Ray Duckler: Frigid temperatures in Concord - the pain and the pleasure
Ice crystals form on the window of the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse as temperatures struggle above zero degrees Fahrenheit; Thursday, January 24, 2013.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Volunteer Dave Tilliston wears a face mask to keep warm in the fifteen degree weather while setting up for the Black Ice Hockey Tournament at White Park; Thursday, January 24, 2013.
SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff
Volunteer, Bob Graffy braves the cold to help set up for the Black Ice Hockey Tournament at White Park; Thursday, January 24, 2013.
SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff
The man’s teeth chattered like castanets, as a homeless shelter volunteer piled on blankets and eased a hot drink into his mouth.
Finally, after the man’s body temperature would not go up, after the blankets and the warm liquid and the hope had not helped, 911 was called, bringing an ambulance and a trip to Concord Hospital.
Switch to White Park, a mile or two away. There, volunteers of another sort finished building the eight rinks needed for this weekend’s 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship. Noses turned red, fingers ached, yet spirits remained warm.
Welcome to the world of single-digit temperatures, below zero at night.
Pain over here.
Fun over there.
And for the rest of us, well, ride it out and wait for spring training.
For the homeless, the bite that’s covered the area the past few days leaves shelter officials and the rest of us wondering how homeless people, those who choose to stick with their tents and their tarpaulins, manage in these conditions.
Some come in from the cold. Bill Watson, who’s dedicated his life to helping the homeless, runs the South
Church program, one of two downtown overnight winter shelters. He happened to be at the First Church the night the freezing man needed more attention than the people there could give him.
Watson said the man might have been high on something. He said the man probably didn’t fully realize the pain involved.
“They couldn’t get him to warm up, and that scares me,” Watson said. “We’re going to have a lot more issues with frostbite. We’re going to have more issues with hypothermia.
“All the volunteers on the provider side of the shelter, we all get hyped up,” Watson continued. “This is all the preparation for what we’ve all been expecting. When we see cold temperatures and the wind and everything, we know people are going to be coming. If people are going to get geared and ready, this is what we’re getting geared and ready for.”
Strangely, Watson says, there is still room at the two shelters. They sleep 60, but had only 36 Wednesday night. Maybe, Watson speculated, it’s because the homeless have become mistrustful of any help after the police closed down their longtime spot in the woods behind Everett Arena. Maybe they’re worried that if they move indoors, their homes, those tents and sleeping bags and blankets, will be gone when they get back.
“I had one guy come in two nights ago,” Watson said. “I remember going by the bank clock on Main Street and it was 8 degrees. He got into South Church, stayed five minutes and said, ‘Nope, I’m going back out. I need to clean off my campsite, and I’m afraid someone is going to take it down.’ That’s exactly what he said to me, and he bolted and he was gone.”
“Wintertime is always a scary time for anyone working with homeless individuals,” added Lorrie Dale, director of the McKenna House, a year-round shelter. “I know the 26 people at my shelter are safe and sound tonight. My concern are the people who don’t have the shelters.”
The world is different in another area, so close to the shelters and the pockets of wooded anonymity, like beyond Storrs Street, near the railroad tracks.
What winter is all about
White Park is buzzing, just one year after warm weather forced organizers of the 1883 Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship to postpone dozens of games. Yesterday, though, volunteers and board members and adult league players froze and smiled.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said tournament organizer Chris Brown. “There’s an excitement about it, which is great. It’s better than having to sit in my car or the trailer and figuring out a new schedule like last year. We’ve all invested time and effort into getting it done, so we’re anxious to get it going.”
Tom Champagne, 54, grew up playing hockey, all over the city. He played peewee youth hockey. He played at Concord High. He plays pickup hockey Thursday nights at Everett Arena. He’ll play this weekend, with the Turtle Pond Flyers.
“We know we’re going to have great ice tomorrow,” Champagne said. “It’s definitely worth it. This is what winter in New Hampshire is all about.”
It’s about parents piling layers on their kids in the morning, then picking them up at the Christa McAuliffe School, arriving early and parking out front, lining North Spring Street like cars at a toll booth.
“We wait until the last minute in the morning, then run down the street when the bus comes,” said Barbara Higgins, her 9-year-old daughter, Molly, safe in the back seat during the 2:30 p.m. chill. “The bus comes at 8:05 and we normally would go at 7:55 and stand on the porch, hang out, have a good time. Now we wait.”
It’s also about crossing guards like 77-year-old Bob Bailey, who used his hand-held stop sign to move kids across an intersection.
“I’m dressed warmly enough,” Bailey said, after the last child had safely crossed. “I couldn’t be any warmer. Three layers. I’m used to this. I don’t mind at all, and I enjoy the kids.”
The low yesterday was listed at minus 5. Today could be warmer, with a high of 15 degrees expected.
“I’ll glance every couple of days at the forecast to see what’s coming,” Watson said. “I’ll look to see the highs and I’ll look to see the lows for each day.”
The numbers mean different things to different people.
It just depends on who you ask.