Arctic blast

snowshoe hare

A few years ago our little corner of the world had the distinction of being the coldest place on earth for a short time. I’m very thankful I was living here then because it has helped me put all other occurrences of cold weather in perspective. For example, this week when the thermometer was measuring -29 F (That’s real temperature, folks — with windchill that “feels like” temperature was -60 F), it didn’t seem quite so scary. “At least we aren’t the coldest place on earth this time,” I thought to myself as I watched thick fingers of ice creep up the inside of all our windows.

While we are experiencing our arctic blast, the actual coldest place on earth is in far northern Canada, where temps measured -74 F. The 11th coldest place is Edmonton, Alberta, where it got down to -50 F. Compared to that, our -29 F is downright balmy. Sure, we could toss a pot of boiling water out the door and watch it instantly vaporize in mid-air, and we had to let our sink drip all night to keep the pipes from freezing, but our negative double-digit temperatures were a lot closer to 0 than 100, and that’s saying something.

This may sound like schadenfreude, but it’s not. It’s that I appreciate being reminded that things that feel potentially unsurvivable are, in fact, survivable. We’ve survived them before. So have others, including everyone who lives in Edmonton, Alberta. We are going to be ok. And it’s not the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mindset either. It’s the “what doesn’t kill you means you get to continue being alive,” which is a whole different ethos that I am embracing for 2024.

I would be lying, however, if I didn’t mention that the first night of deep cold I awoke gripped by terror with every gust of wind howling around our house. The cold was scary enough, but add in the high winds and it was hard for me not to imagine the worst. What if the power went out? What if the exterior vent covers flew off? What if, what if, what if?

I used to worry about these things in our old house because, well, it was really old. Now I worry about these things in our new house because it’s new and untested. The variable possibilities for calamity, like my worries, are endless.

And then there are the livestock to obsess over. Despite the fact that we’ve never actually lost an animal to deep cold, I still worry about them. I remind myself that blizzards, especially in the spring when we’ve got young animals, are much worse for death loss. As long as everyone has enough to eat so their increased metabolism can keep them warm, most of the animals hardly even seem to notice the difference between -1 and -20. Very cold and very, very, VERY COLD is just cold to them.

In a few more days the weather is predicted to modulate. I’ll be able to move the houseplants back to their places near windows and exterior walls, and I’ll move the rolled-up rugs and towels away from window sills and doors. We will go outside with tiny bits of skin exposed and not worry about instant frostbite. It’s gonna be great. Until then I get to keep practicing, as my animals do, the art of letting things be as they are, and trying not to get too upset about it, which is as important a spiritual practice as any other, in my humble opinion.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.


  1. Thank you for your article.
    Am a Chicagoan recently moved to the Black Hills, SD.
    Minus 20s five days straight with minus 40s wind chill, in a trailer (with 2 cats and 2 dogs), on a treeless prairie, 15mph and above winds.
    I’m off-grid, so no electricity except for a single 1 square foot stove. Set my alarm to go off every 40 minutes to stay awake to feed the stove. So did not sleep for 5 days straight, except for what I can get between the alarms. On the end tail of the arctic blast where low temp was minus 2, I allowed myself to literally pass out for 4 hours from the cumulative exhaustion.

    Fingers of death is how I describe it. Creeping through the walls, the insulation, the floors.
    Such a battle to keep them at bay.

    This is a lesson. Next winter, no matter how severe the arctic blast, I will be prepared.


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