had never lived through weeks where the daytime temps didn’t rise above 30 and the nights dipped repeatedly into the mid-teens and sometime single-digits.  Our pond froze solid enough to walk upon, and I learned that frozen water buckets (for the horses) are heavier than liquid ones.  From hauling those buckets, my arms are a few inches longer than they were in 2009.

Last week’s brief dip into the 20s reminded me of that long winter and all that I learned.  I was astounded that frozen buckets, turned bottom-up in the bright sun, stayed solid at these degrees.  I improvised an insulating system with black garbage bags and straw that worked pretty well.  Convinced that the cold wouldn’t end, I invested in Velcro-on, insulated “Bucket Buddies” for future winters.  We’ve used them once since 2010.

Despite a lifetime below the Mason-Dixon Line I somehow learned due diligence when it comes to the water hoses that we use to fill horse troughs.  As soon as the first frost falls, I begin draining the hoses every night, taking care to remove any drops that might pool and create a blockage in the tube. 

My meticulousness was rewarded several years ago when, walking from the barn, I spied a cloud of smoke hovering above our farmhouse.  As I ran the cloud seemed to retreat to just behind the house.  It emanated from an old, tall cedar tree that was, as firemen like to say, “fully involved.”

The day was cloudless — and bitter cold.  The sky was Carolina blue, and as I stood listening to the crackle of burning cedar, I could not recall any storms or lightening in the past few days.  I listened, Moses-like, but no holy words came forth from the burning bush (tree) – just the dawning realization that the higher branches were perilously close to the wooden siding of our house.

As I hauled the coiled hoses from the barn I was grateful for my habit, and confident that once I connected the tubular lines to the faucet at the well-house, water would flow.   It took a lot of water and some deft ax-work to quench the flames that roared up the middle of the hollow tree, but in the end a friend and I extinguished the fire and possibly saved the house.  Only later did I see that ashes we’d dumped from the wood stove the night before had somehow ignited the old tree.

Today I whined about the cold even though the temps were in the 40s.  But the 60s had been promised, along with warming sun.  Instead we had more clouds and, unexpectedly, a brief rain shower danced on the tin roof.  I sat by the fire and dreaded my trek to the barn.  But I knew it wasn’t really cold — just damp and chilly.  The buckets were full and deliciously liquid.  And this is 2013.  The chilly winter of 2010 finally ended.   I apologize for my part in bringing it to our fair state.

Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.