Membership has it’s privileges

December 20, 2008

I’m a proud card-carrying member of the 20 below club.

Twenty below isn’t just cold.  It isn’t a turn up the thermostat a bit and throw on a sweater kind of chilly.  It isn’t even a run and warm up the car ten minutes before you have to leave kind of cold. 

Twenty below is a deadly cold.  When it hits 20 below zero, don’t forget the hat and gloves if you’d like to keep your ears and fingers.  In 20 below, the hairs inside your nose freeze the second you open your front door. 

If you’re unfortunate enough to have to take off your gloves to unlock your car, your fingers won’t work quite right by the time they hit the steering wheel. 

Drive down any side street in a northern town during a deep-freeze, and you’ll see orange extension cords stretching out to the street from every other house. 

This isn’t a tacky way of plugging in holiday lights.  This is the only way anyone without a heated garage can start their car in the morning, thanks to a miraculous little invention called a block heater. 

There is no going out to grab the mail in your stocking feet when it’s 20 below.  There is no going out to grab the mail, period.  The people who made the “rain or shine” commitment at the United States Postal Service had never experienced 20 below. 

There is a special place in Heaven for mail carriers trekking through snowdrifts in sub-zero temperatures. 

People used to living in 20 below weather know to keep a pantry stocked with canned goods and a few extra pounds of hamburger in the freezer so they don’t have to run to the store during a cold snap.  Twenty below turns even the most citified townie into a bit of a survivalist.

Twenty below is the reason why, when someone moves north seeking a Wild West wilderness adventure or a quaint country lifestyle, the locals start making bets as to whether or not they’ll make it through the winter. 

You have to really love a place to endure 20 below.  It takes a certain kind of person to want to live in a place that gets that cold.  You live there because it lives inside of you, and not even the deepest cold can freeze you out. 

It’s almost as though the landscape itself is trying to dispel you, testing your limits, testing your commitment to the place.  Some leave, but most of us stay.  We understand that 20 below doesn’t just mean frostbite and dead car batteries. 

Twenty below means an excuse to stay home with the people we love and watch movies and drink too much hot chocolate.  Twenty below makes us feel tough, as we layer on two scarves and three pairs of socks to go out and shovel our walks twice a day. 

Becoming a member of the 20 below club takes more than just surviving the winter.  The true test is whether or not you make it through with a smile on your face. 

You must look forward to the next winter, armed with a snow shovel in one hand and a set of jumper cables in the other.  You must love the place as much in the spring as you did in the fall.  You do that, and you’re officially initiated. 

Welcome to the club!

This article first appeared in the Lewistown News-Argus December 20, 2008.