I never used to pay the slightest attention to it – in fact for much of my adult life I couldn’t even have defined it with assurance, it was that insignificant. But off-grid, with improvised, scrounged, inadequate homemade housing and infrastructure, the winter solstice seems like it’s everything. And year after year TUAK readers patiently suffered along with my inevitable complaint, “I hate winter.” Because it seemed like I was bloody freezing half the time.
But in the past few years things finally turned around. And now my monotonous refrain becomes “Look how well the Lair is doing!”
Shirtsleeve temperatures in late December did not used to be a thing, I assure you. Certainly not at six in the blessed ayem. It’s not coldest at the Solstice, certainly – January is the coldest month, overall. And for some reason you can almost confidently expect a cold snap right at New Years that will be the event by which the winter is remembered – the desert does like its drama. But December is the first and darkest month of winter – from then on at least you can make a game of seeing how much earlier every morning the sunlight first clears the ridge and appears on the Lair’s wall – if indeed it’s clear enough to the east for the sun to do its thing. You still have the cold bit to slog through, but it feels as if you’ve hit the bottom and are headed slowly uphill even if it’s not really true. I fully understand, now, why Northern Europeans used to make a big deal of the Solstice.
Happily, it’s not the big deal here that it used to be. The Lair finally began turning into a snug place to cocoon through winter in ’15, after I finally got it wrapped and sided. By then, too, my chimney fire phobia began to fade after that memorable morning in February 2012. The fear of fire roaring up the stovepipe wasn’t gone by any means but it had at least begun to fade to where I was no longer willing to shiver rather than use my perfectly good woodstove to its potential.
And with the new siding, the stove’s potential was – almost shirtsleeve temperatures. Winter became not entirely negligible, but no longer a trial.
Then came the summer of 2017 and the bedroom addition – providentially on the windward side of the cabin – with its much-improved insulation and vented space heater! Ha! No more piling on blankets to keep you from waking up shivering at 2 AM every damned night. And throwing off the blankets at five to go light the fire in the main cabin is no longer a test of character.
And now, when neighbors text after a cold snap like the one we just came through to ask, “Are you staying warm?” I can chuckle and reply, “Snug as a bug.”