Forty Below Zero

I survived, alone with two dogs, for 60 days. Talk about silent meditation!
Forty below zero


was not uncommon in the winter of 1971 in the woods of New Hampshire. I was twenty-one.

How I came to be there is a story I’ll not recount here, at this time.

So for me, here now in the winter of 2022 on the north eastern plain of Colorado, at the age of seventy-three – This ain’t nothing! I’m referring to the present cold snap everyone’s howling about.

Cold Confidence

is something that surviving in winter under those conditions instilled in me. I was alone with just my two dogs, Korak and his pup Frog. The squatter shack I lived in had no electricity nor plumbing. It was heated with a sheep herders wood burning stove. To keep the stove fired was my work. There was no laid-up wood supply. I had to first locate standing-dead trees, preferably oak. I did this on snowshoes. All said trees close to the shack had already been used up by the previous squatters, my friends. They had built the camp in the north woods to evade the draft; but by the time I got there were gone.

To fell the trees I used a 30 inch bow saw. Once down, I’d then buck the tree into four-foot logs. These I’d load onto a travois I’d fashioned for that purpose. Then I’d pull the loaded travois back to the camp where I’d saw the logs into threes. After that, I’d split the 16 inch rounds into suitable fuel for the stove. One tree might last tree days.

Other Days

I might snowshoe into town for food for the dogs and me. Somedays, I’d do nothing but read and write. Water I got from a small creek. Whenever I needed some, all I had to do was trek down to the creek and hack a hole in the ice, fill my canteen and walk back up. The shit-house was a forked tree. It’s hard to describe so I won’t try.

It was an uncomplicated life. Needless to say – I had no phone, just a P.O. box in town. Or maybe simply “General delivery”?

A letter to me from a friend inviting me to join him in New Hampshire
That’s me in the days of old

My 1954 Dodge Panel truck was parked in a pull-out on the county road. To drive it, for whatever reason, I’d first have to heat the engine block by way of a kerosene heater. The truck was parked maybe a half-mile from the camp. If I was planning to drive that day, first I’d have to carry the small portable heater down to the truck. There I’d light it and place it next to engine, walk back to the cabin, maybe read for a couple hours, then go back to the truck. Only then would the engine turn over.

Like I said, simple. I did have a shotgun, but never occasion to use it.

My Friends

were from college in Colorado. Several of them had gone out to New Hampshire in the summer to set the camp in the woods. The property was … whose I am not sure? I had gotten a high draft number and wasn’t at risk to be drafted, so I remained for a while in Fort Collins. However, come winter, I’d gotten fed up with the whole scene and decided to head east. With a girl, of course. But she left me for the Hare Krishna temple in Boston.

My friends? The “draft dodgers”? They all returned to their real homes. I was all alone in the woods and it was cold!

Nevertheless, I dug it. I can’t tell you why. But I know this: Surviving that forged me into the man I am today. Mostly confident and unafraid of anything. Moreover, so too are those friends who had that experience. Maybe it was like war? A bonding thing that lasts forever? I know my father’s forever friends were his war buddies – the 491st Bomb Group (H).

This Cold Snap

ain’t nothing. Did I ever tell you about the time … . Say pass that bottle over here, will ya? It’s not too early, is it?



















13 thoughts on “Forty Below Zero

  1. Winter of ’71. I was just out of the Air Force, and two of my CSU friends who opened a health food store in Aspen let me stay in the shed out back. My sleeping bag, a back pack, my guitar, and a puppy. You always were a survivor thriver. Reminds me of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.” When you spat, did it crackle before it reached the ground?

  2. Sounds brutal! At least you didn’t need to have three dogs. At night…

    We usually get some -20 stretches every winter (was -11 today with -38 wind chill), but that’s about the worst of it. Ice fishing weekend up on the Canadian border one time it got down to -44. That was fun. My friends in Los Angeles complain when it gets down to +50.

  3. Really enjoyed this piece, Mark. The day-to-day, the draft-dodgers, the girl who went Hare Krishna- sounds to me like you’ve got enough for a novella or something like that.

    I’d agree that the cold snap isn’t much to howl about, except that the car just died on me while I was driving. Barely made it back home with the radio and speedometer dead, and no way to signal a turn…

    1. Thanks. I just went down to my garage and plugged the battery charger in. It’s a far cry from those days of long ago – when I was young. Yeah, the girl – she was something! I was definitely a fool for love. Still am I guess. And adventure; but not much gas left in the tank.
      Hope you get your car fixed and it’s not too costly.

    1. Sorry, didn’t see this; didn’t know you’d replied. We’re having a “warm spell” — highs in the low 30s. Global warming has taken a lot of the teeth out of Minnesota winters.

      I have a buddy I used to do a lot of fishing with. We originally connected over a love of science and science fiction, and over the years he got more and more into fishing. It’s his main goal in life now, and he’s got a line in the water as often as possible year-round.

      Which means ice fishing for a good third of the season, a sport I just cannot get into. Sitting in a boat with a great view all around is one thing but sitting in a little shack on the middle of a frozen lake staring at a #$%* hole in the ice for all the hours of the day… not for me.

      But I gave it try. Truth is, on our trips, he camped to fish in a great spot, I went along with the fishing to camp in a great spot. I think we both appreciate the value of being out in the wilderness many miles from (so-called) “civilization”. Just sky, water, trees, rocks, and critters.

  4. Okay, I was wondering … . I used to trout fish, a lot. But never on a frozen lake. I’m with you , “sky, water, trees, rocks, and critters.” Yep. And camping, yep.

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