The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

January 7, 2014

It's winter

Like most people, we like to talk about the weather, but it’s rare when we actually get up off the couch to do something about it.

Yet the cold snap this week, with discussion of numbers of minus-this or minus-that, had us reminiscing about what it was like back in the day.

Some of the older folks among us may understand that what is happening today, historically speaking, was then known as “winter.”

It has a long history and, in fact, seemed to come around about every year or so.

That was before breathable and waterproof miracle fabrics, or even polar fleece longjohns. We had Woolrich hunting jackets, dark red with a thin weave of black plaid. They still sell those today, and they’re still as expensive as they were then.

But they were the only good hunting gear we could get. Even if they got wet, the thick wool would provide some warmth. And we could almost dry them out if we hung them overnight next to the hunting camp’s stove. Almost.

Back then, there were several less-scientific answers to the question of the day: Just how cold was it?

Well, there was “It’s nippy out there,” and then it progressed to “It’s durn cold,” and then it went to “It’s pretty durn cold!” all the way to “It’s awful durned cold!”

Times were simpler then, and that was good enough for people. It guided us as we set about our chores, be they city work or mine work or farm work, shoveling snow or feeding animals and livestock. No weather was so bad that animals were allowed to go unfed or unsheltered.

Those descriptions, though, weren’t good enough for modern weathercasters. So they had to invent the “wind-chill factor,” so they could put a number to “It’s durn cold — and windy!” in order to make us feel even colder.

The coldest day ever in West Virginia was Dec. 30, 1917, when it got down to minus-37 degrees in Lewisburg.

We’re thankful we’re not going to repeat that day any time soon.

We realize that the low temperatures we’re fighting through can cause serious problems, and be a danger to many, so we’ve published some tips on how to stay safe and sound.

But the weather we’re seeing is part of an ancient rhythm, a short phase in the lovely changes we experience as we pass through the seasons in southern West Virginia.

Winter itself is something to be celebrated. For without it, and these long nights and cold days, we would not feel so exhilarated at the arrival of spring.

It was ever thus, and the first warmish days of a new year complete an eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.

There are no numbers to measure what that means to the human spirit.

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