I don’t have anything else on my mind today, so I call your attention to two recent NYT stories with one thing in common — very cold water.
The first is about winter surfers on Lake Superior, people who greet the season with the infamous gales of November and spend the rest of the winter in dry suits and petroleum jelly, waiting for the Minnesota surf to come up and a singular experience to unfold:
By noon, a foot of snow was on the road, flakes blowing sideways in winds gusting up to 45 miles an hour. But a dozen surfers were suited up and in the water, paddling out with their heads down, over waves and into a whiteout, disappearing into an abyss.
The other story is about the scene at the Russian Orthodox Epiphany, when its members mark the end of the Christmas season by cutting cross-shaped holes in the ice of local rivers and ponds and then plunging in for a little new year’s baptism, described as:
…the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the water and the 20- or 30-second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.”
In more proletarian parts of the country, this is sometimes called a polar-bear swim. I did it one year. Fort Wayne holds its official dunking in one of the filthy rivers, but my friend Mark the Shark started his own tradition at his lake house two counties away, and the idea of plunging into cleaner water finally convinced me to give it a try.
MtS is a somewhat disorganized person. The first year, he sent a notice to the local newspaper about the upcoming event, then forgot about it until New Year’s Day, when his wife looked out the window and said, “There are a whole bunch of cars pulling into the driveway. Do you know anything about that?” The first year’s swim attracted about five plungers, including Mark and his son, and many more spectators.
The following year was more organized, and the weather more dramatic — an early cold snap iced up the lake and laid several inches of snow everywhere. I called in the morning and asked what the plans were for making the hole. “Oh, I thought I might call the fire department, see if they could send over somebody with a chain saw,” Mark said. (This was two hours before the announced plunge.) Alan rolled his eyes and retrieved our Kubota from the basement, and he handled the chore. We learned how you cut a hole in ice big enough for a bunch of people to stand around while a bunch more people jump in — you saw grave-size pieces, then push them under the ice sheet with a pole. It made the fringe nice and stable. At one point Alan looked down and saw a very sleepy frog swimming near the surface; perhaps the noise of the saw awakened him from hibernation. A bunch of Amish people showed up to gape, and afterward we had mini quiches and mulled wine in the warm living room.
The following year was the one I finally got wet. It wasn’t as cold — the water was open — and I simply resolved not to think about it. Came to water’s edge wrapped in a towel, dropped it, thought BANZAI and dunked. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. I once went into northern Lake Huron in October, and that was worse — I remember my limbs twitching as all the blood made a speedy exit for the core, a freaky feeling. But the New Year’s plunge was almost pleasant, and had that baptismal effect that leads to the nirvana the Russian guy was after. You emerge feeling not half-dead, but alive and awake in a whole new way. I didn’t even take the warm shower afterward, because I already felt as clean as virgin bride.
I sometimes wonder, as the population moves south, if our fear of cold doesn’t increase by the year. People who think nothing of driving 85 miles an hour on the freeway quiver at the thought of a “dangerous” Minnesota winter. We’re in the midst of a tough one here, and I have done my share of bitching about it. But I’ve also noticed I do most of my bitching from inside the warm house, and once I’ve resolved to do whatever task is out there, and dressed appropriately, and actually walked outside into the great frozen maw, it’s not so bad at all. Sometimes I even get sweaty.
Today’s high: 39 degrees. Tomorrow’s high: 15.
Back to the mangle. And the bloggage:
Roger Ebert writes about Steak & Shake with the glee of a (formerly) fat man:
My Steak ‘n Shake fetish is not unique. On an early visit to the Letterman Show, during a commercial break, I said to David:
“I hear you’re from Indianapolis, home of the head office of Steak ‘n Shake.”
“In Sight, It Must be Right,” he said. Our eyes locked in unspoken communion.
“Four Ways to Enjoy,” I said.
“Car, table, counter, or TakHomaSak,” he replied.
“Specializing in Selected Foods…”
“…with a Desire to Please the Most Discriminating.”
“Thanks for Your Liberal Patronage…”
David didn’t blink an eye or miss a beat. We had both obviously memorized the original menu. “…signed, A. H. (Gus) Belt, founder,” he said, and we shared a nod of great satisfaction.
I love S&S, too. I allow myself about one milkshake a year, and I never regret it.
The Prayer of the Mac User is basically the text of this story.
And I must edit a big wad of copy. So have a great day, and stay warm.