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A Cool Fire

January 05, 2011

Did you ever notice it takes three times longer to do anything outside this time of year? January is the darkest and snowiest month of the year. I thought it was also the windiest but March wins. We gain almost an hour of light by the end of the month if you haven’t noticed. January is dry cracked skin and bitter cold that can give you frost bite and hypothermia without noticing.

I often ponder when taking my winter hikes through the snow in subzero temperatures how much different last July’s heat wave felt. I took the same hike in ninety five humid degrees last summer. It’s now tough to remember the feeling of being overheated and uncomfortable during last summer’s dog days, talk about weather extremes.

In the summer there are critters under every leaf in the woods. At first glance the woods appear dead this time of year but if we take a closer look it’s very much alive. The deep snow pack in most areas is covered in tracks and tunnels. Many bugs and animals do go into hibernation but some are more active now in the cold weather. Deer tend to herd up, safety in numbers. Whitetails continue traveling on designated trails they have been using for centuries walking single file looking for food. Black bear in our area are not true hibernators. Much of their resting or sleeping habits are based on weather and food. During mild winters bear will not hibernate and will continue to scavenge. Cold and snowy winters will put them to sleep. Beaver are still active until the swamp freezes rock hard. They will attempt to keep the water open as late as possible. Birds are fun to watch this time of the year, especially birds of prey. Their hunting techniques are fascinating to observe. Protecting the free range chickens around the garden center from these jet-like predators is a challenge this time of the year.

Ice changes the landscapes in winter like no other force. As water goes from liquid to solid it expands when the temperature falls below freezing. The water traveling through rocks has the ability to break rocks apart as it freezes. The granite in our area is some of the hardest and oldest rock on the planet. If this freezing and thawing continues over the next 200 million years our area could turn into a sandy beach-like region. Something to look forward to.

Keeping warm in January has always been a challenge in our mountain region. In 1744 Ben Franklin must have had enough of January’s cold weather when he designed and built the first Iron box a.k.a Franklin Wood Stove. Benjamin’s woods stove was one of the first free standing fireplaces made of iron. The wood burning stove heats up the iron and radiates warmth into the room. An iron wood burning stove is much more efficient than a conventional fireplace of that period. A pot of water set on top of the iron stove would raise the humidity and will create a comfortable indoor environment with no smoke. Today we know the iron wood stove is still used as an efficient heating device in homes, studios and barns.

For me January is powder under my skis, a quiet read by the fire, soft talk and warm companionship. Goodnight January.