Grampa Roy used to say, “As the days get longer the cold gets stronger.”

Winter is living up to its reputation this year. And there’s only one way, I’m afraid, to get around it and that’s straight through it. Scuttlebutt is it’s going to be a really cold one. Sure coming in that way.

When I bought my house out here in the woods 30 years ago, we were in an 11-year cold-half of the sun’s magnetic 22-year cycle of solar maximum and solar minimum. Every 11 years the sun’s magnetic field flips, resulting in a period of lesser or more sunspot activity, trending our weather warmer or colder; also called “the sunspot cycle.” Supposedly, we entered an 11-year cold trend last year. Certainly, the folks in parts of California and the plains would think so.

We were buried in several years of deep snow and long winters when I first moved here. I like enough to snowshoe in it but when it’s time to shovel, including the roof, then it’s another matter.

I no longer use my woodstove for my major source of heat, as carrying the firewood up the porch steps and inside is not as easy as it used to be. I keep my wood box filled in case of a power-outage. (The infamous 100-year Ice Storm of 1998 resulted in my being without power for 21 days. I was the last to get restored as trees had ripped the line from my house.)

I have a “vintage” barn heater a friend gave me some years back. It’s metal-cased and made solid like things used to be made. Come the cooling days of fall, I haul it out instead of ramping up the furnace. I point it toward my “winter computer office” in a corner of my dining area. My office room is on the cold north side with little sun in the windows, so I set up the computer part of my office in the dining area by the sunny double window with a view out to the forest.

This little 5 x 7-inch barn heater box not only keeps my corner warm, but keeps the whole kitchen/dining area up to 70. When the bone-cold days come, I have to rely mostly on my furnace.

The sound of that furnace sucking up that oil is an unpleasant sound. So this year I will be using more of the old tricks I used to use to save on heat. Some years ago, I made drapes from soft throw-like velveteen shower curtains. They’re just the right size for drapes, hemmed on all sides and all I had to do was fold over the tops and make an opening for the curtain rods. They had the perfect colors for my house — off-white and pale teal. I draw them over the windows at night and they keep the cold from radiating in off the glass. I also made some to hang across the hallway that leads to my bedroom, which is only barely heated with what leaks through the closed vent.

The drawn drapes make for a cozy cave-like atmosphere that I like once it’s dark out. I would have made a good bear, hibernating at the first white flake and not coming out until after the first green blade of grass, or fiddlehead, whichever comes first.

I also learned a trick years ago during a power outage. I did not want to leave my house. I thought, “There are two heat vents in my kitchen/dining area, two in the living room and one in the bathroom.”

It was 20 below outside with a howling wind; when the power went out the temperature inside was 70. I lit a kerosene lamp to represent each now cold heat vent and placed them strategically on tables and counters. Unlike the furnace heat from the vents that come on and off and that you stand on without getting burned, the flame in the lamps gives out heat continually — hot heat that you can’t hold your hand over.

An hour later, the house heat was at 72 and it stayed there for the three days of the outage.

The bedroom got really cold and that’s where I appreciated my dog even more. He’s a nature-born guard dog and will not sleep anywhere on my bed but at the bottom corner closest to the door, head toward the door, and any potential danger. This habit provided a warm spot in the bed for my feet but not enough with the outage.

I hauled out a pair of heavy wool socks that helped but I couldn’t help but think of an old saying regarding extra cold nights: “It’s a three-dog night.”

This saying came about in the 1800s when the cowboys and sheepherders slept out in the hills and fields when tending or driving their herds or flocks. They slept with their dog for added heat. But on a bitterly cold night, it wasn’t enough. They reckoned they would need three dogs for warmth on those nights.

According the weather forecast, we have a long string of “three-dog nights.”

Happy New Year and maybe borrow some dogs or dig out some heavy wool socks?

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

filed under: