Friday, January 5, 2018

Cold Weather Coping, Old School

Winter...it's ba-ck!

The place: Chicago
The date: January 2018
The temperature: zero degrees and dropping like a silver ball on Times Square on New Years Eve

It's a typical evening at our house. We've had dinner together, and then all occupants of the household migrate to their separate corners. The kids go up to their rooms and their laptops. The husband goes to his office to work on his computer. The dog and I stretch out on the couch to watch TV. Thank heavens for modern technology and central heating.
ZAP!
We are plunged into darkness. silence. Then the sound of four sets of footsteps wandering around, trying to find each other. Luckily we have cell phones and can use the flashlight feature to find the candles. We know the house will stay warm for a time, but if they don't get the power going soon, we could be in trouble. The dog is having a panic attack. Our phones start buzzing with text messages sent from neighbors to find out if we've lost power too. The jokes are flying, because it's inconvenient, but are we really in danger?

When the temperature drops, I stop functioning. I have the luxury of crashing under a comforter on the couch. This gets me thinking about how folks coped with winter back in the day. Back in the day when you had to keep functioning in order to survive.

Some of the Native Americans picked up and moved to more hospitable winter locations--like some retirees today. For the Plains Indians this meant moving the tipis. At a first glance, the tipi doesn't look like a thing you'd want to hole up in for the winter, but actually they're quite cosy. The buffalo hide is an excellent barrier to the wind (It works for the buffalo too.), and the openings at the ground and hole at the top create an updraft for the fire blazing in the middle. Inhabitants slept together under buffalo robes to share body heat.

Indian camp in winter

Not always so weather resistant was the frontier cabin, which was drafty by comparison.  If you were lucky enough to live in a sod house (and that's not a sentence I'll probably ever use again), you'd have the advantage of being better insulated from the cold. But, in either case the frontiersmen tended to build small one or two room cabins, which are easier to keep heated by a fire or stove. Families gathered together in front of the fire to wait out winter evenings. Sometimes of these cabins had sleeping lofts for the children. Heat rises and the children would bundle up in one or two beds under layers of quilts and blankets.

Togetherness in a frontier cabin, Iowa. ("who's at the door!? I hope it's UPS with that space heater I ordered.")


Means to transport the heat from the fire to help warm beds, or to make the carriage ride more pleasant were developed. We've all seen the long handled bed warmer that was filled with hot rocks and slid under the covers. Similarly, metal boxes fitted into a wood frame or heated soapstone wrapped in rags were used as foot warmers in bed and in the carriages.

Ride in a one-horse open sleigh, brrrr. (oil painting by Cornelius Krieghoff)

One striking commonality to me, either Indian or frontier family, huddling together through during the frigid days of winter was one way to survive. Today it takes a power outage and a panicky dog to get my family all in one room!

Do you think we've lost something with all we've gained in technology?

Images courtesy of Wikicommons 


6 comments:

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I did always enjoy the family togetherness when the power would go out. Stay warm!!

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Hi, Kristy! Family togetherness are special times, for sure! To be honest, though, I can see some downsides to living with your family all in one room. It's hard to imagine really, and then take away the TV and phones. The thing that gets to me first when we lose power at night is the boredom. No reading light makes for a loooong evening for me. Thanks for stopping by.

Andrea Downing said...

ONe of my favorite places to visit in Grand Teton Park is Cunningham's Cabin. Now, it has lost all its chinking but even with it, I cannot imagine going through a Wyoming winter when it used to hit -45 regularly. Even today, if it were chinked, it would be brutal. Add to that, the cabin has a dogtrot or breezeway between two halves. Can you imagine how that would have filled with snow? Then again, they wouldn't have had to worry about burst pipes I guess--just the well frozen over.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

I was thinking about that place, Andi. I can't imagine...Visions of Jack Nicholson in The Shining come to mind.

Anne Schroeder said...

So much common sense lost to the ages. Could we even survive without the goodies we have today?

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Hi, Anne, thanks for stopping by. Yes, you do have to wonder if we've become so technologically advanced so quickly if we've lost some of our collective wisdom. I remember also the years before AC and how my grandmother had a system to keep her house cool, which involved keeping the curtains drawn and the house shut up until the air cooled off later in the day. We do have better outerwear though, don't we?