Looking Back: Surviving cold

“How’re ya winterin’?” is a common conversation starter in this valley. It dates back to the early days of settlement, as weather often held the key to the rancher’s success.
The extremes of temperature, as well as the amounts of rainfall and snowfall, determined whether or not the family business would continue on. In this case I’m not sure if turning this noun into a verb is part of the rural ranching vernacular, or less a reference to one’s outdoor occupation and simply a statement of fact about the effect extreme weather conditions have on those who work in the livestock business.
“Not so bad,” is the most complimentary response, as weather extends so long here usually, that it signals hope for the rest of the season. “Could be better,” might mean the high number of below zero days is a record high. “Just the way things are,” indicates a willingness to fight the fickleness of the business, and go on to make something good out of something terrible.
Tales told in the early morning coffee get-togethers in the convenience stores and cafes during this time of year bring to mind the “worst winter ever” whether it was due to record breaking snowfalls, or the number of 20 below zero days that had accumulated that year. I never have heard anyone inquire about how one is doing during any other season, so I think it is another extension of the daily weather report.
No matter what section of the country one lives in, interjecting comments about the weather make up a large part of small talk. In Arizona in the summer, year round residents ask, “Hot enough for ya?” or proclaim their allegiance to their extreme temperature highs with the familiar, “But it’s a dry heat.”
A recent phone call from a family member back in Ohio got me thinking about the derivation of the weather inquiry. In the middle of our conversation he suddenly asks “So, how are you wintering?” I was struck silent for a second or two, until I thought to ask him how long he had been using that phrase. While our college town was surrounded by small farms, I had never been asked how I was doing in terms of the weather before.
“All my life, I think, haven’t you?” he asked. He seemed truly astonished that we grew up in the same place and our memories for such small things were different. Western or not, asking about one’s health and welfare using a weather reference is definitely rural. When newcomers to the White River Valley complain about the long winter or the extreme cold, long time residents say things like, “Oh, but we get year round sunshine, and the ice melts fast,” or the “It’s a dry snow,” before they explain why they like the local climate.