Friday, February 4, 2011

Choices for the Cold


By CHRIS MILLSPAUGH

As the temperature dipped to 4 below zero outside, I found myself firmly imbedded in front of the TV, remote in hand, in an effort to block out the cold. In retrospect, my decisions for the night were clearly flawed. First, I opted for one of my favorite shows on PBS—"American Experience." This night's presentation was titled "The Greely Expedition," a tale about Adolphus Greely, a zealous disciplined officer in the Army who managed to convince the higher command to allow him and 23 other men to embark on an invasion of the Canadian Arctic in 1881 to gather weather data and other scientific information. And, if they could, to beat the British Empire on becoming the first nation to arrive at the North Pole.

The temperature dipped to 6 below outside as I bought the premise and settled back to follow the crew that had been dumped alone on an island north of Greenland for their first winter. I felt a chill as I watched and then suddenly remembered another show I had wanted to catch on EPIX Channel 286: "The Donner Party." I switched over just in time to see the group of stalwart pioneers head up the pass just as the snow was beginning to fall.

< OK, back to Greely and the boys. The ship that was supposed to pick them up after the first year couldn't make it because of ice blocking their passage. The mood around the camp was getting nasty and the rations were getting low. Adolphus was not well liked.

The temperature dipped to 8 below outside as I returned to a bunch of very nervous men and women caught in a blizzard, badly clad and experiencing their first pangs of hunger.

It was 10 below now as I frantically switched back and forth between the two tales of survival. I watched people turning on each other, discipline sharply dropping and utter chaos beginning to emerge. Why in the world am I watching these programs when perhaps my own demise awaits if the gas heater breaks down? I turned off the TV and went to bed.

Uh, believe me, you don't want to know how these stories turned out—certainly not food for thought. I jacked up the heat, got out two extra blankets and dove into bed vowing not to rise until the temperature did the same. I skipped breakfast the next morning, but I managed to get through the night.

Nice talking to you.




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