Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A hoary night, when lonely men struggled to keep their fires lit and cabins warm.

The first three times I went to the Cabin was in the winter when I flew out to Colorado during the break between semesters. The Cabin was not designed for winter use; hand-built by Phil and Marko's parents, it's got lots of single-pane windows and is insulated with tinfoil. A fire in the river rock fireplace, which is large, is the main source of heat, and there was (until about a year ago) a wood stove for additional warmth.

Jujubi, Denver D, Phil, and a good friend of Phil's, Bard, would go up to the Cabin and walked in the snow, played cards, talked, read, and listened to music and ate big country meals (read: artery-clogging) that Bard would cook. We sipped a fair amount of Yukon Jack and peach schnapps, and smoked cigars. Jujubi, Denver D, and I would often get caught up in listening to Bard tell shaggy-dog stories about raising rabbits, slaughtering sheep, driving a forklift at Coors, or building houses with his father. The slow cadence of his speech was mesmerizing even if the stories were not.

One night we were there the temperature fell and fell. The four of them played pinochle while I wrote a really lame short story and watched the fire which Phil and Bard kept burning high. The wood stove was cooking away in the corner and we were still chilled, and finally Phil pulled out the kerosene heater and turned on the baseboards. Jujubi and I, from temperate climates, had never heard of it being "too cold to snow," but the guys, all native Coloradans, told us it was.

It would not have snowed that night anyway. There were no clouds, and the sky was a dark royal blue with a big white moon and bright, bright stars strewn across it. The Milky Way was visible. . . I'd never seen such a sky. The dark blue above was reflected on the snow, which shimmered a light blue back at the stars. Standing outside for minute, I was totally taken in by the color and the silence (the river being muffled under ice and five feet of snow). I wrote a haiku about the snow, the last line of which was "What color is blue!"

When we went to bed, the thermometer indicated that it was five below zero outside. It didn't seem much warmer in the Cabin and we all prepared to sleep in our long johns, sweaters, and wool socks. Bard had his sleeping bag rated to 15 below and Jujubi and Phil took the double bed with the electric blanket cranked high. Denver D and I, both small, piled all the extra blankets onto the daybed and wrapped ourselves around each other.

After the fire died down, and because the kerosene heater was turned off, it got even colder in the Cabin. Denver D started to shiver and could not stop. As much of our bodies were touching as could, and I began to worry that he was getting too cold, not to mention that his shivering was disturbing my comfort. After a few minutes of insisting that Denver D put on a hat, I got up and grabbed a wool beanie and pulled it over his ears. Denver D was really worried himself that he was losing too much heat and was afraid to get out of bed. Eventually he stopped shivering and we were able to sleep.

In the morning there was a skim of ice in the bucket in the kitchen and our toothbrushes were frozen to the counter.

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