Friday, February 26, 2021

Approaching cold weather myths

I'll admit that I've become unaccustomed to extremely cold weather. It was over 20°C/70°F yesterday and I had all the windows in my house open that could be, and I don't feel badly about it at all even though my friends and family in Canada are still experiencing sub-zero/freezing temperatures (except for Abra, I guess, now that she's living on the coast). Anyway, I thought I would approach two cold weather myths today. I'm doing so here rather than on Facebook because people tend to get very attached to their mythology and no amount of evidence can convince them that their myth is what it is...a myth. 

Having experienced many different cultures, I've found that it's relatively easy to identify myths (or superstitions?) in other cultures, while identifying them within your own culture can be a little trickier. 

For example, when I moved to Russia I quickly learned not to sit down in the cold (on a bench or a cement wall, or even a seat in the car) without adequate insulation beneath me. Because people would be legitimately concerned that my ovaries would freeze before I'd have the opportunity to be a mother. 

This was rather obviously untrue to me. I spent my formative years living in a very cold place where people didn't worry about this and yet, somehow, our population continued to grow.

But I also grew up believing that if my siblings and I played too wildly while a cake was in the oven...that the cake would "fall" and when I told Andrew this he laughed at me so hard. Because it turns out this was just a myth passed down in my family that everyone believed and passed on to their own children. Where did it start? Was there any truth to it? The first question is impossible to answer. But the second question is easy: No. While opening the oven to take a peek at the cake can make it fall, it's highly unlikely that playing hand hockey in the living room will. The two simply aren't related. 

It's hard to analyze your own culture for these fallacies until you're able, somewhat, to gain an outsider perspective. And so I offer you this myth:

If you go outside with wet hair, your hair will freeze and potentially snap off. 

I know many people have said as much, even stating that they know so from personal experience. I remain...skeptical. While I have had my hair freeze in place, I have never had it snap off. And I don't think you have, either. In my research, I've found many videos of people freezing their hair in wild positions (both a Takhini Hot Springs and during Polar Vortexes). In fact, there is an entire contest surrounding the freezing of one's hair. They do not caution entrants that their hair could snap off (I can only assume this is because it is unlikely/impossible scenario).

We used to hang our swim things in the garage after going swimming in the winter, only to collect our "dry" things later, completely frozen in whatever position we laid them out. If we left a towel over the banister to dry, it would freeze-dry in that position. But I've never broken any sort of cloth when it's been frozen. The outside layer of ice will break but the inside material will remain somewhat pliable. For example, here's a video of an Albertan turning a frozen towel into a "paper" airplane. I did manage to find one video of a man breaking a shirt that had frozen, but the amount of force he had to use to do so was incredible. He had to whack it against the railing several times before he managed to break it (I wonder how a wet (but unfrozen) shirt would hold up to similar abuse). This other man is unable to break his frozen t-shirt by bending or bashing it so he...cuts it with a saw...which obviously damages the shirt. Additionally, there are many videos of people jumping onto frozen trampolines...but only the ice breaks, not the trampoline.

Finally, here's a video of a man using a frozen towel as a sled. He does note that a section of the towel snapped off while he was rolling it up (after sledding, I presume), so it is possible to break frozen material (as we saw with the shirt). However, I imagine that using a frozen towel for several runs down a hill constitutes unusual wear and tear. How well would an unfrozen towel hold up under similar circumstances (would it begin to wear, ripping in more fragile places, etc)? We recently had that portion of a towel break rip off this summer after being lugged to the pool one too many times.

(In the towel's defense, it was a very old towel—the towel that Winter used as her nest when she gave birth to her first set of kittens in 2005, so at least fifteen years old, but since it was already an old towel when Winter used it, I'd wager it was many years older than fifteen).

A woven material, such as a t-shirt or towel, I'd wager, isn't as strong as a non-woven material, such animal skin. In Julie of the Wolves we read about how she would dip pieces of leather and animal skins into water in order to make frozen tools (such as a sledge to carry her supplies). I can't find any sort of information to back this idea up, but I imagine that it could happen (since I've seen people make a sled out of a towel). I have done quite a bit of research on leather and cold weather and it seems the jury is out on that (since many farmers/ranchers who use leather gear live in places where it gets cold in the winter). Also, note: make a knife out of frozen feces (well, you can...just not a good one).

My final argument against this idea is that there are animals (and people!) who live in very cold places and since things like hair, fur, and feathers are used to keep animals warm and it would seem like a very bad design if their fur/feathers/hair snapped off when they hopped out of the frigid water to spend time on the dry—but very cold—land. Think: polar bears, penguins, people at a hair freezing contest, etc. 

Next myth:

We need two good freezes, otherwise mosquitoes will run rampant.

That's actually not a cold weather argument, that's a thing our "bug guy" told us here in Georgia. I was like, "Excuse me, sir—there are mosquitoes in the arctic..." And where I grew up in Alberta mosquitoes, it seemed, were always bad in the summer, no matter how cold (or not) things had been in the winter. 

So this idea was immediately flagged as a myth in my mind.

But my friend Bridget told me that they say that in Finland, too! Only she thinks it's referring to two good post-winter freezes. Like, after things start warming up and the mosquito larvae have hatched and begun their development, a freeze would, in theory, kill many of them off. And then things would warm up again and the mosquitoes would start to develop, maybe fly around a bit, but before they have chance to complete their life cycle—boom!—another cold snap kills them all off. So relatively few mosquito larvae are around to perpetuate the summer cycle. 

It seems to make good sense, but I think it warrants more study. As this article mentions, many mosquitoes can enter a state of diapause so they don't die, they simply become inactive until it warms up again. This article mentions female mosquitoes "fattening up" for winter (while males die off). Other varieties literally manufacture antifreeze in their tiny, pesky bodies. I think how wet a season is has more effect on how many mosquitoes there will be in a given warm season (rather than how cold a winter is, or whether there are cold snaps after the initial thaw (because I think many cold places typically get multiple cold snaps after it seems like spring has arrived)). Mosquito eggs can even survive in diapause for years until conditions are right for hatching...

So...I dunno. I don't think that a cold snap or two would do anything other than shorten or delay mosquito season. I'll keep researching this idea...but for now I need to stop and make my kids go do things...

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