Keep the cold, the heat is why I live in the desert

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com

It was 56 degrees in the house and it was raining outside at 7 a.m. on Friday, but I still went to the kitchen and poured a glass of ice tea. In the closet, I fanned through 15 short-sleeve shirts and a half-dozen lightweight long-sleeve shirts. I had exactly two heavier long-sleeve shirts I could wear over a tee-shirt that would be about right for a 50-something day.

About 10 a.m. I realized I was chilled even with the heavier shirt. The back of my neck and shoulders were colder than I like until I draped a sweat shirt (buried in a bottom drawer under shorts) over my back and tied the arms around my neck. I walked past the thermostat four times refilling my tea glass while working in my office. The temperature wouldn’t budge above 58, and I finally kicked the heat on for the first time in at least nine months.

I don’t like the cold. I would bet that we sleep 320 days a year with the bedroom slider open. It has been closed much of the past two weeks and the Labrador and I don’t particularly like it closed. The dog has bad gas and it needs to vent.

When I was younger, when my blood surged through my veins with a little more vigor and wasn’t being thinned daily, I would enjoy being out during cold, rainy, or snowy days casting for trout or chasing deer or waiting for waterfowl, layered right up to the rain gear and waders that kept me dry and warm, seeming to cheat on nature. But if the cold penetrated the barrier, either because of inactivity or dampness, even back then I’d pull the plug and seek out someplace warmer. As I aged, the amount of time became less and less before I retreated from the seeping cold.

Warm, cozy camps are essential if you’re going to be outdoors in the cold. I’m getting to the age where I prefer the warm camp even to the cold fishing or hunting. My Sierra trout opening day this past spring, with eight inches of fresh snow on the ground in Mammoth Lakes, was spent tying flies by the fire in the condo until lunch time, and then going on a drive with the car heater running full blast while peering out into the bright, breezy day, watching boats on lakes and deer feed on sage.

The truth is that you don’t have to be fishing to enjoy fishing, ditto for hunting. There have been far more big fish landed, doubles on teal, and running shots on the winter meat supply made over meals, drinks, or around wood fires than standing knee deep in snow with the wind chill making it 12 degrees. I’ve had a white, frozen mustache before. The mustache is white again, but that’s not ice, that’s age and hopefully some wisdom.

I suspect my ancestors were in a multi-generation migration to find this desert oasis where we live. They all fled cold, northern climates in Europe and England to the Midwest, got waylaid in Colorado a while trying to get over the Rockies, and then found Southern California and stuck here. People put up with the cold all over the world, looking forward to summer and natural doses of Vitamin D. We are on Vitamin D overload. I don’t want to pick on friends and family who live in colder, wetter climates, but I truly think warm sunshine makes you smarter. Certainly, it makes you happier.

I’m a warm weather sportsman. I admit it. I have a friend who I have never seen fish if he couldn’t wear shorts. If it wasn’t warm enough so wet wading was not just an option but a good idea while trout fishing a stream, he’d pass. I get it. In fact I may be getting there. I’ve never liked duck hunting when ice was forming on the water or fishing when the ice was freezing my line solid to the guides. I like the places where that happens, but I like them only in the summer (when it’s not cold). It is the threat of real winter that keeps me here.

A few years ago (OK, more than a few years, the boys were tots), I actually few to Minnesota to interview for a job. Becky and I got there in early May, and there were no leaves on the trees and there was still snow on the shady sides of the buildings. Everyone was talking through their noses like they were characters in the movie “Fargo,” and the guys were excited because “da ice ‘as yust gone oot on da lakes and we’s goon musky fishin’ des weekend.”

The ice had just gone out? It was May for crying out loud. R.G. and I had been wade-fishing Lake Perris for two months, in shorts and tennis shoes since early April. We’d also just come back from the snow-capped Sierra trout opener, but the aspens were already leafing out and we fished in short sleeves the whole weekend. But in Minnesota I was wearing a jacket, and the ice had just thawed off the lakes there. They were all still plugging in their cars at night just to keep them warm enough to start in the mornings. They all had snow tires. What kind of hell was this place?

No thank you. I’ll take serious heat over that kind of cold any day. I like 110 degree Mojave Desert days so long as there’s shade and the doves are flying or the fish are biting. Even without fish or doves there is napping under a mesquite or story-telling or story-listening.

When it’s hot here, I like that if you know where there is desert water, you can see all the wildlife in the area. I like whitewing doves, Colorado River flathead catfish, desert mule deer, little trout streams, horned lizards, and naked waterfowl hunting. (Just seeing if you are paying attention – but you could hunt waterfowl naked if you wanted. Early season hunting is frequently in camo shorts and tee-shirts around here.) But mostly I don’t like being cold.

A Montana chum always says that you can always put on enough clothes to be warm, but you run out of clothes to take off when it’s really hot.

I know, I scrunch up my puzzled face each time he says that, too.

It’s not like we have to stand out in the sun when it’s 100 degrees. We have shade, and the balmy nights more than make up for the hot days. Or we can go up in the mountains or to the beach in an hour or so if two weeks of 100 degrees gets a little tedious. It’s not like a guy from Montana or Minnesota can drive away from the cold. He can’t get away without at least a three-hour airplane ride to -- well -- here. It’s that or wait four months.

So if it weren’t for the few cold days we have each winter, I might forget how much I like our climate and our fishing and hunting diversity. And as politically incorrect as it may be, I’m rooting for global warming. The thought of an ice age chills the tinkle out of me.

END

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