Explore | As the Hole Deepens

Wind Chill is for Wimps

// By Tim Sandlin  // Illustrations by birgitta sif

As the valley busily approached 2023, the same question seemed to be on every valley citizen’s lips: does spit really bounce at 50 below zero?

And Maurey Pierce came up with a second question: what are the repercussions of a blue moon on New Year’s Eve?  A blue moon—the second full moon in a single month—is a time when things that don’t usually happen happen. New Year’s Eve is the night people forget their upbringing, so both at the same time is an awesome phenomenon.  

A group of us discussed these burning issues last week over what the waiter told us was limoncello distilled in Chugwater, Wyoming. I think he figured we were tourists and he could pull jackalope level lore on us. Whatever his motive, the limoncello hit the spot on a cold night.  

Roger Ramsey had the blue moon odds figured out mathematically. “A full moon comes every 28 days and there’s one blue moon every couple of years, so there must be a New Year’s Eve blue moon every 56 years. We had one a couple years back, which means we’re not due for another in our lifetime.”

Maurey counted on her fingers. “How come I seem to have a blue period every couple of months?”

As usual, Heather Heidi went spiritual on us. Liqueurs do that to HH.  “The point isn’t how often, it’s how powerful New Year’s Eve will be. Just think, the one night of the year it’s okay to wear funny hats and kiss strangers, coupled with the triple-power full moon. The vibes are astral.”

I missed the point. “Funny hats and coupled?”

Whenever we’re in public, my wife, Delores, treats me like someone else’s bumptious child—lovable and cute but not her responsibility. As she talked, she dipped her cloth napkin in her water glass and wiped my mouth. “Jack London wrote a short story called ‘To Build a Fire’ where he said at 50 below spit freezes in mid-air and bounces.” 

“He said crackles, not bounces,” Roger said. “It hits the snow and crackles.”

“I heard it hits the street and shatters,” Maurey said.

Delores set them straight. “I’ve hocked on every available surface, and at 50 below, spit shatters on concrete, bounces off a wooden sidewalk, and crackles in snow.”

I’d read London’s story. This guy was an idiot, and he died trying to warm himself with dog guts. I don’t think Jack knew diddley about gauging sub-zero temperatures with secretions.

“New Year’s Eve, 1980, I peed my name in the snow at 62 below zero,” I said. “It froze so solid I picked it up with my mitten and propped it on the war memorial in the square. Looked like a neon Pete.”

Delores said, “You hate being called Pete.”

“I ran out of power half way up the R.”

As usual, when old-timers bring up the winter of ’80-’81, the newcomers listened with dubious attention. “That year, the difference between New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July was 158 degrees,” Roger said. “Sixty-two below to 96 above.”

“I remember walking by the bank a couple days later and noticing 40 below Fahrenheit is the same as 40 below Celsius,” Delores said.

I put in my two cents of nostalgia. “That’s the week David Swift created the saying we all repeat to relatives back home every winter,” and the whole table chanted in unison, “Wind chill is for wimps.”

“You know the part I hate,” Maurey threw down an entire degustation glass of limoncello. “I hate whenever it gets cold and people start talking about body parts of witches and well diggers. Have you ever touched a well digger’s backside?”

She scoped the table, but no one raised their hand. “Then why is it six times today I’ve heard someone say, ‘Colder than a well digger’s ass’?  Who is this well digger and where does he get off using his butt as the cold standard?”

Roger came to our rescue. “There’s an old Kiowa legend about a brave named Dances With Chiselers who, in the winter of the Starved Buffalo, went out to hunt and froze his ass off.”

Heather Heidi said, “He tells one more Kiowa legend and I’m going to fwow up.” 

“Two young thunderbirds found Dances With Chiselers’ tail end lying in the snow, and they mistaked it for a beautiful spring larkspur, so they carefully carried the prize to their mom in the Happy Hunting Grounds.”

“This sounds like a long legend,” I said. “I’m switching to coffee.”

“The thunderbird’s mom took one look at the gift and said, ‘This is no spring larkspur, this is just another frozen Kiowa butt,’ and she hurled Dances With Chiselers’ posterior into the heavens where it still sails to this day. And you know what?”

Delores made a groan sound. “I can see what’s coming.”

“Whenever that twin-cheeked orb flies over the mountains, the Kiowa people gather together to marvel at the majesty of the blue moon.” JH

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