January 2014 began with severe cold weather that plunged Bloomington, Indiana, temperature to 14 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (and a wind-chill of minus 30). Nedra and I were house bound for about four days before we could drive to replenish our food supply. The last time we experienced such cold weather was in Minneapolis in 1986 when I was on sabbatical leave studying medical genetics at the Dight Institute. We lived in the student “ghetto” known as Dinkytown. The temperature for several days was below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit and I had to removed the battery from the car when I got back from the University and carry it into the apartment where we lived so I could get it started in the morning. I learned from our neighbors that multiple layers of clothing is the most important way to survive, including “long john” underwear that extended to my toes. Even with all the scarves and layers of clothing I would still have ice caking around the fabrics surrounding my face. Fortunately I did not have to go out in this Bloomington freeze. I had my computer at home to use, an advantage of internet technology not present when I was at Minnesota. Nedra and I prevented “cabin fever” by keeping busy with our projects. Nedra had quilting projects to do and I wrote a flurry of Life Lines articles for the North Shore of Long island newspapers. I got caught up reading Science and Nature articles. We also tried out new bean soups, ideal for cold weather, especially with the left over ham bones from the Christmas treat our son John and his wife Dawn sent us.
It also made me reflect on what makes humans such a successful species. We can create micro-environments that allow us to live and function in hot or cold weather or in arid or wet surroundings. There are limits to this. We depend on others and cannot do this all by ourselves. Living in an industrialized civilization requires a surrendering of individual autonomy to some degree. We can’t make our own computers, telephones, cable news television channels, or even build our comfortable homes with all their utilities. We often take these things for granted but when a sudden change in weather or a natural disaster occurs, we quickly realize how interdependent we humans are. There are hundreds of skills we depend on to make a civilization possible.