I’ve been colder. In 1950 when working on the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway out of the rail yards at Waukegan, Illinois, I shared the cab of the engine with five brakemen who had crowded into the cab to keep from dying.

It was snowing and the yard was on the edge of Lake Michigan and the temperature read 10 below. It was so cold the five brakemen had to urinate together on a track lock to unfreeze it. That’s a railroad story, but true. I was there and was asked to donate my urine.

I’ve been colder. In January 1958, She, who grew up in Maine, and I were waiting for a bus in front of the United Nations building in Manhattan. Our noses were red. We couldn’t feel our feet or hands. We had just come from the theater and a late dinner of cheeseburgers and cheap wine at P.J. Clarke’s. We guessed it was about zero. The bus driver who finally showed up said it was 5 below. We laughed and rubbed each other’s hands. That’s what love does. It takes away the cold, among other things.

I’ve been colder. While in basic training in Texas, a basic trainee was often called upon for extra duty: KP (kitchen police) or anything that was needed. I volunteered for anything else.

The “anything else” that night was standing guard duty in a guard tower at the right corner of what I learned was the guard house. As anyone who has spent anytime in the Texas desert can tell you, even if it’s 80 at noon, it can be very, very cold at 2 in the morning.

The duty sergeant, whose name plate read “J. Garcia,” met me at the gate, handed me a carbine with clip and took me to my tower. Roughly, this is what he told me: “Airman, you will be relieved at 0600 hours. This is your weapon. That (pointing up) is your station.”

I was 18 years of age and had been in the Air Force only for eight weeks. This overweight sergeant, who was wearing sunglasses at 11 at night and chewing on a toothpick, smiled. “Have a good night.”

Foolishly, I asked, “What do I do if someone tries to climb the fence?”

He looked at me, and his expression, even in the dark, even to this day, was one of amusement.

“You will fire one round over his head. If he continues, you will shoot directly at him.” As he took the toothpick out of his mouth, he added. “Try not to kill him. Just hit him in the leg. And don’t fall asleep up there, or you’ll be in there tomorrow. ”

That night, to keep awake and not wind up “in there,” I said maybe a hundred Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Wearing only cotton fatigues, I huddled in the bottom of the tower, hoping no one would try to escape. I think it was maybe 40, but it felt like minus 10.

When I told this story at breakfast to a table full of NCOs, of course they all laughed. It turned out I was the weekly sucker and that it was a duty officer’s joke. There was only one temporary occupant of the guard house, and no bullets in my clip.

Yes, I have been colder, but not cold and frightened at the same time.

This week, a seven-day week of single-number days, I stood for a moment out in the cold to scan a story by the Portland Press Herald’s Kelley Bouchard, who informed me that “The daunting cold could tamp down insect populations that threaten backyard landscapes and woodlands across Maine, according to entomologists and tree experts.” I was heartened by this good news.

But, she added, “pesky and sometimes disease-carrying ticks, mosquitoes and fleas likely won’t be affected. They’re either hitching a ride on warm-blooded creatures, dormant in ice-covered swamps and ponds, or hidden in topsoil beneath the snow, where decomposing leaf litter can push temperatures above freezing.”

On warm-blooded creatures? Dogs, skunks, raccoons, my lawn man? I looked down into the deep woods across the street at “dormant in ice-covered swamps and ponds, hidden in topsoil beneath the snow.”

As I write this, it’s 5. I can hear those pesky things rustling under the decomposing litter waiting like the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt to awaken and come for me in the spring. I am cold now … and frightened.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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