The Creeping Chill

Mulling on our ability to conquer the cold


     Snow tumbles groundward
     gripping fenceposts as it falls
     icy fingers slipping with no sound
     melting dripping down our walls

     We delight! We laugh
     knowing water water water
     refills the well;
     we think but of ourselves knowing
     wood is stacked away in the shed
     and electrons in the wires still dance:
     we will be warm in our beds.

     Hours before dawn
     during our deepest dreams
     the creeping chill
     wakes us in panic from our sleep.


     We go back to sleep after rousing the logs on the fire, without thought to those who have no such control over their most basic needs. The sheep sleep in stoic silence beneath the whispering trees. Mice scurry frantically for any morsel we have left behind. We are not in their situation anymore. If you are reading this on a computer, my bet is that you also have the power to keep yourself warm, give yourself shelter, food, and evening entertainment.

     What a long way we have come.


     Here on the plateau, the ability to heat ourselves comes from a conscious use of carbon resources. We do have to fire up the wood stoves at night, or sleep with electric blankets. There is no central heating because there is no central place in which we all sleep every night, unlike an apartment building or house.

     The energy we use to keep ourselves warm is still carbon based, as it has been for thousands of years. Only now, the electricity we use comes from coal, oil, and natural gas. Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, speaks about the five carbon pools that we as a civilization continue to use in the October 2010 edition of The Sun. We began as a civilization with agriculture, which uses the carbon stored in soil. Next we began using the forests to build homes and create vast empires. We then began to be industrious [sic] through the use of the coal carbon pool. And now, these days, we depend on oil and natural gas to fuel our days.

     Because we have learned to use these carbon stores, we have had the opportunity to spend our time thinking about carbon pools, doing penguin research, and contemplating the next chess move rather than thinking about keeping the frost from biting our toes. Einstein presumably did not have to think about his chilly bones, and instead thought about the curious photoelectric effect and how it could be better explained by photons, which eventually led to the much-touted Theory of Relativity. Technology's march has a lot to do with how comfortable we are.

     Let me tell a bit about how this plays in to my life. When I am not at Windward, I work as a field science educator in the Olympics. Although there are many arguments about the particulars of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, as an educator with the outdoors as my classroom, it is clear to me that the most basic needs must be satisfied. Only after I know that my students are comfortably warm and dry in the rain, not hungry or thirsty, have used the bathroom, feel safe in the physical environment as well as in the environment where their ideas will be respected and listened to, then and only then can they learn. If they want to, of course, and it's my job to convince them that they do!


     So. I encourage you to think for a moment about the carbon pools you use every day. How long does it take for that carbon to be collected in the form that you now use? I encourage you to think about what things you are able to do given the fact that your basic needs are satisfied. Can you indulge in reading this article from start to finish, for example, or is a mountain lion stalking you as you try to glean a little perspective?

     I saw you look over your shoulder for a moment there.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71