I AM RELUCTANTLY getting ready for winter. The season of frozen pipes and freezing weather is still at least a month away. But bitter experience has taught me that you have to start battening down the household hatches while the autumn sun is still shining, however dimly.
Each year, I seem to be more unwilling than before to acknowledge that winter is coming.
For example, it wasn't until the temperature dipped into the 30s this week that I got around to replacing the screen on the back door with the warmer, tighter, panel of glass.
I had put off the door work, telling myself that any day now the weather might turn warm. If that happened, I wouldn't want to have the balmy breezes blocked from coming through the back door.
However, when the forecasts started mentioning a "possibility of snow," I had to admit that breezes coming through the back door were more likely to be biting than balmy. I replaced the door's screen panel with one made of glass. This transformation changed the nature of the door. When it was a screen door, it was an airy gate to the great outdoors. Now that it was a storm door, it was a barrier, a wall of warning reminding all who exit through it to proceed with caution.
I was also slow to remove the backyard hose. I was trying to convince myself I could squeeze in one more car-washing session before the weather gave the once-friendly waters a forbidding chill.
For me, taking the hose inside is akin to a commanding officer lowering the flag at his fort. It is a signal that you are abandoning your outpost, that the time of peaceful coexistence is over. No more will you sit in the backyard, staring at the stars or at your neighbor's gutters, pondering the meaning of the universe. The weather has turned hostile, forcing you to flee to the interior of your home, taking your curled-up garden hose with you.
This week, I struck my backyard colors, hurriedly carrying the hose into the basement. A raucous wind seemed to laugh at me, and a cold rain pelted my face. It was not a graceful retreat. The hose, which I thought had been drained of water, surprised me by dropping a pool of water on the basement floor. Later, as I was putting the hose down for its long winter's nap in a tool closet, the hose rebelled, knocking over a box of grass seed. The seeds rained down on a stack of garden tools, sounding like a spring shower hitting a car roof. I shut the door to the tool closet and made a mental note to clean up the spilled seeds next April. To every cleanup, there is a season.
I began the rites of weatherstripping, feeding strips of felt and foam to drafty doors and window frames. I do this every fall. When I finish plugging up some of the household's holes, I tell myself, "That will hold the fort." It does, for about four months. Then wear and tear, and -- this is my new theory -- the shifting of the Earth's continental plates, eventually loosen the weatherstripping. This means that every autumn, I arm myself with the tools of the weatherstripper and do battle with drafts.
Occasionally, I read about the rare "sick" house that is so tightly plugged up that it doesn't breathe. A house that has no fresh air entering it. I am fascinated by this situation because my house is in exactly the opposite predicament. With its ancient windows ,, and doors, my house not only breathes, it hyperventilates. One of my missions in life is to slow down the respiration rate of my house.
In making my preparations for the coming cold, I did not take the final step of submitting to winter. I did not turn on the heat. Turning on the heat this soon before Thanksgiving would be a sign of weakness. It may be chilly in our house, but it is not yet cold. The water in the pipes is not even close to freezing. You can't see your breath.
I tell members of my family that if they are cold, they can put on sweaters. A few days ago, I noticed my wife was wearing a ski jacket at the breakfast table. I thought she looked stunning. And now that I have put the glass panel in the back door and sealed up the windows, we can take our coats off.
Pub Date: 11/08/97