Sunday, June 3, 2012

Is winter a season for Australians to be discontent?

Kindergarten Umbrella Scene

In Australia winter officially starts on June 1 and finishes at the end of August. Simple! 

Astronomically, the cold season is defined by earth's orbital position in relation to the sun, with its midpoint - winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, June 21 this year. Personally, I know winter has arrived when I find myself making roasts, craving nothing more than hearty hot soups, a doona and my arctic thermals (I made a trip to Macquarie Island for a Medivac during the early 1990's and was issued with  ChilTech Underwear --a high quality thermal underwear and its been standard winter-wear for me ever since. Must get some more!)
For Australians, lovers of surf, sun, beaches and BBQ’s, winter can be one brutal bastard of a season. Mornings staying absolutely still in bed, knowing that the slightest movement can dissipate the warmth of body, blanket and bed. Then there’s the mad rush to the bathroom onto cold tile floors, shivering as we turn the bathroom heater onto high.
Like some Russian widow facing the snow spending the rest of the day and dragging an oil heater from room to room, we migrate to the warmest part of the home – which the dog and cat have already found and claim with stiff resistance to any attempts to shift them. An uneasy truce is made whereby the rules are that if one vacates a warmer spot for any reason it is abandoned to others – hence bowels are tightened and bladder sphincters are knotted to minimise the need for toilet trips.
And sometimes we end up a hospital patient attached to an IV drip. Hospitals are place for the ill, infirm and dying, do you realise just how many people actually die in hospitals? They are inundated in winter, due to the cold and an increased demand for beds. All around the country, we contract influenza, and suffer from something delightful called viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu.
Winter Rains
We get unhealthy in winter. Our regular daily dog walking regimen is swiftly replaced by other non-traditional, non-Olympic sports such as extreme crock pot cooking, or, stocking the freezer with microwaveable meals. Our showers become marathon events. At night, we cling more closely than ever to our partners (or pets, or children), not because we love each other more in winter, but because they are a source of body heat.
Australians just aren't made for this kind of weather. We yearn for the warmth of summer and live in complete denial that it ever gets cold at all. Would you believe that central or in-built heating systems are rare. Double glazing is an even more rare occurrence despite its obvious summer advantages to home energy conservation. Come June, we're always caught off guard by the sudden necessity of wearing, say, trousers and pullovers – in my case, Artic thermal underwear.
I have an advantage, having spent several Autumns in the Australian alps teaching under-graduate environmental studies students how to operate heavy plant - snow ploughs, front-end loaders, graders and to drive a Snow Cat (just like driving an armoured personnel carrier only with windows instead of little metal view flaps.) I would spend days selecting suitable boggy ground, such as that on the "Flats" at Dead Horse Gap, to get the plant thoroughly ‘dug in’ to a depth and then climb out, walk over to this anaemic looking bunch of city students and say – ‘OK! Now, get it out of there! No breaks for meals until every bit of plant is high and dry!’
Dead Horse Gap Flats- Early Autumn
Then, when the snows come I would go back and teach them ‘Search and Rescue’, how to use the Snow Cat without getting themselves lost – which most managed to do - and how to get across hillsides without rolling the ‘Cat’ downhill - which very few did!
Falls Creek Snow Fields
Many countries have far more brutal winters, of course, the kind that make you reassess humanity's collective wisdom in thinking any of these places were fit for human habitation. There’s this remote Siberian village, population fewer than 500, now regarded as the coldest permanently inhabited area on earth. It boasts an average yearly highs of minus 8.5C (16.7F) and an average lows of minus 22.7C. (minus 8.86F).
Siberian village harsh snowy winter
Its record low is minus 71.2C, or, minus 96.16F.
In winter our bodies transform in magical and revolting ways! For a start, we get fatter. Even the fittest people gain an extra kilogram or two during winter. This fat rarely helps. It's a myth that packing on the weight makes us feel warmer. The fat we gain is most likely due to our associating the cold with famine. We hold on more tightly to any energy reserves we don't use. Some research also suggests the sleep hormone activated by darkness comes into full force in colder periods and makes us hungrier. Other suggest that lacking exposure to sunshine lowers vitamin D levels so we retain more fat.
During colder periods, we pee a lot, partly because we perspire less when cold, but in low temperatures we also undergo something called peripheral vasoconstriction. To minimise heat loss in cold conditions, blood vessels in our skin narrow to stop blood flowing to outer tissues. Blood pools towards the core of our bodies, which pushes up blood pressure in our arteries. Our kidneys - which regulate blood volume and pressure - reabsorb or shed water according to our hydration and blood-pressure levels, ergo, we pee more.
We yawn more. God bless those scientists, whoever they are that suggest - counter-intuitively - that people yawn more in the cold to suck in outside air and ensure the brain is kept cool and functioning. We yawn less in summer, only because we would be sucking in hot air that would cause our brains to overheat. Apparently, our brains function better in colder periods than they do in hot conditions.
Winter makes us more depressed. Winter will always flatten out our moods through the lack of sunshine which in turn alters our alertness and moods. Most people adjust to this as winter ploughs on, but some suffer from fully blown “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD). Originally labelled "seasonal depression" in the 1980s, Seasonal Affective Disorder is notable for having symptoms  such as weight gain, increased sleep, carbohydrate cravings (I eat more chocolate honeycomb pieces in winter) that are more opposite to some of the more common signs of depression.
Bright light therapy is a common treatment for Seasonal
Affective Disorder and for circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

Another winter syndrome is the condition also known as "Cabin Fever".

"Mountain of Madness" is the twelfth episode of The Simpson’s' eighth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 2, 1997. In the episode, Mr. Burns tries to encourage more teamwork among his employees and forces the workers of Springfield Nuclear Power Plant to go for a hike in the mountains. Burns and Homer are paired together and trapped in a cabin that was buried by avalanches.

Homer and Mr. Burns becoming more and more paranoid,
convinced the other is trying to kill him.

In any case, we probably shouldn't complain. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Australia is minus 22.7C. (minus 8.86F) -  that is that Siberian village’s average low. Here I am sitting inside with the reverse cycle air con set to 18C (65F), ankle length wool-lined slippers on and wearing brushed cotton and wool over-garments on top of my Arctic underwear, sipping on a steaming mug of hot tea.

ChilTech Underwear --If you need a high quality thermal wicking garment
that is not too bulky, then these garments are designed for you.
(No! I wont put up a photo of my in my  ChilTech ! lol!)
I'm not alone, tho’, when I say, "Bring on spring,!" It's that brief interlude between mind-numbing winters and the burning summers of natural disasters – the latter where the heat destroys us, the air con is turned to “Icey” and we lie uncovered on the bed at night moaning, ice packs over our foreheads and wishing for a cool change that rarely comes. By then, we are sweating out our weight in salt and water again, and our minds will have turned to mush.
Spring and Autumn – these are my Australian seasons. The time when we can sit outdoors in daylight saving hours, drinking cold  beer and with the BBQ roasting some bird or joint, the neighbours doing likewise – with or without our company – and the radio pumping out the sounds of the “Beachboys” and summers on a beach in the background!

Carry on Joe McDoake!


Susan Heather said...

I have been lighting two fires already and we are in the north of the country. N.Z. that is.

JohnD said...

Well, from a solstice point of view, winter did start earlier this year, so it should sart warming up around the first week in August! lol! Something to look forward to. We got an inch of rain last night!

North of Wiarton & South of the Checkerboard said...

With this dampness here in Ontario right now, John, I am thinking stoking up the woodstove for the 2nd time this week here. Brrr my body does not do well with dampness, as does anybody else!

Susan Heather said...

We have rain forecast for tomorrow. Was hoping to view the transit of Venus - will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. Stepdaughter near Bowral said she had two days of heavy rain. We tend to get "used" Australian weather.

JohnD said...

I wrote this because I've been listening to so many locals whinging about "How cold it is!" and "All this rain!" when actually, compared to many other countries our winters are quite mild and our annual rainfall very moderate. I would hate to hear them if they lived in really cold countries, or, in South East Asia where you can get 200mm+ of rain for days on end!

But I know what you mean by "used weather" - we watch Adelaide as what they get we frequently get two days later.

JohnD said...

You are supposed to be in Spring arn't you? Isn't Spring and Autumn when we can expect to get rain?

LindaG said...

Don't forget that first sit on the cold toilet seat. ;o)
We have cats who do that here, no matter what time of year it is. If you get up, you lose your seat. It's kind of funny at times.

It'll be spring before you know it, John!

JohnD said...

Thanks Linda - I'll be waiting for it!

nick said...

Lucky you, only having a three-month winter! I should be so lucky! Winter in the UK lasts a good six months and often longer. After our 26C heatwave a few days ago, temperatures are now struggling to reach 15 - and it's meant to be summer. But British houses still aren't built to proper cold-resistant standards and we still freeze in winter because of poor insulation and inadequate heating systems. I sometimes think the Brits are a nation of masochists!

JohnD said...

I was in England once, for the summer. Next day it was winter again! lol!