I’ve never had a relationship with an item of clothing quite like my love affair with the down jacket I bought two years ago.
I’ve worn this navy blue jacket ten months of each year I’ve owned it, and when I’m not wearing it, its presence is upsetting Haakon because I slither out of it like a second skin:
[I also hang it up sometimes, because I love him]
Back home in Australia, there is no clothing item that I wear so much – and that could save my life. [OK, maybe sun protection is on par!]
I spent the first few winters in Montana muddling through the unfamiliar cold with borrowed, old style down jackets, and layers of wool jumpers.
I was cold and hot a lot, because I didn’t understand the different types of cold yet – that the common cold here is between 30-40 F, which is cold, but not that cold.
I always wore leggings under pants in winter, no matter the temperature, and when I stepped into heated buildings, waves of sweat would wash over me, a feeling not unlike stepping out of an airplane into a tropical climate still wearing jeans because when you left, it was cold.
Now I step out in just jeans when it’s in the 30’s, feeling naked and so tough.
But there’s also the cold I had never experienced that hits in January or February- dry, windy 10 F, cold that makes your face hurt, which is almost impossible to comprehend on this fine spring day.
Cold that makes you realize your hair is not quite dry when you hear cracking as each hair freezes.
Cold that makes you run to try to get away from it, cold that makes your heart vibrate.
After hearing a story from a friend who is on the search and rescue team, I started throwing a lighter in my pocket when I went walking in winter.
This friend had searched all day for a teenage boy who had gotten lost while hunting.
It was early fall and the temperature was around freezing and the kid was disoriented when he was found, a sign of hypothermia.
The kids jeans were wet and he was wearing cotton socks and sneakers, and I remember my friend saying over and over “wool [which is warm when wet] could have saved his life if we didn’t find him. Having matches or a lighter would have saved him. He was totally unprepared.”
Well, I didn’t want to be un prepared.
I had chosen to live in this ridiculous climate, so I better learn how to survive it. I started noticing that when women went out in winter in fancy shoes, they put insulated snow boots in their cars in case they broke down and had to walk.
I realized I could not be prepared for winter by shopping at thrift stores, which is where all my other clothes come from.
I bought some tall neoprene boots, which are supposedly protective down to -30F. They are certainly cosy, and completely waterproof.
And then I bought the jacket. Extremely expensive, it is also light as a feather and seems like it wouldn’t insulate at all.
I wore it all winter with a sweater or two under it and was warm, even on the coldest days.
I wore it in the fall and spring over a light shirt or T-shirt, because in the mountains, the cold is always there, waiting, and the second the sun slips behind a cloud, a brisk and icy breeze makes you wonder why you were wearing a T-shirt at all.
I’m still wearing it in May, although daytime temps are in the 60’s and 70’s [20’s in Celsius] throwing the jacket in my bike basket when we ride to the park to pack up the ice skating rink and wearing it on cool nights around a campfire.
The companies that make these jackets always have advertising showing people out in the elements, rock climbing, running, cycling.
I reckon they should have an advertising campaign about how their gear helps transplants from hot countries just survive a north American winter.
Bugger cycling, I’m using my hard core performance wear to walk to the store and to dash from car to house.
I’m not the only one.
Pascal moved here from Cameroon to be with his wife, Heather, and their daughter Madeline [below, with Pascal]
Pascal just got done with his first winter here. His wife, Heather, told me that he didn’t like having cold hands and feet and that he won’t admit it, but he spent most of the winter sitting in a rocking chair beside the wood stove.
Like I did, Pascal will have to figure out how to dress to be able to enjoy winters here.
I’ve passed Pascal working his job as part of the school maintenance crew over the winter, both of us hunched against the cold, both looking, I imagine, at the falling snow with the same combination of wonder and disgust.
When I pass him at the school, Pascal is wearing a big, puffy black jacket, and he waves, smiles, and gets back to flag raising.
Our jackets hold us down, despite their lightness. They keep us with our families.