I remember almost freezing to death as a teenager deer hunting in North Georgia. I was about 15 and I went with my dad and our church’s pastor. I was good to go the night before, but when the alarm went off at the very ungodly hour of 5am, I tried to talk dad out of taking me. Nope. Dad was going to take me dead or alive. It came dangerously close to the former before 10am
Now I was no stranger to being cold. I lived in Michigan and Ohio as a kid and it gets as cold as a mother in law’s love in them parts, trust me. One winter in Hillsdale, Michigan, my dad made an actual igloo out of blocks of snow that stayed for much of the winter. Our German Sheppard slept on a blanket in it at night.
In Dundee, Michigan, my 3 brothers and I made a near tragic mistake of skating up the Little Raisin, as the wind was at our backs and four hours later, unable to fight the wind to get back, we stepped out on the road about 10 miles from home. We were near frozen solid and a good Samaritan brought us home.
In 1965, the “Marshall boys”, as we were known, skated out and across the great Ottawa river in Toledo, Ohio. TJ, brother number 3 got so hypothermic that he lay down on the ice and refused to move. We were all so cold, we knew that to lay down was to die and somehow we made it back to shore, dragging TJ and crying, walked the 11 blocks, on skates, back to our house.
When I was about 10 or so, my brothers and I followed a teenage boy far out in the woods in Morgan, Utah and came back near death and I say that without exaggeration, as it was about 10 degrees. The 60 degree water in the tub felt like boiling water. Now, before you judge my parents, let me say that back in the 1960’s kids were a heartier bunch and the times were different. Kids spent hours unsupervised out of doors.
For every time something bad happened, fifteens of hundreds of other times, we pulled it off. Sometimes we didn’t. My brothers and I spent a lot of time on adventures in the woods and would venture out 4 or 5 miles at a time. I remember squirrel hunting by myself with my shotgun in Georgia 4 miles from home, more than once and I was only 15.
The 2 years I spent in the Strategic Air Command at Malmstrom Air Force base, in Great Falls, Montana was the icicle that broke the polar bear’s back though. As Louis L’Amour put it in one of his great novels about an American Indian in Siberia, “I haven’t felt cold like this since I was in Montana”.
In the winter in Montana, the sun comes up on the horizon, goes up about a foot, and sets a short time later on the horizon. I hated it. The wind blows non-stop and even in summer, you have to wear a jacket when the weak sun sets. To put it in perspective, when I was there in 1971, it snowed on the 4th of July.
To get back on my Georgia deer hunting occurrence, I wasn’t experienced with sitting on a ground stand in sub-freezing weather, so I did not dress for it. Instead, I had an orange plastic-type suit that I drew over my jacket and jeans. It was uncomfortably hot in the car and when dad asked if I had on enough to keep warm, I nodded a sleepy yes.
I slept all the way there in fact and when we got out, I donned the suit. It was toasty. I loaded the 16 gauge shotgun with number one buckshot and walked off to find a place to hunt. There was no such thing as a lease back then and on government land, first come first served. It was bitterly cold and I did not have gloves and I laid the gun in the crook of my arm and tried to keep warm as the wind picked up. Each minute that passed, I grew colder.
The weak winter sun finally arrived and I was shaking violently. I was just an hour into it and I was so cold, all I could think about was how cold I was. As a son of the generation which fought World War II, I didn’t dare to interrupt our hunt though and besides that, I had no idea where my dad was or our pastor. By 10am or so, I was beyond caring and stumbling to my feet, I headed back to the car. Snow was falling and the wind began to abate, but I was so stiff, movement was difficult. All I wanted to do was get in the car… but it was locked. I began to cry.
I had reached the place where I was out of options and I did everything in my power, to get the safety off, so I could fire 3 warning shots, which I finally did with frozen unfeeling digits. I waited what I felt like was a long time and fired 3 more. This brought both my dad and my pastor and immediately seeing the sad shape I was in, they quickly loaded me up for an emergency trip home.
I just know I disappointed my dad, but he never said anything to confirm it. What I got out of it was I never want to be that cold again, or disappoint dad. Unlike being too hot, being too cold is a very painful thing. Being too hot is uncomfortable. Thawing out from hypothermia can kill a person. With all these swings in temperature we are experiencing these days, bundle up. Take a good hot shower. Put a coat on. Stay warm and thank the Good Lord above for the shelter we often take for granted.