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Surviving our bitter cold

Surviving our bitter cold


As I drove to work early Monday morning, I noticed the mist-covered crescent moon. It was the first clear thing in the sky, day or night, after a foggy week that had turned frigid and snowy on the weekend.

The crescent seemed extra tiny, as if God was downloading a photo of a full moon on a computer screen that froze and the tiny sliver of light was the only completed part.

Middle-of-the-street snow piles in downtown Kearney and other towns also reflect early 2021 weather. Native Nebraskans and longtime residents are used to the piles, but they’re an outrageous mystery for newer folks like my Hub colleague and decades-old friend Mary Jane Skala, a Cleveland native certainly familiar with snow removal standards. The snow piles are a running joke in the Hub newsroom.

I hired a snow-removal crew to clear my driveway and sidewalks after the Jan. 25 blizzard left behind lots of heavy, wet snow and had them return last Sunday. I didn’t have the stamina or ambition to spend an hour or two — in one session or several — clearing a lesser amount of snow in sub-zero windchills.

Often when I complain about cold, snowy weather, Mary Jane tells me I’d never survive in Cleveland. I visited her there more than 20 years ago on a cloudy October weekend with some snowflakes falling.

As we stood on Lake Erie’s shore near the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and new Browns stadium, a cold wind was blowing off the water. Maybe the stadium location was selected because lake-effect weather common for Cleveland fans could be an advantage when hosting future NFL playoff games against teams with warm weather home fields.

I was as cold as I ever want to be Tuesday morning when I stood in the snow along the ice-covered Platte River at Rowe Sanctuary and took photos of Dawson Public Power District linemen attaching UV light units to a crossarm at the top of a power pole. The system will help sandhill cranes and other birds avoid collisions with the power lines over the river by making the lines more visible.

I admire, but don’t envy, the many people who do essential outdoor work in all kinds of weather, such as utility workers, livestock producers, first responders and snow plow drivers. That’s especially true during an Arctic blast, when mist rises from the Platte as if it’s frozen with dry ice, skin burns when exposed to the cold, frozen glove-covered hands and booted feet ache as they start to warm, and one misstep on a slick street, sidewalk or farm yard can result in an ungraceful, if not bone-breaking, landing.

On the sidewalk in front of the Hub office are strange circular ice crystal patterns that resemble flat frozen jellyfish. As I looked at them while weighted down in clothes — four layers on top and three each on my legs and feet — I wondered how scientists in Antarctica or other folks who live and work in mostly or continuously frozen places get things done.

How did my ancestors, other early settlers and Native Americans survive physically and psychologically when faced with many terrible Great Plains winters with basic shelters and limited food? The simple answer is they had to adapt to the world and weather around them.

Mary Jane is right. I probably wouldn’t survive in Cleveland or any place along or north of the Great Lakes where winters are longer and usually more brutal.

It’s also true that I wouldn’t survive — or at least wouldn’t thrive — as a wilderness pioneer, Antarctica researcher, Nebraska Sandhills rancher or Dawson Public Power lineman.

Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.

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