By Jim Ignasher
“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” – A quote attributed to famous author Mark Twain
Recently I was at a local gas station on a morning the temperature was a bit balmy – for Siberia – when I overheard one man say to another, “Cold enough for ya?” To which the other replied something about a brass monkey. It occurred to me that Mark Twain was right, we New Englanders are always focused on the weather, which humorist and journalist Kin Hubbard pointed out is a good thing, for “Nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in awhile.”
I suppose people have been using the “cold enough for ya?” greeting since the last Ice Age. As to “brass monkeys”, (for those who don’t know), it’s commonly believed the term refers to a brass platform used on early naval vessels designed to hold iron cannon balls in a stack within easy reach of the cannon should hostilities suddenly arise. It’s alleged that in extremely cold weather the brass would contract to a point where the cannon balls would fall off and roll around the deck. Thus it was said to be, “cold enough to freeze the cannon balls off a brass monkey”, or words to that effect. However, many historians believe this to be a myth, arguing that no navy would utilize something that would allow for live cannon balls to roll around a pitching deck. True or not, the phrase seems to get a lot of usage.
Keeping with the weather-metaphor theme, it appears there are an infinite number of responses to the timeless open-ended question, “How cold is it?” which can elicit both literal and figurative responses, with the latter being more fun.
A literal answer involves simple facts. “Its twelve degrees, with a wind chill of minus ten.” Which I think we can all agree, is a bit chilly.
A more colorful response might be:
So cold hitchhikers are holding pictures of their thumbs.
So cold that shivering counts as exercise.
So cold I chipped a tooth…on my soup.
So cold I had to break the smoke off my chimney.
So cold donut shops are serving coffee on a stick.
So cold we pulled everything out of the freezer and crawled inside to keep warm.
And to borrow another quote attributed to Mark Twain, “Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we’d all have frozen to death!”
And new expressions are being invented all the time. Perhaps one day there will be a Star Trek episode where Scottie will say to Captain Kirk, “It’s cold enough to freeze the dilithium crystals off a warp drive.”
Of course “cold” is a relative term. In autumn, after a hot summer, we think 50-degree weather is cold, but by spring, after a long tough winter, we’re ready to start dancing in the streets in tee-shirts when the temperature gets that high.
And people have ways of describing the range of outdoor temperatures without using specific numbers. For example:
“It’s sweater weather.”
“It’s jacket weather.”
“It’s coat weather.”
“It’s heavy coat and sweater weather.”
“It’s I’m moving to Florida weather!”
And to those lucky enough to spend the winter in Florida, why do some of you insist on calling during a blizzard to ask, “So, how’s the weather up there?”
Yet some embrace winter’s temperatures, such as skiers, snow-mobilers, ice fishermen, heating oil vendors, and those who enjoy partaking in “polar bear plunges”.
“C’mon in, the water’s fine!”
Sure, in Bermuda!
New Englanders are generally well prepared for winter weather, but one wouldn’t know it by watching the nightly news before a big snowstorm. The obligatory footage of milk and bread flying off store shelves like it’s the end of civilization as we know it, followed by people scrambling to buy everything from rock salt to snow blowers dominates the first few minutes of the broadcast.
And sometimes weather forecasters hint that the upcoming storm might be “one for the record books”.
OMG! Dude, ruuuun!
And while the storm is raging, live news broadcasts are done from remote locations like the Apple Valley Mall, with reporters standing in the middle of it all telling us it’s snowing.
Forty years later, big snowstorms are still being compared to the Blizzard of 1978, but as a point of fact the northeast has experienced much larger snow-falls such as “The Great Snow of 1717”, during which a whopping five feet of snow fell over the region, and the Blizzard of 1888, dubbed “The Great White Hurricane”, which dropped up to 60 inches of snow.
And once it stayed cold year-round, such as in 1816, dubbed, “The year without a summer”. In some areas of New England temperatures remained cold enough to allow frost to form on the ground even in July!
However, all of that pales in comparison to the last Ice Age which ended about eleven-thousand years ago, for according to scientists, Rhode Island was covered by an icy glacier that in some places was up to a mile thick!
Furthermore, that Ice Age lasted for roughly 110,000 years!
“Cold enough for ya?”
Which brings to mind yet another quote attributed to Mark Twain, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” In this case one could add, “or even a few thousand years”, for scientists have determined that the last Ice Age, wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last. Yet not to worry, the next glacier scheduled to cover New England isn’t due for two or three thousand years.
For those who don’t like the cold, take heart, for summer weather will return, bringing with it favorite outdoor activities like barbecues, swimming, and long days at the beach. There will of course be at least one “heat wave”, maybe two, during which someone will no doubt ask, “Hot enough for ya?”
At least none of us will have to shovel a single drop of sunshine.