Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Yankee Blood Has Been Boiled Out of Me

During those dreadful days of August, when sweat pours off my body as I trudge through the neighborhood at 6 a.m, even though the sun hasn’t quite decided to rise above the pine trees, I fantasize about retiring someday to my native New Hampshire. Or perhaps I could split my time between here and there — winters in Texas, summers up north. Not that I know how to afford this, but it has its appeal.

I am terribly drawn to the beauty of New England — the saltbox homes built two centuries ago or more, the beauty of the White Mountains, covered bridges across clear brooks, the rugged coastline of Maine, lobster tails, clam chowder, Fenway Park, the broad vowels of Bostonites. Man, already I am about to book a ticket.

Then, reality hits — as in 17 degrees. That is how cold it was here in Longview last week, which is an unusual event. We wrote stories about this cold snap, which indeed snapped water pipes all over town. For more than a week I have gotten up at 5:45, peered at the nifty Weather Channel electronic console that tells me the temperature outside, and groaned. I cannot walk when it is below freezing outside. I have tried and quickly retreated, whimpering and cursing under my breath. The truth is painful. I have turned into a thin-blooded Texan after 41 years behind the Pine Curtain. And 17 degrees is balmy in January most days in Concord, N.H., where I was born.

This harsh truth means I have abandoned any pretense of retiring to my native soil, not that this was a serious dream anyway. I am content to return each August to visit and gain a respite from the hellish summer of East Texas. Besides, I have been down here so long that those Live Free or Die folks sound like they talk funny. (Just kidding, aunts, uncles and cousins. No hate e-mails, please.)

As a result, I have turned half of my two-car garage into a winter gym, with the Bow-Flex, Ab-buster and my road bike set up on the stationary trainer that I bought in a goofy burst of exercise optimism last year. I used it exactly twice in 2009. Found out there is nothing that irks me more than walking or pedaling and not actually going somewhere. It bugs the ever-loving fire out of me. I don’t care if there is a 60-inch television to watch, or NPR, or a 60-member troupe of Chinese acrobats. Stationary aerobic exercise drives me up the wall.

The cold snap has driven me up that wall. For the past 10 cold days, I have mounted my bicycle on its trainer, tuned in to NPR and pedaled in my garage, which is kept moderately warm by the heater in the adjoining woodshop. While pedaling, I am reminded of Airman Dunbar in Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22,” who tried to extend his life by hanging out with people he doesn’t like, so that time passes more slowly.

Airman Dunbar should have tried riding a stationary bike. I set the timer on my iPhone to 15 minutes, then kept cheating and checking it. Holy moley! Only four minutes had passed. My personal best after 10 days, not because of physical duress but because of sheer mental atrophy, was 13 minutes. Climbing on the Bow-Flex was a relief in comparison. I have named my bike trainer Airman Dunbar.

The Sunday afternoon after the deep freeze, I managed to get in a late-afternoon walk. The mercury had climbed into the low forties. Ice still clung to the curbs in the shade where water seeped through saturated lawns, probably spliced with split sprinkler-system pipes. The pond at Teague Park sported a thin sheen of ice, which didn’t bother the ducks. They had found the only clear spot in the water. The half-dozen or so geese, however, were not happy. They honked and complained nearby on dry land, no doubt hoping my companion and I had brought along some bread crusts. We didn’t.

By summer I will grouse again about the heat. But I learned something during this unusually cold Texas winter. The Yankee blood has been boiled out of me, at long last. I would rather endure a few months of Texas heat than the cabin fever of winter life, if I have a choice.

Thus far I do.
Originally published January 17, 2010

1 comment: