Lesson from a cold snap

10 Dec

I thought I knew everything about winter. I grew up in New England and lived many winters in Maine. Maine people have a reputation for being taciturn: I think it’s just a winter habit that stuck. During Maine winters, you don’t want to talk much outdoors. Damp sub-zero gusts shock your teeth like an errant dentist’s drill.

Here in western Oregon, we’re having a cold snap with night temperatures in the teens. No problem, I think to myself smugly. So imagine my surprise this morning when we have no water; just the sad sound of air wheezing through stiff empty pipes. Into the cat’s bowl, I pour the scant liquid remaining in my glass. I reheat leftover coffee. I call the utility company. And before the utility folks arrive, faint sun outside grows just strong enough to thaw the main pipe.  I hear the water burp, then flow through the faucet I’ve left running just in case.

I’m so grateful to have water. And mindful of how access to potable water is a constant challenge in much of the world. And spoiled to have felt at all disrupted by the few hours of lacking. And finally, chagrined at my smugness.

I’m chagrined because I knew my neighbor’s pipes froze two nights ago. Yesterday, she advised all of us on the street to take precautions since the weather was getting still colder.  And I didn’t heed her, because it just didn’t seem cold enough to worry.  I knew I knew winter.

But what I knew was not here, not now. I knew Maine winter, 25 years ago. In a barn red house built for such winters, with a dirt floored basement and pipes buried deep. Cloaked in drifts of insulating snow. All this time had passed, and I hadn’t adapted my mental model of winter; not after a dozen winters in the Willamette Valley where everything is built for moderation.

I didn’t even realize I hadn’t listened to my neighbor until I was listening to the sound of no water this morning. I wish that I’d be greeted with such an obvious signal every time I didn’t listen in the context of the here and now.

Thanks for the warning anyway, neighbor. I finally heard!

-Kathi Jaworski