Why do my bosses want me to sleep outside in the freezing cold?


I need help. Some of you probably already assumed that, so let me be more specific: I need your help. To be even more clear, I need your help so that I can avoid freezing my tail feathers off, or dying of carbon-monoxide poisoning, or in an avalanche of my own making.

Here’s why: My editors have been plotting again. They call it “meeting,” but we all know what’s really going on when they all get together each morning to talk about potential stories. They’re plotting.

The other day, in fact, all of my bosses (I’ve got several) emerged from their regular plotting … oops … meeting …. and said something that made my blood (and the rest of me) run cold.

“What do you think about building a snow shelter?” one of them asked.

“And what do you think about sleeping overnight in it … right after the big blizzard?” another pitched in.

Then a third said the five magic words that always set off the odd dog-whistle tone in my writer’s ear: “It’ll make a great story.”

Yes, I reluctantly admitted. It will. Since then, however, I’ve been thinking. About snow, and snow shelters, and sleeping outside with coyotes and moose and bears. OK. Forget the bears. They’re hibernating. Add red squirrels instead.

And the more I thought, the more I realized I need help. Your help. Anyone’s help.

I face a few challenges, you see. First, while not a great student of history, I would imagine that it was quite a hallmark day when our cave (or snow-shelter) dwelling ancestors figured out how to pound nails and build actual houses.

Not that I can really pound nails or build anything, of course.

Which is the other challenge: I’m not handy. At all. A bit.

Luckily, my editors were aware of that fact, and while they were plotting, they sent me a lifeline, of sort. His name is Brian. He’s our visuals editor. And not only is he handy, he’s more or less fearless.

Climb rocks? He does it. Climb ice? He does it. Surf in the winter? He does it. Rewire buildings and build things with his own two hands? He does it.

And he’s my shelter-building buddy.

While I appreciate the help that my bosses have provided, I decided to ask my cousin Adam what he thought I ought to know about sleeping outside in a snow shelter. Adam is an outdoorsy guy, and has camped during the winter before. I knew he’d be the right person to ask for help.

And I was right. Kind of.

“Make sure that the snow is packed down before you dig,” he told me in an email message. “Once you have [the shelter] made stick a small can of Sterno in there. That will heat up the inside snow just enough for it to freeze solid after you put out the Sterno.”

Sounded great … even though he never told me how high to pile the snow, or how, exactly, to chisel out a little hidey-hole without the whole snowpile avalanching onto my head.

As it turns out, Adam admits that he’s really a “wing it” kind of guy when it comes to snow shelters. His confidence in my abilities was nice, if misplaced.

But it turns out he knows me a bit better than I thought he did.

“As far as sleeping, grab the thickest sleeping pad you can find and put it on a tarp to keep it dry,” he wrote. Then, [use] the warmest sleeping bag you can get.”

Finally, he delivered the punchline: “Then sleep inside [the house] after all the others have fallen asleep,” he wrote.

All that sounded like a wonderful plan, but I was quite sure that Brian-the-Handy-and-Fearless wouldn’t agree.

Luckily, on Wednesday, as I was trying to get myself excited about trying to build a suitable snow shelter, I received another message.

It was from Brian-the-Increasingly-Sick.

Shelter-building had been postponed. For now.

But you know bosses: They don’t forget. And eventually, whether it’s next week or the week after that, I’m going to have to sleep in a snow drift.

All of that explains why I need your help. Suggestions are welcome. Hints would be grand. Heck, I’ll even accept horror stories about your own failed winter camping efforts.

At some point, Brian-the-Builder and I will give this a try. Honest. We will.

At least, that’s what the bosses say.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.