Staying Warm, with Ishmael and Queequeg

According to the infallible document that is the Canadian Farmer’s Almanac, we’re in for a long, exceptionally cold, and very snowy winter. Here in Toronto, it hit us like a tonne of bricks just last week.

How can we better cope with the cold and the snow? For me, it’s finding joy in the little things. Watching neighbours who hardly speak to each other throughout the warm months join happily together in the early morning to dislodge a car from a snowbank, laughing at the one person who inevitably takes a tumble; arriving at work 45 minutes late without shame; spiking your coffee with the eggnog that one of your coworkers brought in that you vow to yourself to replace but won’t replace; bathing for hours…

But I’ve not yet mentioned the greatest of the simple winter joys — one that has existed since time immemorial, and is described with absolute precision by Herman Melville in Chapter 11 of Moby Dick:

“We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we; when, at last, by reason of our confabulations, what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future.

Yes, we became very wakeful; so much so that our recumbent position began to grow wearisome, and by little and little we found ourselves sitting up; the clothes well tucked around us, leaning against the headboard with our four knees drawn up close together, and our two noses bending over them, as if our knee-pans were warming-pans. We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blankets between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

Amy Sanderson21/12/16