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 4:47 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
updated 8:08 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
updated 11:49 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
updated 12:59 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
updated 1:49 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
updated 3:03 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
updated 6:37 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
updated 7:33 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
updated 2:14 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
updated 11:26 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
updated 6:01 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
updated 2:24 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT