Home > Vagaries > When the Cold Wind Blows

When the Cold Wind Blows

I arrived back from winter break into scarily cold temperatures in Minnesota. It went down to about -34 degrees Celsius, and about -48 wind chill. There was good news — my friend who lives in Faribault (which is right by Northfield) told me that this was about rock-bottom, as far as temperatures go.

I arrived back late on Saturday afternoon, and spent a slow Sunday on laundry, emails, and prepping for classes.

My first class of the term was on Monday, at the Weitz Center for Creativity. The Weitz Center is, unfortunately, some blocks away from most of the campus buildings, the misfortune in this case being the cold and the wind. It wasn’t that I found myself miserably cursing at the cold under my scarf — I’d actually been feeling quite optimistic at the prospect of starting classes again — but I did find myself, quite without any directed intention, singing out a half-forgotten tune to myself into my scarf.

In the early morning march
With a field-pack on my back,
With an aching in my arms
And my body full of sweat.

I’m a long, long way from home,
And I miss my lover so.
In the early morning march,
When the cold wind blows.

(Refrain.)

I remember genuinely enjoying the music of this old army song on a few occasions. The refrain consists of repeating the line at the end of the verse four times (which, when sung in the usual call-and-echo context, turns into eight). Each instance varies in melodic contour, and each arc fills the whole line, such that the lines bleed into each other if you hold the notes to their full value. Lyric-wise, too, it’s a nice song; simple but evocative.

While the wind at 0530 on Pulau Tekong can be quite chilly, the cold wind blowing in Minnesota is something else. Before braving the wind that morning, knowing that any exposed area of skin would be an invitation to frostbite, I’d had a proper plan for my layers and under-layers of clothes, made sure the hats, collars, sleeve-ends etc. matched up, and had laced up my boots army-tight for ankle support and water-proofing in the ice and snow. Perhaps it was the thought of these preparations with my head down against the wind that brought the marching song to mind.

I am dramatizing a bit — I fortunately wasn’t in any serious danger on my walk to or from class. It was cold, though, and cold enough to be dangerous to someone who didn’t know to respect it, but I’d been well warned and so sufficiently armored.

Monday and Tuesday were rock-bottom days, temperature-wise, but it’s been getting warmer since, so much so that it was a degree above freezing tonight and you hear the people in town saying, “It’s so nice out.”

During the week, though, my mind was mainly on class and registration matters. I had exciting first classes, and registration’s been smooth so far, with three solid classes for this term (three being the norm). I’ve also managed to prepare an appeal to overload a fourth class in computer science.

It was for this computer science class that I found myself self-administering a crash course in LaTeX. Week One was most clearly marked by the hours in front of computer screens looking up LaTeX tutorials and trying to code tables in it. The learning curve made my first two days with it pretty intense, but I feel pretty good about learning the skill in a pretty short amount of time. While I’m somewhat pleasantly surprised at my ability to sit for hours at a time in front of computer screens while trying to scratch out the right answers to my problem sets in exactly the right format, I’m not sure this borderline obsessive work-pattern has been entirely healthy for me; the rest of my week in school feels somewhat lost in the glare.

The weekend was also slightly surreal. On Saturday night I found myself betrayed by my wish for a quiet drink. I found myself joined at my table by a party of friends (a band and friends of the band), some of whom had been playing at a restaurant in town earlier in the night. When the first few of them sat down I was quite happy to share the space and converse, but I didn’t realize how large the party was, or how animated they would be once they were all settled in — it got to sing-alongs and some table-perching. They were very friendly, though, and I was mostly not uncomfortable, but it all felt slightly surreal.

At some point, I decided I’d take a quick look outside. I hadn’t realized that they’d set up an ice bar, and that most of the deck area had been decorated with ice sculptures. I realized that this weekend it was warm enough (perverse, I know) for the ice bar. In addition to the actual bar and the sculptures, the shots were served in ice too, and there’s an area for you to throw the ice-glass after you take the shot. Encountering all this also felt rather surreal, but something I appreciated was meeting the sculptor and talking about the stuff.

It’s Minnesota-warm, at the end of this week of Winter 2014.

Edit: Something I omitted the first time round: among the sculptures on the deck was an ice bear. I didn’t actually see the ice bear, because it had been mysteriously smashed, most probably by someone who had walked by. I only heard about it from the sculptor, in the course of his explaining some kind of spiritual significance of the bear sculpture, which was related to a very sad story about his son’s death, presumably on military duties. The sculptor wasn’t emotional during the telling, but from what he said, what he seemed to feel most strongly about was how the callous action of the passer-by who’d happened to smash that one particular sculpture was, ultimately, without a sensible explanation.

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Categories: Vagaries Tags: , ,
  1. 19 January 2014 at 6:12 am

    I love quiet drinks too (:

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