You could divide the North Country into two groups. There are those who function on well and septic while others are served by municipal utilities. Your guess would be good as mine as to which has the larger numbers. Considering there are apartment complexes in the Twin Ports that have resident numbers nearing half the population of my county I’d suspect urban sewer, water, and electric users are the majority, but on the other hand there are a lot of people spread out from the width to the tip of the Arrowhead region. However, a harsh winter like this one puts all to the test. In the countryside a lack of snow plus lots of cold allows the frost to run deep where it can freeze block a septic drain field or clamp off your water.

It’s sometimes possible to fix these problems, but the primary remedy is called spring when nature thaws the blocks and it becomes possible at last to dig up and repair whatever damage may have happened in the big, deep freeze. In the wait-for-spring solution you’re fortunate if your septic tank can be turned into a holding tank and your neighbor will share their unfrozen well with you. I know well the joys of lugging home five gallon containers of water, part of my daily routine from early winter until late spring when my water supply could again be used. There is nothing wrong with water rationing, but even the most luxurious sponge bath lacks the glorious indulgence of a delightfully longish shower. If you’ve ever lacked running water you’ll know the particular routine of head washing bent over at the sink. It gets the job done but always with the sideshow of water dribbling down the arms and off the elbows to form twin puddles on either side of your feet. With those pools as a head start I’d do a quick floor mop, which in the case of my old house had to be darn fast before the water turned to an icy sheet. Those were interesting years for me. I felt like a world traveler because when I stood my head was in the tropics and my feet in the arctic. The temperate zone of my little planet was found reclining on the couch, though on twenty below nights that elevation took on a noticeably frosty feeling.

A person could envy the urban dweller. I know I did. Lucky them to turn a valve and enjoy abundant city water with no pump to worry about freezing in the dead of winter. On the other hand when a city main freezes and ruptures it can dry up an entire neighborhood and create interesting conditions as the escaping water flows on and on and on along the frozen surface. In addition to that sort of thing there is the unparalleled experience of streets dug up in winter. Aren’t those a joy? As much as the motorist or nearby resident dislikes the upset the real pain is felt by those workers enduring cold, wet, and dirt under distinctly unpleasant conditions made not a bit better by the likes of you or I giving them the evil eye to hurry them up.

Those are some of the cold and hard realities of living here. It’s not that I really want to go somewhere else, but this winter and last have made me begin to wonder if there might not be a place a little less challenging.

Daunting as our weather might be I find it much more agreeable than the climate for cartoon journalists this past week in Paris. That’s really bad climate. To be honest, I much prefer living with cold hard ground to life under the cold hard facts of true belief. I’ve heard some sentiment saying the killed had it coming and were asking for it by being provocative and satirical. But then, that rationalizing explanation does blame the victim doesn’t it? Should we accept the same when a rapist claims his victim asked for it by showing too much something? If you want really bad weather live in a climate where obedience is more important than liberty or free speech. That climate freezes freedom. The Arctic blast seen in Paris had its start 1,400 years ago when the messenger of a deity (understandable only in Arabic) marched an army of faithful into Mecca to declare a reign of peace beginning with the executions of those who opposed, scorned, rejected, or were in other ways disobedient in act or contrary in thought. The cause of what happened in Paris stems from a view that independence of thought or criticism is so displeasing to a deity the “just” result must be death of those committing the error we might call freedom of conscience.

A chain of cold, hard events goes back over a thousand years to a source insistent on conformity and orthodoxy as the only thing of worth. This process makes obedience to a sole and particular deity the ultimate and only human right. To me that’s the climate of tyranny. It doesn’t matter what the justification. Compulsory respect has the same impact on freedom as does a required belief. No matter how people try to paint pictures of peaceful submission the result is no less authoritarian. Fascism in religion is hardly distinguishable from its counterpart in politics. Both are rejections of the hard-won Western traditions of freedom of conscience and expression. Those who say journalism should be respectful and not cause offense show they are nicely cowed into obedience as a bullying system intends. To them I say they are entitled to (and deserve) their opinion. But to them who hold that those killed in Paris were asking for it by being insulting I counter saying such opinion is asking for all the criticism, scorn, and mockery it so well deserves. Having a gun held to your head does not make a belief right or those who do so anything but oppressors.