winter survival and animal hairs

Everything in our house, everything I own, is covered in silvery animal hairs. My roommate Jess has officially adopted the rambunctious Cody, and we’re also fostering this fat gray cat named Amelia right now. She sleeps a lot and has a hard time getting up onto the higher furniture, but she has killed and deposited onto the guest bed a single large mouse, and for that we are grateful. Anyway, both of these creatures, and possibly the mice as well, leave a fine dusting of their hairs on every surface, like the ash after a hairy volcanic explosion.

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The fat cat herself


In my mind, I like to think it’s possible that the hairs lend an extra layer of warmth to my clothing. It’s been a weird winter (it’s a weird climate now, right), with plenty of days with temps in the twenties and even thirties, but still – this is Minnesota and tomorrow the predicted high has just been nudged upwards to one. One degree. One little droplet of Fahrenheit.

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The Sunrise River, on one backcountry ski with N


I’ve been on a survival story kick lately. I just finished the book “Lost in the Wild,” a well-written, hard-to-put-down nonfiction account of two north woods survival stories that made me feel supremely grateful for heat and blankets. Then I started reading all of these articles from Outside magazine about flash floods and hypothermia and avalanches and bear attacks and getting as mentally freaked out as it is possible to get while sitting in a chair inside a heated building in the Midwest. SO I’ve been thinking about survival a lot lately. I am a lucky duck – one with food, a warm place to sleep, job, etc. And I have my wild-spirited, hilarious brother, and my generous, clever parents, my other warm-hugged relatives, an assortment of spectacular friends, and Niko, who continues to rock my world on a pretty regular basis – I go beyond survival. I am so fit. It’s probably all of this happy luckiness that makes me itch to do things like head outdoors and sleep in a tent on hardpacked snow; hike long miles over rough terrain; ski tree routes that I’m really not quite qualified for. Unlike everyone in the world who faces real-life struggles, fights to find food or protect their children, moving across oceans to seek out better futures, me and the rest of my backpacker buddies have to create our own hardships. Pretty weird, right? Knowing this will not make those long hikes or aching thighs or first hot-meals-after-a-long-week any less heart-pumping sweet. I try to balance the selfish time.

Anyway, readers, here I am in Minnesota still, at the start of a broad new year. I’ve been learning to cross-country ski, since, you know, when in Minnesota. Niko is an inordinately patient teacher. At the Zoo, I’m teaching people about animals’ adaptations for cold winters. At New Year’s strike of midnight, I dragged everyone outdoors to drink red wine and stare at the sky. There were a few stars visible, straining through the fog of light pollution.

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Brother and I in Colorado a week ago



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N skiing very fast



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