Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cold Attitudes

Mornings like this morning (Wed.) highlight the wide range of personalities and preferences in the people around us.

I like the cold...when I have proper clothing and access to a warm, dry, windless spot...and it doesn't have to be fancy. I LIKED winters in the school bus, with no running water or electricity or access to town for weeks at a time. So crunching around the farm in the crackly snow to visit the toilet at Dawdie, finish shoveling the walks, sweep off the car, etc., was pleasant and invigorating. The wind wasn't too bad, and the sun was bright in a cloudless sky. Pretty, pretty, pretty! A postcard or calendar photo view everywhere I turned.

Housemate DK practically laughs at the cold, as well...even more than me. When I'm wearing a wool blend union suit and heavy sweat pants with Goretex rain pants over the top, and a cotton turtle neck and wool sweater under my leather jacket, he's bound to be wearing shorts and a T shirt. He welcomes the cold as an opportunity to play with fire (in the wood stove), but you wouldn't really know it because his policy seems to be snide indifference for most external conditions. He was out the door to commute to his job in Topeka a bit earlier than usual, accounting for weather-related unpredictability...well before this night owl got up.

Because DK worked today, and I knew we'd be going in and out a lot before he got home and got the walks shovelled (one of his assigned chores, generally undertaken on his own initiative), I suggest to my temporary visitor that she do the walks. She was not enthusiastic, but dutifully (resentfully?) went out, bundled in suitable layers. She was back in about 10 minutes, huddled by the fire speechless for awhile, and then mumbled about how awful the cold was. About that time, an overdue volunteer returned my call, entirely perplexed that I would expect him to show up on a morning like this (he is volunteering here to establish me as an employment reference while he looks for work???).

I called the septic tank people to find out their ETA for our morning appointment, and they were aghast that I would even think they would work today. They promised to come tomorrow...which is slated to be significantly colder. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict the outcome tomorrow.... Someone was supposed to come pick up my visitor, but their locks were frozen (I bought a $1.29 package of lock de-icer at the grocery store on the way home last night, so I wouldn't have to worry about that).

But the gas company showed up in good time, business-like in their Carhartts and work boots. The gas was soon on at Dawdie House, the heater lit. While sweeping the front walk at Dawdie (important to get those walks clear of snow ASAP, before people step on it and turn it to ice. Then it brushes off easily, and the sun and the process of sublimation will have the walks clear and dry by early afternoon), snow plows, the cable truck, and other workers drove by, as well as other neighbors. It was a bustling morning on North Street. Around town, the trash trucks were working their routes, media trucks headed to the Field House to set up for tonight's game, the parking lot was full at the hospital, the park-and-ride lot for the K-10 Connector intercity bus was full.

Most bus drivers showed up, a few didn't. Those who didn't, if habitually absent or tardy, will lose their jobs. The morning drivers start about 5:30 a.m., and I appreciate them very much. I COULD do it, and I WOULD do it, but I'm glad so many drivers want their afternoons and evenings free, so that I get an afternoon shift.

Law enforcement was out, coping with the inevitable fender benders...with their side-kicks, the tow trucks. Semis and beer trucks made their usual rounds downtown and at the industrial park on my route. My regulars rode to work or rode home, according to their shifts. The fire engines and ambulances screamed around town as needed. My firefighter friend hates the cold, but evidently showed up for work anyhow, long enough to retire.

This evening, traffic for the basketball game was as heavy as ever, despite the cold. Bumper to bumper cars for miles, streaming in from Johnson County on K-10 to gridlock 23rd St. and 19th St., just to watch a game that they could view from the warmth of their own livingroom. Not too cold for them to participate in what seems to me to be a frivolous obsession.

My visitor asked to bring the outside dog into the house, because she was barking and howling a lot. I declined...she is an outside dog for good reason (potty training failure), and even a short stay inside upsets the equilibrium with the dog-phobic cat and the elderly dog. Not to mention, being inside un-acclimates her to the cold. "YOU ARE SO CRUEL!" my visitor said. "LISTEN TO HER BARKING AND HOWLING!"

When I realized the outside dog's food dish was in the entryway, I suddenly got the big picture. Visitor had let the dog in yesterday while I was gone (and probably many previous days while I was gone, even though I had told her not to do this), and my chore person had fed the dog where he found her. Then this morning DK probably didn't see the dish, so didn't feed her, thinking I had an important reason for this. Thus my "kind" visitor had arranged for the dog to go hungry, by disobeying the household's established policies for the dogs!

When I fed the dog, she was quiet the rest of the morning. She has a dog house, a plastic lounge so she can sit or lie without being on the ground, and a dog-house-size kennel inside the garage, so she's well-protected. It's true she hasn't much bedding...if given a blanket, she promptly drags it outside and leaves it in the mud. She does have a rug.

But the visitor continued to berate me, threatening to turn me in for cruelty to animals because the outdoor dog was contentedly napping in the garage kennel, snug in her fur coat, living the life she's lived most of her 5 years, the life her ancestors lived for centuries.

I suppose this visitor thinks I should bring the sheep in the house, too? The squirrels, the rabbits, the feral cats, the birds?

These animals were all created by evolution and/or The Creator to live outside in the harshest of weather. The ones that are in my charge, are provided with food, water, veterinary care when needed, and shelter. The ones that are not in my charge are welcome to take shelter in sheds and woodpiles and natural areas, so long as they don't have a significant adverse effect on the overall Community of Life around here. Ditto my visitor.

I do confess to giving myself a slightly elevated rank in that Community, including over any other humans who are here, because I and my paycheck and my stauch stand against development are what keeps this habitat available to ALL of us. My sandbox, I make the rules, but everyone else is welcome as long as they play nice and try to honor the rules and respect the rest of the community, including me. My visitor had repeatedly established that she disputed my authority over my sandbox...not a wise attitude for a guest on thin ice.

When I was ready to go to work and it came time for her to leave, she escalated the rant. She would turn me for abuse for not letting her stay. She adamantly balked at leaving, though we'd been discussing her imminent departure for several days. How could I throw her out on such a cold day (she could have left yesterday...or made other arrangements a week ago when she made it clear she wasn't going to follow the rules)? No one should have to be outside on a day like this!


The sheep are content in their pen; the dog naps in her kennel.

The feral cats are sunning on the woodpile.

A less-common bird warbles in the woodlot, while sparrows chirp in the forsythia bush.

I'm smiling contentedly as I neatly shovel the rest of the walk clean, basking in the bright sun in the shelter of the south side of the house. I'd rather stay home and work outside than drive the nice warm bus.

The dizzying array of our human community continues to play its daily rhythms through the town, minus a few workers who didn't show up...who probably have blots on their records for their lapse in dependability.

The conspicuous absence today, all around town on the bus, was the homeless, the chronic complainers, people going to SRS, the panhandlers, the "bridge people". And the unemployed farm volunteers who said "It's too cold to do anything," leaving me to do everything it was "too cold to do".

I may have said "It's too cold" more than once in my life, but not while standing idle for more than a few minutes. And usually I'm laughing when I say it, proud of surviving no matter what, welcoming the challenge of rising above adversity. I don't use it as an excuse for bailing out on stuff. Even cold-related auto problems, by and large, are preventable with forethought an therefore not valid reasons for not showing up.

Busy in the cold warms me, in body, in heart, in soul. Busy in the cold builds my self-esteem and my sense of well-being and my generousity towards others. I think that's why a cold spell like this in early December puts us in the "Christmas spirit."

Taken all together, this day has really brought home to me that cold attitudes make a big difference in the overall course of people's lives. It may even be diagnostic, like the marshmallow test.* Those who show up anyhow, live life anyhow, no matter how cold (hot, wet, boring, dangerous, etc.) it is...get the nice things to make it easier, like cars and houses. It's not an accident that the unemployed and homeless didn't show up today, in whatever way they could have. It's a choice each of us makes one way or another: what kind of attitude we will have towards cold, and what the natural consequences of that choice could be.

To my departed visitor, I would love to say, "If you want what I have (bright house, warm woodstove, food, pets), do what I did (show up and work hard and don't complain about the weather or other conditions we can't control). If you would even make a reasonable effort to do what I did, I would gladly share what I have until you have your own, which won't seem like long if you're diligent. But if I give you what I have without you putting in a fair share of sweat equity, we both stand to lose everything. Why should both of us lose everything when at least one of us can keep it?" But she wouldn't be able to hear that wisdom. I can only hope that someday she'll "get it" and decide to show up for daily life no matter what the weather.

Is that a cold attitude?

* Somewhere I once heard that a remarkably reliable test for whether a child would succeed in life was to put a marshmallow on the table in front of a kindergardener...tell them that they can eat it now and there's no penalty, but they can also choose to wait 5 minutes and they will get 2 marshmallows. The tester then leaves the room for 5 minutes. Those who wait for the 2 marshmallows are by far more likely to achieve worldly success. I think I would have asked, "If I wait 10 minutes, will you give me four?" My worldly success, as yet, may be hard for most folks to see through the dirt and scrap piles and weeds. They haven't known me for 35 years. But I can see the pieces of the puzzle coming together faster each year, fleshing out a dream for my life that I had in high school.

1 comment:

Catlady said...

I'm not fond of cold, either (I know, I live in the Land of the Cold) but I agree with you - I might complain about it, but I don't use it as an excuse not to do things...

Life still goes on, even at frigid temps (which we're getting right now, *without* benefit of a blanket of snow to keep the ground warm. I've got to keep an eye on the water pipes in the basement - which further illustrates your point, that awareness equals prevention)