FORT KENT, Maine — There is a very good reason the roots on our evolutionary tree are planted in the soils of Africa and the Middle East. Those cradles of civilization are warm.
Consider, the average January temperatures in Tanzania — home of the Olduvai Gorge and numerous examples of early human activity — are in the 80s.
Now consider this — the Weather Channel this week designated Caribou as the fifth coldest city in America.
Which, as I stoke the wood stove, leaves me pondering this question — at exactly what point did our bipedal ancestors decide it was a good idea to pack up their hunting and gathering tools and start walking north and west through what is now Siberia, over the frozen Bering Sea and into Canada?
One can only assume the move came after the discovery of fire.
Because, let’s be honest, as a species we are simply not built to withstand temperatures like the ones blasting through Maine this week.
We are, however, eminently equipped to complain and gripe about them.
Everything, it seems, gets harder the more the mercury drops.
Here at Rusty Metal Farm this week the standing temperatures have dipped to the minus 20s, with wind chills approaching minus 50.
Unlike the bears, which are smart enough to hunker down and sleep away the Maine winter, we have to be out and about — work, home and social schedules do not come to a screeching halt just because it’s a little cold outside.
Things just take a little longer, that’s all.
Need to go outside?
It means spending 15 or so minutes pulling on extra layers of everything to protect the body from frostbite.
Need to get to town?
Plan ahead and start the vehicle to allow the motor and fluids to warm up.
Have farm animals?
Twice-daily checking and replacing frozen drinking water with fresh liquid.
The Rusty Metal sled dogs are loving this. Cozy and warm in their straw-filled houses in a dog yard sheltered from the wind, they are getting extra treats throughout the day, as the increase in fat and calories is how they keep warm.
Which also is why I felt no personal guilt in indulging in a few Oreo cookies this week. A gal has to stay warm, after all.
The cold is making life a challenge all over, it seems, with reports of car door locks freezing owners out, an increase in chimney fires due to residents over-stoking fires, pipes freezing and machinery failing to work in the face of double digit subzero temperatures.
Consider my friend Tracy, who in the midst of washing her hair in the shower, had the water stop flowing when her home’s pipes froze.
“A headful of shampoo and no water coming out of the faucet,” she reported. “Made me go buy heat tape [and] I just wrapped my pipes.”
Tracy would not elaborate on exactly how she managed to rinse her soapy hair, other than to say, “There was enough steam [to rinse] coming out of my ears from the lack of water coming out of the shower.”
Of course, the extreme cold can be kind of fun, too.
On Wednesday, while waiting for calls to be returned on news stories I had in progress, I boiled a cup of water, took it out to the deck and tossed it into the minus-25-degree air. Water went up, steam and snowlike ice pellets fell to the ground.
According to some online research conducted while waiting for yet more callbacks, hot water is closer than cold water to already being vapor through evaporation and the interaction with the extreme cold is the final step needed to create the instant snow.
For an indoor experiment to deal with the cold, I turned to my friend and food and spirits expert, Hope, who currently lives in Atlanta and writes a food and travel blog.
A native of Minnesota, Hope is no stranger to subzero temperatures and this week came up with the perfect human antifreeze with a drink that combined bourbon, lemon juice, orange juice, maple syrup and blueberries. Instead of using an ice cube to chill it, I snapped off an icicle from outside which also doubled as a nifty, frozen swizzle stick.
I have dubbed it the “Maine Wint-ah.”
So, as the arctic air continues to pour into Maine from the north, I will divide my time between tending the animals, stoking the fire and looking for more fun, cold-weather experiments.
And there is room for hope. Afterall, mud season is just around the corner.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.