Common Ground: Temperature gauged in eye of the beholder

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

My idea of the temperature outside has less to do with the thermometer or the forecast than it has to do with, well, my idea of the temperature.

The other night, for instance, I had donned all my cold-weather gear in anticipation of the negative temperature advertised on the radio. However, my excitement at hiking to my destination and setting up a stand on a lake read a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once situated and waiting for a coyote to come in, I achieved “waiting temperature,” which is about 20 degrees below “setting up” temperature.

After an hour, my temperature started dropping until I reached the dreaded “actual temperature.”

I couldn’t see the dark landscape of the lake past my breath. I imagined that my kneecaps were frozen machine parts, my toes and fingertips went from numb to stinging with pain.

Whenever my thrill meter starts dropping, my ability to observe sharpens. Although family members have called this “complaining” it is, in my mind, a highly sophisticated art of observation. It notices such things as an inability to make facial expressions due to cold or the horrible scraping sound of anything against frozen snow being like that of a reaper’s blade against the short hairs on my back.

My hunting partner does not share my signs and symptoms. When I glanced up from the fetal position I assumed, he was undaunted by the hypothermic condition of the weather. He focused a red light on his thermos lid before he poured his coffee. When the temperature of the coffee met the cold, a red steam erupted from the lid and unfurled into the atmosphere in a mushroom cloud.

“It’s pretty cold,” I observed.

He glanced around as if he were noticing the temperature for the first time. He didn’t say anything, but I took his silence for lack of agreement. Arguments about the weather have caused me unnecessary stress in years past, so I try to avoid them. Trying to convince certain of those among us, especially winter sport enthusiasts, that it is getting too cold to persevere is like trying to get an Olympic swimmer to admit that the pool conditions are “too wet.”

Once it was 2 degrees outside and, just to be pleasantly conversational, I said, “It sure is cold out.” The person next to me lived for the ski slopes, glanced at my parka and shrugged his windbreakered shoulders.

“I’m not cold,” he said.

“But,” I ventured, “You must admit that it is cold.”

“It’s not that bad,” he said.

To me, he was being a bit insincere, so I persisted.

“If there is such a thing as ‘freezing’ and the term ‘freezing’ is commonly known to be 32 degrees and it is only 2 degrees, then, by definition, it is cold. You must admit,” I said.

He mustn’t admit, was the gist of his response. Even though my temperature and blood pressure shot up as I tried to convince a growing number of onlookers that it was cold outside, and was eventually removed from the premises by security staff, I was certain that it was cold.

What I learned was one man’s “cold” is another man’s “just right.” The temperature gauge hangs on the wall like a dictionary full of prevailing standards of acceptability sits on the shelf — the best way to use it in an argument is to pick it up and throw it at someone.

My name is Christine Cunningham and I actually had a dictionary thrown at me once. It was over some trifling of words at the state Future Problem Solving competition, circa 1994. I remain unconvinced that “common usage” is not a viable argument, and my friend in the windbreaker never would admit that anything other than beer was cold.

It was about 11 p.m. and my hunting partner and I had not met with hunting success. “The temperature must have really dropped,” I said. Translation — let’s get the hell out of here.

He pulled the squealing rabbit call out of his jacket. There’s something about hearing the high-pitch call of a squealing rabbit in minus 9 degrees while watching once-warm breath shoot out the end of the call on a frozen lake in the dark that made me feel like I was in the Chosen Reservoir experiencing the worst weather in 50 years, cut off from air support and assaulted by snow, wind and temperatures of minus 40 degrees.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the thermometer says when we get back to the vehicle,” I said. “I bet it’s dropped 20.”

It hadn’t. The temperature had actually risen two degrees. The thing about temperature is that it’s a measure of something in third-party terminology. Like time and money, temperature is a medium of exchange relating one thing to another. What it means to the individual is a matter of perspective.

Some hunters say there isn’t enough time to go hunting much this year. Some say there isn’t enough money. Some say it’s too dark, too late, too early, too clear, too cloudy or too cold.

On the way to my morning coffee the next day, a coyote ran in front of my vehicle and trotted alongside the road, right smack dab in the middle of town. It was minus 6 degrees outside as he stopped and watched as I took his picture. He didn’t seem to think it was too cold.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. She can be reached at


1 Comment

Filed under fishing, outdoors, recreation, winter

One response to “Common Ground: Temperature gauged in eye of the beholder

  1. Joshua Schriver

    I love the article. It’s some real stuff.

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