Cumberland Times-News

January 11, 2014

You think it’s cold? Here’s what cold is

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— I have been colder at times than I was last Tuesday. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed it, and I didn’t spend much time out in it.

Cold is relative. An e-mail friend of mine lives in Alaska, and she occasionally tells me about it. I Happy-New-Yeared her and told her it was 50 degrees here. She said winter would catch up with us, eventually. (Another woman I won’t argue with.)

The times I’ve been the coldest were while I was hunting.

One morning I was trying to hide from the wind behind a big old hickory tree. Hunting was the last thing on my mind, but eventually a spike buck came out and I shot him.

Just as I was going over to field-dress him, my buddies came down the hill. They had been at the cabin drinking coffee and noticed I was nowhere around, so they became concerned about me.

The wind had been blowing so hard I couldn’t hear one of them less than a hundred yards away when he tooted on his police whistle to tell me it was time to leave.

Frank Calemine took a thermometer with him, and he said it was two degrees above zero down in that hollow, which during the winter months rarely gets any sunshine.

Another morning started out with temperatures in the low 60s. No long underwear, no heavy hunting coat, just a light orange parka. This was LONG before The Weather Channel, so ... looks like it’s gonna be a nice day today.

A cold front went through. Suddenly it was in the 30s and a breeze came up — a fine day for hunting, but not dressed the way I was. I had my Space Blanket out and was gathering wood for a fire when they came to get me in the pickup truck.

Cold isn’t always what you think it is.

The night Capt. Gary and I went ghost-hunting at Spangler’s Spring in Gettysburg during the middle of November, it was cold but we were dressed for it; he’s spent his share of time deer hunting, too, and knows what to wear.

The wind was blowing snow showers around as we walked through the dark toward a little building where The Lady in White is frequently seen. She’s the shade of a woman who was wearing her wedding gown when she killed herself after hearing that her fiance had died in combat during the Civil War.

This building was put up long after the Civil War by the National Park Service, but she seems to have adopted it as a residence. (Doesn’t seem right to call it her living quarters.)

I’ve seen The Lady in White twice now. Also, our buddy Mark took a picture of a window in the side of this building, and it shows her looking out at him.

Gary and I were fine until we got about 10 feet from this little cabin, but then it was like we stepped through the door of a walk-in freezer. The temperature felt like it had dropped 30 degrees or more, but it was a strange cold ... a cold you feel only at times like this.

It was bitter and chilling and not at all natural. This cold would have gotten to you through a spacesuit.

“We’re not supposed to get any closer than this,” Gary said. “Our friends are telling us we’d better get away from here.” I agreed. (We do have friends there, but just can’t see them.) We began to walk away, and the cold abruptly turned off.

Both of us had deliberately avoided looking into the window where The Lady in White posed for her picture.

We were less than the distance from home plate to first base from that building when we turned to look back at it. We couldn’t see it, even though it was of substantial size and was readily visible through the snow from farther away just a few minutes earlier.  It was just gone. All we could see was a thick gray fog that was nowhere else around.

Neither of us volunteered to walk back to make sure it was still there.

That’s when The Lady in White whizzed past me less than 20 feet away. Having seen her before, I recognized her immediately. Startled, I said, “Hello!” I wasn’t expecting an answer and was just as glad that I didn’t get one.

It was like she was fleeing from something ... or someone. No sooner did she go by than half a dozen black shadows came bolting out of the woods beside the park service building, headed for a nearby ridge.

Presently, Gary and I stood there listening to a gun battle on the other side of that ridge: volley fire from what we could tell were black powder muskets that had lead (makes a sharper CRACK! than plain wadding produces) in the barrels.

This went on for a minute, maybe longer, and there must have been a hundred or more gunshots ... rapid-fire at first, then dwindling in number until the only sound was the wind in the trees.

It was about 7:30 p.m. — the same time a firefight took place on the other side of that very ridge during the battle of Gettysburg.

I have often wondered about that, just as I’ve wondered about the the building that disappeared. Did it go someplace else ... or somewhen? For as close as it was and as big as it was, we couldn’t see it.

But ... maybe it didn’t go anywhere.

Maybe Gary and I did.

You laugh, but once I found myself at a place I’d never seen before, and never was able to find again, even though it was on land I’ve walked for more than 40 years and know as well as I know my own living room.

My companion that day was Queenie, a beagle. We were trying to jump a few rabbits so she could chase them and I could turn them into dinner.

The sweetest, happiest and most gentle of dogs suddenly bared her teeth and began to snarl, with every hair on her back standing straight up, and placed herself between me and something she could see, but I could not.

Whatever it was, it was close. I picked her up and got us out of there as fast as I could.

The coldest cold you ever will feel is the cold that comes from within.