Skip to main content

Cold snap beautiful--and ominous

By Jay Parini, Special to CNN
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri January 25, 2013
A pedestrian bundled up against the cold walks through the streets of Manhattan on Friday, January 24, in New York City. Polar air settled in over the northeastern U.S. Wednesday, with temperatures in the teens and 20s. Forecasters warned that "bitterly cold conditions" were expected across much of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Mideast through this weekend. A pedestrian bundled up against the cold walks through the streets of Manhattan on Friday, January 24, in New York City. Polar air settled in over the northeastern U.S. Wednesday, with temperatures in the teens and 20s. Forecasters warned that "bitterly cold conditions" were expected across much of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Mideast through this weekend.
HIDE CAPTION
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
Blast of Arctic air
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A severe cold front swept across the East Coast and the Midwest this week
  • Jay Parini: It's hard to think about global warming when it's so cold
  • He says he's used to very cold weather and enjoys it despite the discomfort
  • Parini: Only those with their heads buried in the sand don't believe in climate change

Editor's note: Jay Parini, poet and novelist, is author of the forthcoming book, "Jesus: The Human Face of God." He is the Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College.

(CNN) -- It's hard to think about global warming when it's so cold that you can't suck in the air without pain.

I stepped out on my porch in Vermont this morning -- I live in an old farmhouse with a panoramic view of the Green Mountains -- and could hardly breathe. The thermometer had dipped well below zero. I heard on the local radio that it was 70 below zero on Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, taking into account the wind chill.

But I'm used to cold weather, having spent most of my adult life, almost four decades, in New Hampshire and Vermont. In fact, I remember the cold snaps of old, back in the 70s and early 80s, when for weeks on end the temperature would hover around zero, maybe creeping up to 10 or 15 at noon, when the sun looked like a pale and cheerless disc in the sky.

Jay Parini
Jay Parini

There was a strange exhilaration in those sub-zero weeks: the sense of a vacuum, a silence that amounted to noise. You couldn't inhale, as it made your lungs ache. Your nose-hairs froze and breathing was difficult. Your glasses steamed up when you stepped into any building. It was important to dress in the most thoughtful ways, with layer upon layer of clothes, including a good set of silk underwear. Earmuffs were essential, as well as big fur hats, thick gloves, insulated boots and wool socks, the works.

I have a photo that I love of the old poet, Robert Frost, in a winter hat with long earflaps, in heavy boots, a stick in hand. He is walking through a snowy field not far from where I live. He often wrote poems about being alone in the woods or fields in deep snow. I think, for instance, of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" or the ferocious "Goodbye, and Keep Cold," where he says: "Dread fifty above more than fifty below." He's speaking to a stand of trees that seem not to mind the arctic weather, these resilient "Maples and birches and tamarack." I'm afraid that human beings rarely like it when it gets so cold.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Only a week ago, I paid a fleeting visit to Key West, Florida, where it was almost 90 under the palm trees. Coming back to Vermont late one night, only a few days ago, I stepped from the airplane into the dark, icy weather, and I wondered how I could stand it. When I got to my car, the thermometer on my dashboard told me it was 10 below zero. And the wind howled as I drove through the dark snowy mountains to my house. Was I crazy to live in such a climate?

This morning I met a friend, an elderly Vermonter, in a cafe. He said to me, "I don't know about you, but I feel comforted by this cold snap. It reminds me of the old days, before global warming. I feel as if the world isn't completely out of whack."

I doubt the world isn't out of whack when, on Wednesday, it was colder in New York City than it was in part of Antarctica. This is imbalance on a global scale, and it doesn't provide much comfort to move through a brief cold snap.

Arctic outbreak across Northeast

We know that vast shelves of ice are melting at the poles. We know that this past year was the hottest on record. Only those with their heads buried deep in the sand can believe that climate change is not upon us and that fossil fuels are not changing this planet in ways that will make life difficult for our children and their children. Something has to be done, and quickly, or we'll be passing along to our heirs a ghastly wreck of a planet. We will have proved dreadful and selfish stewards of this precious earth.

I don't expect the cold to last, not like in the old days. Yet while it does, for a brief while, I plan to enjoy it. I'm going to bundle up tight today -- silk underwear, hat, gloves, and insulated boots -- and go for a walk in the woods, just to savor the depth of silence, the sense of a world brought to a point of absolute and unimaginable stillness.

Like Frost, I will say to my Vermont neighbors with a wry smile: "Goodbye, and Keep Cold." I know they will smile back.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jay Parini.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT