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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Cold Comfort

Air Date: Week of

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Layers, layers and more layers. That, and a philosophy of conservation, is how commentator Gussie Fauntelroy stays comfortable working indoors without heat in the winter.


CURWOOD: Folks who live in the Northeast and Midwest have endured one of the longest winters that anyone can remember, with above average snowfall and below average temperatures. And the season is far from over yet. Meanwhile, in the Sangre de Christo Mountain Range of New Mexico, commentator Gussie Fauntleroy is taking winter in stride. She has decided you don’t need to keep your house warm to stay comfortable.

FAUNTLEROY: It’s amazing how much warmer this house feels when the thermometer in the living room reads 50 degrees instead of 45. My office in the northwest corner has made it up to 47, after lingering in the low 40s. On the coldest mornings, icy crystalline lace often spreads across the inside of the window panes. Now, in relative warmth, the moisture trickles down the glass.

The American ideal is to slip from toasty house, to pre-warmed car, to perpetually heated buildings. We rarely stop to think about the swift depletion of the earth’s ancient store of compressed energy, as we keep our toes warm on a winter floor. Still, I have to admit, my life in a walk-in fridge began not with principle, but practicality. With the decision not to use the ridiculously expensive baseboard electric heaters in this poorly insulated, tree-surrounded house, or to spend the time and money it would take to keep the wood stove burning non-stop.
As it is, I light the stove each evening and enjoy its comfort and warmth until bedtime.

Eyebrows go up when I tell someone the room where I sit at my desk all day is 45 degrees. But the secret to keeping warm is simple--multiple layers, starting with silk long-johns, and ending with a thermal vest, a polypropylene cap, and down-filled booties. Every day, November till April.

For certain, I don’t advocate this lifestyle for everyone, not even myself in the long run. My dream house will be warm in winter, well insulated, completely off the grid, and heated by the sun. But for now, at least, I can truthfully say I like living this way. There’s an element of realness to it. And there are side benefits. No need to remember to put the beer in the fridge. On the other hand, no dinner guests until summer. I enjoy being aware of the subtle changes of season. I’m grateful for the empathy I’m able to feel with the millions of people who, for whatever reason, are not in warm shelter on winter nights. I pray in thankfulness for what I have. I pray with hope for the people who need so much.

[MUSIC: Dusted “Childhood” Back To Mine Ultra Records (2001)]

CURWOOD: Writer Gussie Fauntleroy lives at 7,000 feet in the mountain foothills near Santa Fe, New Mexico. A longer version of her essay first appeared in Orion magazine.



Link to Orion magazine for a longer version of this commentary


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