It's true that I'm given to bragging on our weather, but this winter's been verging on the ridiculous. Two weeks ago we had a nice 18-inch snowfall where I live, but there have been eight discrete snowfalls (the jargon of the moment is "snow events") since then. Granted, none of them amounted to more than an inch or three, but still, it has snowed nine separate times in two weeks. Local municipalities are running out of salt for the roads (one local county uses a concoction made of beet juice on the roads, which is said to be "incredibly effective." It's more expensive, but they use less of it). And we only need three more inches to make it into the Top Ten for total snow for a winter. That's just since records have been kept, and records haven't been kept for very long in this corner of the world, but still. And bear in mind that it's only February, and measurable snow in May is not unknown. Madison has already set a record. My step-sister Gwen, who lives there, says life consists of "eat, sleep, shovel; eat, sleep, shovel...."
The snow events are interspersed with cold snaps, in which we go into the deep freeze for days on end. I've seen the mercury as low as –12°F this year. Mostly it's been in single digits below zero. Now, that's not particularly cold for this part of the country, on an absolute scale, much less in more wintry climes, unless the wind gets to blowing. But when the wind gets to blowing hard, well, I hope to tell you, brothers and sisters, you can freeze your katuschka clean off in the time it takes to sing "On, Wisconsin." The other day it was –4°F—not particularly cold on the face of it—but the wind was gusting up to 50 miles per hour. Just in the 50 yards between the parking lot and the grocery store I practically froze my nose off. That's the kind of weather that makes you appreciate a good hat. You know how some people talk about temperature estimates being "just" wind chill? Well, there's no "just" about it. After whole winters without a single snow day at the local schools, my son's been home several times this year, and one time was just because of the cold and wind—a virtual "cold storm." And Wisconsinites are not squeamish about that sort of thing—if they call off school here because of cold, it's cold.
The last storm to hit us, last Sunday, was an anomaly. The clockwise air currents from the south took over and we got mainly rain. The storm itself missed us—for once. Chicago caught the brunt of that one. For us, what happened was that it drizzled all day...and then night fell, and everything froze. Wisconsinites aren't scared of winter driving, but there were precious few cars on the road Sunday evening and into the night. Ice everywhere.
This used to be the darkroom-intensive time of the year for me. Now that I've been liberated from my darkroom (which in my case is like a sun-worshipper being liberated from the beach—I always liked the darkroom), I spend my spare time poking around the internet and reading photography books. One bright spot in this otherwise dull month is that I've whiled away a number of hours perusing Lloyd Chambers' voluminous and detailed reviews of the Zeiss manual-focus single-focal-length lenses manufactured in Japan and available for both Nikon and Pentax mounts. Years ago I wrote a camera review that elicited the following comment from my then-editor, Ana Jones: "You've certainly said everything that can possibly be said about this camera." Lloyd's lens reviews may not say everything that could possibly be said, but they invite that conclusion, and he hits a nice balance between technical tests and descriptions and practical visual information. I can certainly appreciate the immense amount of work and preparation that go into his reviews. If I have any criticism, it's that it's often simply not clear which is which in the mouse-over comparisons. However, you can really get a pretty thorough handle on what you could expect from these extremely fine lenses. And, I admit, geek that I am, I find poring over comprehensive reviews such as these to be one of the many subspecies of photographic fun.
Meanwhile, a just-completed study has revealed—finally!—why there are so many injuries in Wisconsin during deer-hunting season, which took place back in the aptly-named Fall. Turns out only about a third of deer-season hospitalizations are the result of drunk hunters shooting each other or driving into things. The other two-thirds involve...trees. Hunters settle into nice cozy tree blinds, presumably equipped with a fifth of their favorite poison for warmth, overimbibe, and then, well, fall out of the tree. That's right: the study has showed that two-thirds of our deer-season injuries requiring hospitalization are caused by hunters falling out of trees.
Ah, the great outdoors.