that's too cold for a house - #16
All day I dream about setting the thermostat higher.
What’s the coldest house you’ve lived in?
As I type, I’m resting the base of my palms on my laptop — and the laptop is freezing. It feels like I pulled it from a nap in the refrigerator, like too many emails gave it a panic attack and it needed to cool down. But the laptop is fine. It’s the house that is struggling, specifically on how to remember which parts are outside and which parts are in.
Here, a photo of the inside of the house. While that snow is somewhat romantic in a festive holiday way, it does not negate the fact that it is real snow inside what I presume is still a real house.
We knew this was going to happen. The realities of this cabin are somewhat unavoidable. It was a self-build. It is made of logs, which are not planed but are instead kind of smoothed until they kind of fit together and then kind of make a seal. But kind of is not very helpful when it’s -5°F and the wind is ripping through at 60 miles per hour.
And it’s not just where the logs fit together — it’s where anything in this whole house fits together. With log construction, you have to have a thoughtful approach to windows and doors. The logs expand and contract in weather, but they also settle over time. The house moves. Windows and doors don’t. So the idea is, when you build with logs, the windows and doors need to be encased in something that can shrink and contract along with the logs, but keep the seal tight against the openings themselves.
They did not do that here. Instead, half the doors don’t work, and the other half look like the house version of a zit, just ready to pop at any second. But because of all these poorly fit components, snow was coming in everywhere. It snowed on my desk. It snowed on the couch. It snowed through every corner and every window while I stood there wondering if there was something I was supposed to do in the moment other than ogle and post to Instagram like a real waste of human ingenuity.
My intention on Friday, after 15 fresh inches the night prior, was to kit up for the first time this winter and do a little skiing around the neighborhood in the flurries. But when flurries turned into furies and it started snowing inside the house, I thought, “you know, maybe I should focus on keeping the fire going.” I’ve skied before. I mean I’ve also fought tooth and nail to keep a house above 55°F before too, but that’s when the outside temperature is 40°, not 4°. So I stoked the fire while all three pets disappeared into the quicksand of blankets in front of it.
I’m not unfamiliar with snow. I grew up about 15 miles off the coast of Lake Erie where we experienced what is called Lake Effect Snow, and it’s common around the Great Lakes. Basically what happens is below-freezing air crosses the unfrozen (i.e., warm) lake and then lake water evaporates into that cold air, and so the cold air warms, picking up moisture and becomes more humid. As that cold air gets warmer, it also becomes less dense and rises… and because it’s rising, it’s cooling more, and thus forming clouds and precipitation. Once these clouds hit the shoreline, they have a traffic jam because air moves more slowly over land. So more and more clouds with more and more precipitation pile up on each other, and the hills on the lee side force the air up, making it even colder, and voilà, heavy snow is dumped on the south and east shores.
This makes Lake Effect Snow a localized weather event, and in the rural township of Chesterland, it meant we would get fucking dumped on in the span of hours. My brother and I would sit in the deep dark of a winter morning, watching that ticker tape at the bottom of the newscast waiting for it to get all the way to West Geauga in the alphabet before it inevitably did not list us because our school district refused to tack on days at the end of the year. So we would stand at the end of the driveway in blizzards, looking back at the house like maybe today was the day our parents would decide to homeschool us.
And then came driving. I drove a 1995 Mustang in fire engine red with black racing stripes. This car had everything: tan velour seats, a glove compartment that smelled like Axe body spray, dual exhaust on a car that didn’t need it, and best of all, Cobra emblems that every idiot teenage boy I flirted with thought were real because they were too high on tits to notice the car was an automatic.
I drove that rear wheel masterpiece to school through every snowstorm we had, but the school did, on the very rare occasion, close. On those days, there was no lounging in bed or cartoon marathons, oh no. Instead, snow days called for something else: reporting to duty at the ski hill to teach 5-year-olds how to pizza.
For all my driving years in Northeast Ohio, I was a ski instructor at Alpine Valley Ski Resort. I still cannot believe they had the gall to call it that. I mean, look at it.
My driveway is steeper than this. But when the lake effect howled in, this is where I was, flirting with lifties and doing donuts in the parking lot, both intentional and unintentional as my “Cobra” submitted to my unending attempts to impress boys. I was a snow queen and there was no telling me otherwise. But it’s easy to be a snow queen when you’re 17. Now I’m like, “babe, where are my Yaktrax?”
Yaktrax, metal rings made of small spikes tethered together by stretchy, BDSM-adjacent rubber that latches onto your shoe like an octopus that won’t let go, were one of my first preventative winter purchases. And when the snow was clinging around these slopes at a measly six inches, I put them to good use.
It’s easy to get obsessed with One Thing in LA because whatever that One Thing is, you can usually do it all year. Here, the seasons force your hand. You’re going to be a multi-sport athlete whether you want to or not. So out I went for a not-quite-real-winter run. I wore calf-height wool socks and my old Keen hiking boots with the worn tread and low ankles. On my legs, I wore long underwear and “cool temperature” running pants. On top, I wore a thick sports bra, plus a fitted wool base layer under a long sleeve running shirt. Over that, a thin puffy vest, then a windbreaker. I wore a wool headband over my ears under a baseball cap, plus a neck gaiter and gloves. And finally, I yanked on my precious Yaktrax. It was 19° and this worked out great.
There are countless trails in the area — some actual maintained trail, some abandoned mining roads, and some game — but all used by everything that lives here. There’s one trail in particular I like to use for a short run. Much of the area surrounding us is National Forest, which means maybe at one point these trails had names, the mining roads certainly did, but many are lost to time. So the names fall to the locals. Yurt Trail. Sauna Loop. Henri’s. Staatsburg. And when you’re reporting back, “I’m gonna take the Yurt Trail to the creek gully to the Blixt connector, then back on the loop, down to the Pass Road and home.” I’m gonna be gone until I show back up, OK?
Yurt Trail is trafficked. When you split off from it in the summer, you’re heading up the mountain toward that creek gully to complete the nine-mile mountain bike loop around the valley. But in winter, when you reach the junction, there are no footprints heading uphill. Well, except mine, because apparently I’m just as dumb as I was at 17. I’m just wearing better gear. So up I went, slogging through the snow as it got deeper and deeper, telling myself “this makes it a better workout.”
It’s the silence of winter running that I love so much. Each footstep crunching into the snow, each breath landing like the beat of some haunting ancient song. A tuft of snow falling somewhere in the woods, calling your whole attention to it. A stillness ready to erupt. Your ankles numbing as the snow packs in around them.
Now, there’s no running. At least not on that trail. With nearly two feet in the last two days, all that beautiful snow is resting on extremely weak snowpack. There is a special avalanche advisory for this weekend, and it will likely stick around until the mountains have time to sort themselves out. And my favorite trail runs through two avalanche paths, marked by hundreds of trees snapped in half with nothing to do but tell you what happened. Running has been replaced with dancing in the unfinished loft, with swearing I’ll set up the trainer soon, and especially with shoveling, where like any Type A Capricorn, I’m attempting to become an ambidextrous shoveler to make sure I’m not favoring one side of my body. Given this is the first real storm of the season, I’m going to have plenty of time to practice.
The winds have died down, and in another few minutes, the sun will climb over the ridge. A night spent in a 45° bedroom will be blurred by an afternoon in the main room cooked to 78° by the full winter sun beaming in, eager to get to work on cleaning up what the winds left behind. These hardships and challenges woven with strings of perfect sunny days are what I wanted. As winter flexes and shows us what’s ahead, I am quietly and privately flexing back beneath the warmth of my layers. This is what we moved here for — a never ending gauntlet of Type 2 Fun.
Haw! Brings back very fond memories of my time living in a poorly insulated but blissful cabin on the Suwannee river in Florida. It would freeze now and then all I could do was keep the fireplace roaring as long as I could.
Rather than dealing with avalanches I’d deal with floods and having to kayak to my cabin on stilts from a couple miles away where I’d park my car on higher ground. And out there those kind of floods took several weeks to recede amidst snakes and alligators.
I so loved it all because it meant fully embracing nature’s moods and loving her all the while.
Best time of my life and I’m sure it will be the same for you.
Superb as always. Really look forward to getting your letters, even if I've put off reading this one until I had a "nice cup of tea" and 5 mins spare. You even managed to make me wistful about not living somewhere the weather is trying to kill me. Thanks. Will subscribe.