The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

About this cold spell

I went out after the mail the other night. It is not a long walk. That odd tinkling sound when I came in was the water I’d drunk just before going out – turned to ice cubes in my tummy.

We have had some cold, though not much. We are still in one of the warmest winters of the past several years. The TV weather-guessers try to be excited over freezing nights, then admit there have not been nearly as many of them around here as once were considered normal. Friends who once drove to Florida for the winter now stop in southern Pennsylvania.

The hint of Winter Present has me remembering winters of my childhood when, for instance, snow piled up 24 inches at a time between October and February — and then came the really big storms. They were winters when March came “in like a lion” went “out like a lamb.” 

We lived out in the woods, three miles from a town so small the “Welcome to” and “Come Back Soon” signs were on the same two-by-four. We would have used a four-by-four, but the year the expense was in the proposed budget, voters objected to the larger post. The two-by-four would bend in the wind, they argued. A more sturdy post likely would snap off and then cost money to replace.

In my younger years, I lived with my brother, two sisters and Mom and Dad in a cabin a half-mile from the paved road, at the end of a half-mile bulldozed two-track path among the trees. Real cold happened the first two weeks of January. The bottom would fall out of the thermometer, almost literally, and remain below zero for nearly the whole time.

The first time Dad, at the time an about-to-retire New York City policeman, experienced those temperatures, he thought the thermometer had broken where he had mounted it on the outside window frame. Off he went to town, to Larry Eustis’ hardware store, to replace the obviously defective device. 

Mr. Eustis was OK with trading thermometers, but first he took Dad outside to a box of similar measuring devices – every one of them with their needles poking at -34F. 

Our plumbing was powered by a pair of youthful legs carrying buckets from the well about 50 feet from the kitchen door. They ran faster in winter than in summer because if the carrier didn’t move quickly, the water often would freeze on the way to the door.

 Mom kept a kettle of water on the wood stove where it served double duty as a humidifier and as a source of hot water to thaw and prime the hand pump. One poured some of the water into the top of the pump, then worked the handle like crazy to get water flowing before the pump could drain into the well.

Getting water in the evening also meant taking along the Coleman lantern so we could see to pour the hot water into the pump. When I came inside, we’d set the lantern behind the wood stove to warm it enough we could blow it out. (Maybe I exaggerate slightly – but only slightly.) 

I admit it’s been a little chilly outdoors the past few days, but it’s still above zero. In some places, people are swimming in the river – a pastime I eschew. I learned early to avoid falling into water below the ice.

I did teach Granddaughter to walk barefoot in the snow. It is like walking on coals but without the smoke. Now all we need is snow.

Thanks for coming along. Please take a minute to share the trip with your friends.


  1. Priscilla Daly

    January 30, 2022 at 18:18

    Enjoyed! My, how times/technology has changed. Thanks for the great read! ♥️

    • Yeah, they have. I think I don’t want to go back, though I did enjoy late night clearing the driveway with the snowthrower, a pleasure I’ve not had the past several years.

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