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Word from the Woods: Sparkling Cold Winter Days

Since December 29, when I returned from spending Christmas with friends in Greenville, I’ve settled comfortably into winter solitude at my cabin. For those of you who would like a quick tour of my abode, here’s a video I recently posted on YouTube:

A friend recently commented that my cabin is “very hygge,” using the Danish term that refers to simple, warm coziness. When my wood rack is full, my water pails are topped off, the lamps are lit, and a fire is glowing in the woodstove, my cabin definitely feels hygge to me. I feel a sense of security and contentment that often eludes me in the mainstream world. But off-the-grid living entails some harsh physical realities. When it’s below zero and I need to use the outhouse, I would describe the experience as pretty much the opposite of hygge.

This past week has brought serious winter cold, with temperatures on my porch thermometer down to minus 15 Fahrenheit—and wind chills along my shore down to minus 38. On January 15, the closest National Weather Service station, 16 miles away, reported that the day’s high temperature, with wind chill factored in, was just minus 28. (No, that’s not a typo; minus 28 was the day’s high; the low was minus 44.)

In weather this cold, my life centers on tending the fire in my woodstove. My cabin is small and tightly built. If I feed the fire diligently, the temperature will stay comfortably in the seventies. A few days ago, when it was minus 10 on my porch, I actually needed to open the door to cool off because the inside temperature was approaching 80—nearly 90 degrees higher.

People often express concerns as to whether or not I’m keeping warm. Though I appreciate their thinking of me, I can’t help feeling a bit amused. In town, to conserve furnace oil, homeowners often set their thermostats in the range of 62-65. Basking in the glow of my woodstove, I’m considerably warmer than they are.

On very cold nights, if I pack my stove with wood before going to bed, and don’t get up to feed the fire, the temperature typically drops to about 50 by the time I awaken. Sometimes, I doze off in my comfy rocker by the fire and sleep a few hours there, then wake up and feed the stove in the “wee hours,” before getting into bed to complete my night’s sleep. In that case, the temperature is closer to 60 when I get up.

When I’m ensconced in my rocker, I have everything I need to tend the fire right at hand, without even getting out of my seat. For anyone who is interested in the details, I demonstrate my setup in a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XayRsycb2c0&t=4s.

Freshly baked biscuits and hot chocolate in front of my fire. For my favorite hot chocolate recipe, see the end of this post.

Despite the comfort of my cabin, it’s worth donning my Gore-tex pants, down parka, balaclava, hat with earflaps, and bulky mittens to venture outside. The coldest days are brilliantly sunny; the world seems to sparkle. This past week, the moon has been waxing toward full. On cold, clear nights, its white light lends a pale, haunting glow to the snowy woods and the icy surface of First Roach Pond. I invite you to join me for brief afternoon and evening strolls from my cabin:

Even now, in the frozen heart of winter, the Earth is turning toward spring. Each day, the sun sets a little later and a bit farther north. It has been almost four weeks since the Winter Solstice, enough to see significant progress.

A sunset view from my shore on January 16.

Until my next post, stay warm! To help you out, here is the hot chocolate recipe I promised, adapted to my liking from the January-February 2009 issue of Yankee magazine:

You will need 2.1 oz of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa (three fifths of the squares from a 3.5 oz bar), chopped fairly fine; 1 1/2 cups whole milk; 2 heaping teaspoons sugar (teaspoons you would use to stir a cup of tea or coffee, not measuring spoons); and 1 standard measuring teaspoon vanilla. Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a small saucepan and heat slowly, stirring frequently, until chocolate is dissolved. Add vanilla after removing the pan from the heat. Enjoy!

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