I was at the simple North Country shopkeepers’ place of business Thursday morning trying to keep my eyeballs from rolling back into my head.

I was out of coffee at home. The glistening white snow, predawn light and temperature in the teens were not helping. I was not noticing the Christmas decorations that were trying to fill me with joy.

Without coffee in the morning, I actually do not possess blood pressure. I am an iguana in the arctic, even though I was wearing two fleeces under my winter coat.

I try, but I am not able to shed my primal dread of the winter.

I know that without all this wood and oil and boots and jackets and windows and walls and blankets, and on and on, I would simply become a popsicle.

This is what I was thinking about when Rick Shiel came in. He lives in a cabin on a mountain.

I asked him how he was doing. He said, “Surviving the dream.” That instead of living the dream.

Later he said that’s not what he meant to say. It just came out that way.

I’ll go with that, anyway.

Right now, when I’m working (not including chores), my office is out in the snowy woods. In the summer, my office is in the garden.

Soon, I imagine, if it stays cold, I’ll also be spending some time out on the ice, looking down a little hole.

If that doesn’t sound like a dream that needs surviving, I don’t know what does.

You can be out their sitting on your bucket when the temperature is in the teens and feel just fine. Then the wind comes, the clouds, a snow squall, and you might start thinking you’re Rear Admiral Robert Edwin Peary Sr. on his way to the North Pole.

I go ice fishing to catch perch, and thanks to my late friend John Vincek, I know how and where to do that.

I’m afraid that this year I’ll find myself cleaning the fish by myself. John and I would do that together in his basement after a day on the ice.

Having two people on a job like that more than halves the time to complete the task because of the possibility of more efficiency.

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said a person cannot run a farm without help. I know exactly what he meant.

Things are just more efficient if, for example, one person throws the hay and the other person stacks it.

I have done my share of that sort of thing alone, and it takes forever. Plus, it’s just not as fun.

But, if I want perch, I will probably be fishing alone and cleaning fish alone — another dream that asks for a bit of survival skills.

Of course on my way home from fishing, I can always stop at the simple North Country shopkeepers’ store and have a delicious cup of coffee while I gather gems of wisdom from the shopkeepers themselves and the other patrons.

And even, maybe, I could glean a little of the Christmas spirit from all those other people who are surviving the dream.

Forrest Hartley survives in Hadley. You can leave him a message at new_americangothic@yahoo.com.


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