We’ve been living in a deep freeze for the last month and a half and I must admit it’s starting to wear on me. It shouldn’t—my husband takes care of all the outside chores now because I am in full time “writer” mode. But it does. And that makes me feel a bit wimpy.
The wood stove is cranking and the radiant heat feels wonderful. The fields and woods surrounding the house are covered in beautiful white snow and the sun is shining. Winter wonderland. But step outside for more than a short period and the bitter cold seeps into the bones.
The bird feeders—black oil sunflower seed, suet cages, peanut feeder, and heated bird bath, are all crazy-busy. The birds start at first pearly light and will fill their bellies until dusk. Their feathers are fluffed to insulate them against the constant cold. Such delicate creatures, and yet so strong and resilient.
A lot of my stories have to do with survivors. I’m fascinated by the way one person will give up while another under the same circumstances plows on through. Why? What is it about survivors?
I spent a winter night once with no place to go. Homeless in a city back when homelessness was a fairly new thing. Patients in the state mental wards and hospitals hadn’t yet been turned out to roam the streets due to budget cuts so it was quiet. Lonely.
Other than a few hardy drug dealers and their customers I might as well have been alone, standing in a doorway, out of the biting winter wind. Keeping my eye out for patrol cars because they would certainly stop for a teenage girl, scoop her up and get her off the streets. They don’t do that anymore. Too many homeless now.
I survived that ordeal. I made a few friends, crashed on their floors, and eventually found work that paid enough for me to rent my own place. In later years I even learned to love winter camping in the mountains.
But I’ll never forget that night. The time and temperature sign that lived on top of a bank building, one that could be seen from anywhere in the city, was stuck. In the quiet I could hear the buzz from its lights, and hear it click as the numbers were supposed to change. Only they didn’t.
Afraid to fall asleep and freeze to death, I wandered the blocks around that sign, willing it to change. I stood in doorways until I got so cold I had to move, and then I sought out the street grates where warmer air steamed up from an unknown source below.
I survived that night, naturally, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. Others weren’t as lucky. Looking back on it now, I believe that stubbornness played a role in my survival that night. I refused to give up.
And maybe survival is as simple as that: the refusal to give up.