2008.11.05 Chills, spills of a cold house

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

If you read this space last week, you might be wondering how my wife and I fared on our quest to go furnace-less through Halloween.

We almost made it. We went through the roughest part, but chose to give it up on Halloween Eve when I was alternating between sweating and freezing with intestinal flu.

I don’t think I’ve been this sick with influenza in 20 years, so someone is likely to suggest that it was the chilly indoor temperature that brought on the illness.

I don’t know about that. It wasn’t like I had pneumonia or something you might expect from harsh weather conditions. Maybe you’re right; perhaps my resistance was lowered, but I still say it was just a coincidence.

The heatless time was very interesting. It made me think about what we believe is needed for survival. The outdoor temperature fell into the 20s late in the week—the low 20s even—and ordinarily we would have had the thermostat set at 68 while we were home.

Instead, we just wore extra clothing, moved around more and enjoyed the heat from squash cooking in the oven. I lingered an extra minute or two in the shower.

I thought a lot about solar heat and what’s being wasted every day. Most of those days were cloudless and I was sure to open the blinds before I went off to work. That was the only way the house was going to warm up since many daytime high temperatures never left the 40s.

There must be good ways to capture that sunlight instead of relying completely on natural gas. Even an increase of five degrees would have made an enormous difference in a house that was in the 50s, sometimes the low 50s.

I thought about how my situation was probably about normal for many people around the world who don’t have good housing or a good heating system.

I’d gotten so out of the habit of turning on the heat in the morning that I just now noticed how chilly it is this morning, 58°. I advanced the thermostat to 60, which really isn’t enough, but maybe I’ll slowly make my way upward.

A bit of irony: On Thursday morning I went to talk to someone for a newspaper story and she came to the door wrapped in a blanket. She had run out of heating fuel and it was well below freezing outside. So much for enjoying someone else’s warm house. I kept my coat on and felt right at home.

A friend sent a note in response to last week’s mention of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s  book, “The Long Winter.” He says the story still makes him shiver. I know what he means. I remember one of the times I was reading that book to the kids was in July, but I expected to see snow when I went to the window. A very powerful story.

My friend mentions that the Ingalls family was “green” far ahead of their time. Pa and the kids twisted switch grass to burn in their stove. They didn’t make cellulosic ethanol from switch grass, but he says that’s what they used for fuel.

I can’t find our copy of the book but I remember how the people of De Smet, South Dakota, ran out of fuel out on the freezing plains and eventually food supplies began to dwindle when the train could no longer make it through the snow.

It was the winter of 1880-81 and it’s often referred to as the Snow Winter because of the repeated blizzards and the extended months of cold weather.

The Ingalls and other families were down to eating potatoes and a coarse brown bread, with plenty of winter still ahead. Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland, the heroes of the story, set out across the prairie in search of a cache of wheat that was allegedly stored at a farm 11 miles away.

They were able to fill their sled with wheat, make it back home in a blizzard and save the town.

So Colleen and I made it through our Long October without a problem until last Thursday night. First, I removed layer after layer of clothing when the fever rushed in. Then the chills came and the sweat felt like ice. I couldn’t get warm under two quilts so we decided to bring on the heat.

Too bad. We could have lasted through the weekend and into this week’s balmy 70s and.… Maybe the flu was a blessing.

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