40 Below and the World is Quiet Today
Something magical about stepping out of the camper on a 40 below morning.
Putting a double layer of socks on before wedging your feet into your frozen boots. Boots that will hopefully soften up a bit by the time that breakfast is ready.
That first step onto the frozen ground is always pleasant as you hear that squeaking and crunching of the snow and ice below your feet that you only hear on a frigid northern morning.
Breakfast always has the important ingredients, coffee, cocoa, eggs, onions and leftovers from whatever we had last night.
Heading out to the woods we pack our gear carefully, a missed item could be costly, or deadly.
The GPS will ride inside the vest today, and maybe even inside the jacket, need to keep those batteries warm until we pull it out briefly to get a bearing on our first destination.
It was not that long ago that we relied completely on compasses which never froze up, now we rely on these vintage instruments more when the modern technology with batteries is trying to hibernate through the cold.
The ultrasonic DME and the Vertex Laser instruments still need to spend their day in the vest pockets, the sudden change in temp and barometric pressure is too erratic for these to ride inside the warmth of my jacket. Hopefully their batteries will make it through the day. If not then we will be doing a lot of extra work as we go old school with more vintage backup equipment like tapes, prisms and angle gages.
As we tramp through the woods at this magical place, cold, beautiful and silent.
The only sound is the sound of our snowshoes crunching and squeaking softly as we break trail through the powdery dry snow.
Work is enjoyable with the silence, the dryness of the snow, and the sunshine on days like these.
There are challenges though, keeping the batteries warm enough for the equipment, yet keeping the temps of the equipment constant enough for them to work properly.
Going back and forth over whether to wear gloves or not, I generally will keep the left glove on since that is the hand my clip board and data recorder is cradled in and put the right glove in my vest pocket. My right hand can handle the cold while handling most of the instruments and taking notes. Then when getting ready to navigate to the next plot this glove may come back out, however I seldom remember to retrieve it for most of the day.
Again, the forest is so silent on days like this, mostly a good thing, it reminds me of those early mornings when you are the only one awake in the house.
Then we pass a carcass that the wolves have been feeding on last night, and now we see that we are not alone in the forest, with the small gathering of Chickadees and Gray Jays picking bits of fat and meat off the bones to fuel their internal furnaces on a cold winter day.
I always enjoy sharing the winter day with these feathery little friends, and they are always happy to see me.
Me bundled in my winter jacket and vest full of tools and them in their extra fluffy down all puffed up with air to keep the warmth inside as they venture forth in temps that send others scurrying to their nests or southern climates.
These puffy little visitors are always welcome when they find us at lunchtime. Seems wherever we sit down to enjoy our sandwich they know that if they come and entertain that we will be willing to share a bit of our sandwich and some pleasant conversation.
I muse as I eat my lunch and pull the icicles off my mustache, there is something about beards and how nice it is to have that extra layer of fluffy hair to keep my face warm on a day like this.
I suspect that most people don’t think about why God put hair on our faces like this, but those who enjoy the extreme cold of the north know fully well why beards are important and few are willing to shave until they are sure that spring is really here.
The afternoons always seem to go too quickly this time of year and it is easy to find yourself miles from camp when darkness settles over the forest. Fortunately, the snow makes winter nighttime travel easier as the ground is contrasted from the trees and brush and that slight reflection that you get from the moon and stars on the snowy surface.
Back at camp we arrive late most days, tired but exhilarated, and ready for the wind down procedures.
All the snow and ice needs to be knocked off our clothes and gear, and all need to be put away securely for morning. Batteries need to recharge as we warm up the van for the long cold night ahead.
Dinners in camp are seldom elaborate, most are too tired to get creative and all appreciate that combination of canned goods that we thaw out and heat up for tonight’s stew.
Then off to bed, the bundling of the sleeping bags arranged just right to keep out the biting cold that seems to be so much more severe as we sleep than it is during the day. My method involves two sleeping bags, one inside the other, and then a blanket doubled up, tucked behind my head and draped forward over my head and shoulders.
The first half hour after turning off the vehicle for the night can be chilly, but if done right the rest of the night is cozy and warm in our cocoon of sleeping bags and blankets. Nights like these help to create compassion for my homeless friends who before we opened the Stevens Point Warming Shelter generally had much less warmth to survive the night.
Even with the longer nights of winter, it seems like it is always too soon when you are awakened by some spot or another where the cold is biting in through a gap created by nighttime movement of the blankets.
Digging through the layers I check to see how close to morning it is, and then it is time to crawl out of the nest, put on the frozen boots and get ready for another glorious day in the Northwoods.
Another day starts and I smile at that initial squeak as my boots hit that frozen snow.