“Mr. Emerson …tells me that he saw boys skating on the Mississippi, and on Lake Erie and on the Hudson and has no doubt they are skating on Lake Superior. Probably at Boston he might have seen them skating on the Atlantic.”

–Henry David Thoreau, February 1856

I’m no fan of winter in general, but by February I start to get really cranky and despair of ever being warm again. I feel like parts of me slowly turn to stone throughout the day. And that’s living in a modern (well half of it’s modern) house with central heat. I cannot imagine living in the old drafty un-insulated part of my house (or anyone else’s) when the only heat came from a small fire that you couldn’t set to automatically come on at 6 a.m. on weekday mornings. A fire is cheery and great to warm your hands over, but it doesn’t heat a room well, especially on a windy day. In the Gunshop at Jerusalem Mill, I’ve cooked over even great big fires full of hot baking coals and still been able to see my breath when I stood up. It makes for an interesting afternoon. If I had to live with it all the time, it would make for a miserable life.

So we’ve established that I’m a cold wimp. People who enjoy winter sports like skiing and ice skating most likely are not. And neither were people who wanted to survive in those draft un-insulated houses without thermostats. Annapolis resident William Faris kept a detailed record of his daily activities during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. His entries for February 1801 are typical – “a snowey night and morning,” “a cloudy, snowey drisley day”—then there are a few mentions of “a fine day” and he’s out digging up and replanting bushes. Then it snows for two days straight and we have several days where he just says “ a clear cold day” and he starts sowing peas, cabbage and lettuce. And then it snows some more.

He wasn’t waiting for spring. He worked the garden whenever he had the chance. Faris was a silversmith, clockmaker and tavern keeper, among other things. His primary business was not farming the land. Yet he was out there preparing beds and planting in all sorts of weather.

Gardening was a bit of a hobby for him, and that might explain his enthusiasm for working the wintry soil. But I think it really shows that people in those days were much tougher when it came to tolerating cold. Not once does he whine in his diary about scraping the ice off his carriage windshield (but I’m actually not sure he kept a carriage, so maybe that’s it.) No, the reason he didn’t complain is that he learned to put up with the cold vagaries of the season.

I should do the same. Spring will arrive eventually, it always does. Well, except in years like 1816 where the ash from a major volcanic eruption disrupts the flow of sunlight to the planet…just how bad were those eruptions in Iceland anyway?

Anybody have any tips for surviving the late winter of our discontent?