Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cheer Up--You Could Be Frozen

One hot summer day when I was about eight years old, I remember seeing a television commercial for Coca-Cola: lots of happy people all bundled up, sledding and pelting each other with snowballs. A moment of refreshment for all viewers.

According to the thermometer, it's 92 outside and climbing, so I thought my blog followers would enjoy a Coca-Cola of a blog post. Because I've just picked up the most wonderful book, Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Bill Streever.

Now, you know my love for disaster books--shipwrecks, storms, failed explorations, shark attacks--and almost best of all, my love for books about people freezing to death. Well, this book is a peach. For one thing, Streever has read about all the same failed explorations and storms I have, and one can never hear too much about them. Plus it's lovely to have everyone in one place, like a family reunion: Robert Falcon Scott, Shackleton, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the victims of the Children's Blizzard. He even quoted Laura Ingalls Wilder! (I may be in love.)

And interspersed throughout I find my other favorite non-fiction book ingredient: factoids that can be thrown out at cocktail parties, were I ever invited to any. Consider:

  1. Zero on the Kelvin scale is equivalent to 459 below 0 Fahrenheit. Just above zero Kelvin, helium becomes a liquid! (If you drank it and it didn't turn your innards instantly to Popsicles, do you think you would still talk in the Mickey Mouse voice?)
  2. Adolphus Greely was the first American soldier to enlist as a private and retire as a general--career highlight. Career lowlights: (1) led a failed Arctic expedition in 1881. Of the 25 who set out, only 7 were picked up three years later. They even ate sea fleas, for Pete's sake! And (2) as Weather Bureau Chief in 1888 he predicted a "cold wave" for the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This cold wave turned out to be a monster, fast-moving blizzard that claimed about 250 lives, many of them schoolchildren.
  3. At windchills of minus 40, if you have appropriate clothing on, you can still expect your core temperature to drop about "one degree every thirty minutes." Once your core drops to 95, not only are you shivering like a madman, you've also grown argumentative and "cold stupid"--quite the combination. But even "cold stupid" beats "cold crazy," which sets in by the time your core is 87. This might explain why it's hard to get my kids out of the pool, even if they're shivering. It might also explain why climbers dying on Mt. Everest call their left-behind pregnant wives to let them know they're dying, and think this is a good idea.
  4. Cold bodies burn 400 more calories a day than bodies at comfortable temperatures! Why has no one thought of cold as a crash diet? People could go hang out in meat lockers together. Beats stomach flu.
On that note, I leave you. Hope this has been refreshing!


  1. It's 82 degrees IN MY HOUSE at 9:04 p.m. Sounds like I need to read this book!

  2. Here it's only a couple of days later and I'm already on the cold-crash diet. Any more summer days like this one and I'm going to have to fix the furnace!