Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Winter’s boss, despite what you think

Two Fridays ago, as another hard freeze settled across south Louisiana, I spotted a friend in our office parking lot removing ice from his windshield with the edge of a skillet. Lacking a proper scraper, he’d grabbed the first thing at hand.

I wondered, as perhaps you will, why someone would have a frying pan handy in their car, but this is south Louisiana, after all, where one might expect that cooking utensils have become standard emergency gear for all automobiles. When road closures threaten, maybe our biggest fear in this food-centric part of the world is missing dinner.

At any rate, watching my friend shave ice from his windshield with a kitchen implement reminded me that we don’t get much experience with extreme cold in Louisiana. I grinned with a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I smugness at my friend’s predicament — until I reached my car, where icicles hung from the cab, making the SUV look like a melted candle. A thin glacier of frozen rain covered the windshield, and lacking a skillet of my own to clear the glass, I mulled over my alternatives.

The sharpest thing around was the library card in my wallet, and while I’m a firm believer in the power of reading, the slender plastic strip seemed a pretty weak weapon against Old Man Winter. With no quick fixes in sight, I crawled into the driver’s seat, flipped on the defroster and waited for the carapace covering my windows to melt so I could drive home.

Waiting is what we’ve learned to do all over again this winter as arctic temperatures revisited the Deep South. With the passage of yuletide, south Louisiana was resuming the routines of work and school, reconnecting with the hundred little urgencies that typically ride us ragged each week. Dropping mercury froze roads and bridges and rooftops, but to some degree, it froze our schedules, too.

We’ve lived for awhile within time that moves glacially — a sensation that’s sometimes felt like a foreign country to us. Trotting out the door to relieve himself, our terrier touched the blanket of ice on the lawn and drew back sharply, shocked that his once-familiar turf had transformed into cold crystals against his paws.

Smiling, I thought of the heartier canines in Jack London’s Yukon stories, including his iconic dog yarn, “The Call of the Wild.” London wrote the coldest narrative in American literature, a famous short story called “To Build a Fire.” Maybe you know the story, but if not, you can read it here: http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2011/02/to-build-fire.html.

London tells the tale of a man who thinks that he can outsmart the winter chill, only to get a cruel lesson from Mother Nature.

As London’s story makes clear, the weather rules us, no matter how powerful we think we are. The past week in south Louisiana taught us the same lesson.