By Miles Johnson
When people hear that I’m from a Chicago suburb, they usually follow up with a comment about the brutal Chicago winters. Although I live 42 miles west of the city, I don’t correct these people and speak of the freezing Batavia winters. It has always been in Chicago that I’ve felt the coldest. When I’m in the suburbs in December, I’m typically inside or in a car. Rarely do I spend hours wandering outside, like I do when I visit the city.
Yesterday, I decided to spend time in Chicago against my better judgment. I knew it was going to be below freezing, but I thought I could handle walking around outside for a few hours. I did end up spending the day in open air, but it was almost too much.
Despite my four layers and two pairs of socks, the wind cut right through me. My ears stung and my mouth went numb. I kept thinking of that question: “Would you rather be really hot or really cold?”
Often people choose the latter option, following the logic that you can always put more clothes on. This answer doesn’t really work. It approaches heat and cold as if they were equally uncomfortable. Yes, heat is oppressive. Frigid temperatures, however, are much worse.
For me, one of the nastiest parts of summer is the gross feeling. Everyone is constantly sweating. Nevertheless, I would gladly face this over the cold alternative. When winter comes, everything dries up. Your hair feels stale and your skin cracks and itches. Your overall coloring dulls. In short, the cold saps the life out of you.
Heat doesn’t have the capacity to cause us pain. Cold does. At one point, while in Polish Village, the wind picked up some snow and threw it in my face, stinging my skin. It was a bit like when you are about to get in a pool, and your sadistic friend splashes “cold” water at you. Except it was nothing like that, because the snow is literally rather than figuratively freezing.
Then there are those times when it’s so chilly outside that you can’t breathe. This happened to me yesterday on my way to Ogilvie Station. I was crossing Canal St. and was struck by a sharp wind. When this happens, you are unable to inhale. You cannot get oxygen into your lungs. As frightening as this suffocation can be, part of me finds it exhilarating.
As a species, we’ve invented loads of things to guard us from danger. We’ve created climate controlled indoor environments that have no relation to the temperature outside. Cold, however, is one threat that is unavoidable. When venturing out in the winter, you have to face nature head on. It doesn’t matter if you are in a forest or in downtown Chicago, the cold will find you.
These experiences are miserable, but they’re also a reminder. Man has conquered plenty of domains, but he has yet to tame the elements. Until we do, we remain vulnerable. I rarely feel more fragile than during those winter moments when I cannot breathe. At the same time, I’m reminded that I am just an animal at the mercy of Mother Nature. Beneath the skyscrapers and covered in snow, I’m alive.