The Frost Giants have landed–so bring your axes…

They landed on Monday and were here through Tuesday–and then many of them fled to the east. Not all, of course… but at least we are now back to normal winter temperatures that are at least above zero during the day (well–at least without windchills..) and that’s not so bad..

frost

We survived.  At least everyone I know.

This incidence of freezing weather reminded me of a conversation that I had with a good friend a number of years ago as he visited us here in Madison, WI.  He is one of my oldest friends and he had lived here for a number of years before moving out to the Bay Area in California and working in a city of the east bay area.

As he was back here for a visit, we had a monstrous snowstorm–it involved thundersnow and it dumped 16 inches of snow on us in less than 24 hours.  He also managed to visit again a year or two later, when it then snowed 12 inches and iced over in an unfun way that led to the wooden pole carrying our powerlines to shear off and leave us without power for 24 hours.Photo from here: http://intimisteperiod.blogspot.com/2011/01/thunderstorm-2011-awe-and-wonder.html

Photo from here: http://intimisteperiod.blogspot.com/2011/01/thunderstorm-2011-awe-and-wonder.html

It makes me wonder if he’s actually a demigod for the winter demons and frost giants without knowing it.. but that’s a story for another time.

This story is about his perceptions of how different winter was here in Wisconsin versus the extremely mild winter in the bay area–and our discussion of the social consequences of these differences.

First–his perceptions:

It was so quiet here.  Especially after the snowfall, everything was quiet.  You walked outside and the only sounds–if there were any–were of the wind moving branches–and perhaps you heard a car in the distance.  Otherwise, there was a pervasive quiet and stillness.  (I do not live out in the country–I’m in the city of Madison–but in a residential neighborhood about a block away from a main street…) This actually amazed him, as he was coming from a place where it was never silent–not only because of the people always moving around–but also the animals that never had to migrate or hibernate to survive.

Additionally–and this was a bit specific to his profession–was the utter lack of chaos here.  As a police officer, he had the opportunity to do a “ride-along” with some police officers here to see what it was like–and for a day he did so.

Nothing happened.  Nothing at all.  Perhaps he was just (un)lucky that day, but the cops he was with didn’t have to do anything serious or critical to do at all.  This was in stark contrast to his experience in the east bay, where–even in midwinter–there was always chaos–there were always problems that he had to go solve–people breaking into houses–or causing a public disturbance–or car chases.. etc.

Here–it was “boring” when it came to such things.

As we talked about this, we discussed and talked about how this related to the seasons.  Here in Wisconsin, winter comes on like an avalanche.. it is cold, it can be dangerous, and people hunker down out of necessity.  These physical and climactic conditions drove–or at least reinforced–certain social habits and consequences.  Specifically, it emphasized the importance of connections and social interconnectivity that was necessary to survive here, because it was so harsh.  Additioanlly, because it is so hard to get out and just do basic things like get to work, procure food, not die from the cold–people are limited in what they can do and accomplish.  These limitations–while certainly much worse in the past–still exist today and the easiest way to overcome them is to have a network of friends and family that can help you out.  In return, you help them out when they need it.

In other words, when frost giants arrive, you alone cannot stop them–but if everyone in the village also brings their axes–then the odds are much better.

Switching perspectives, my friend and I also discussed his new home.  I should note that my friend is no lover of the cold.  One of the reasons that he left here was his antipathy to the evil winters that we have.  Thus, one should not get the idea that we had slipped into some idealization of midwestern winters.

Not at all.

Nevertheless, one thing that was clear was that the relatively mild climate of the bay area made it much easier for people to be isolated and individualistic.  The weather–at least winter weather–was not usually fearsome, and it did not necessitate any kind of extended network of people to survive.  You could just hang out and get by.

The result of this–my friend noted–was that the east bay had 5-10x the number of homeless people living in it as did Madison–especially during the winter.  This, of course, made his job a lot more exciting there–but it also led to an almost continual state of social chaos, which can also be stressful over the long term.

wi_system_map_largeNot that it’s all ice roses here in Wisconsin.  While I’ve noted that the winters here almost necessitate having an extended friends network to survive–that doesn’t mean that everyone here has one–or that they are easy to come by.  As someone who has relatives here–but not nec. close ones–my ability to fit in here is not hindered too much–but I’m still somewhat of an outsider–especially when visiting small towns.  Overall, I’ve noticed that it is remarkably clannish here..  For people who are even less connected to the place than I am, it can be exponentially harder to make connections.

This is exacerbated by the fact that there really aren’t all that many people living here–and that the conglomerations of people are relatively small.  The entire state of Wisconsin–spread out over 54,000 square miles–has a total of about 5.7 million people.   That’s only 75% of the population of the Bay area alone in California.

In any case–my friend does still live out in the bay area and he must never fight against the frost giants as I and my family must.  On the other hand, as I just heard from him, the area is still suffering from a multi-year drought–with 2013 going down as the dryest year in the state’s history–and that is turning the area into dust–giving him sinus issues.

In the end, my friend has escaped yearly visits from frost giants, but it appears that the fire giants may have found a permanent foothold there, and he will not be rid of them anytime soon.

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About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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