A Night in the Quinzhee
Every night, I pull on an assortment of cold-related garb and head outside to sleep. People have asked me why I do this. My friends have called it a “pointless endeavor.” It’s a hassle to get the clothes on, it takes extra time, and my straw “cot” isn’t as comfortable as a bed. I like camping, and I like challenging myself, but the truth is that I don’t really know why I started.
The night air nips my skin as I crunch through the starlit snow. When I haul my straw bale out of the tiny hole that is my door, I become aware of the wind-whipped remains of the musty smell of a hay barn. I quickly worm through the powdery, dark opening with my warm water bottle, accidentally brushing snow off the ceiling and causing it to cling to my fleece sleeves and back. Turning, still on my hands and knees, I tug the bale back in and shut the cold off.
The manger odor is more pungent now, but not overwhelming. I stretch out on the floor in the blackness and grope until I feel the two plugs in my gloved hands. Upon pushing them together, a lovely periwinkle glow from the string of Christmas lights on my ceiling illuminates my snow house. Now I can see the glittering contours of the walls, highlighted by the reflected blue, the shelf in the corner where I keep my crimson lantern and my thermometer, and the navy totes where I keep my spare sleeping bag and clothes.
Once I reach the frosted blue carpet at the base of my bed, I sit up to take off my gloves and my heavy, black rubber snow boots. I stand slowly, leaning so I don’t hit my head on the low ceiling. From this angle, a beautiful, lifelike wolf stares majestically back at me from my top blanket, which I throw back with the others in an amorphous mass. I begin the lengthy process of un-zipping the sleeping bags.
When I finish, I unplug the lights and slip the room back into cold, muffled black. I wiggle and squirm down into my sleeping bags with my toasty water bottle and zip myself into fuzzy fleece warmth. A moment passes as I watch the wispy curls of my breath ascend in the very faint light from my air hole above me. At last I pull my stocking cap over my face, basking in the heat my water bottle provides, and allow sleep to gently enfold me it its embrace.
Later during the night, I realize that I’ve woken up. It takes me a moment to pinpoint the culprit, the tiny scratching, squeaking noises that mice make inside my wall, oddly amplified by the enclosed space. I feel my water bottle for warmth to check the time and estimate about two-thirty. A swirl of snowflakes finds its way down my air hole and kisses my face with its cool wetness. Then I lie there in the drowsy darkness, listening to the scratching, until I drift off again.
In the morning, I awaken slowly to an illumination that seems to come from within the walls themselves. They’re feet thick and block out all sound of wind, but the sun still penetrates them with ease and fills my house with the warmth of the new day. I can’t help but smile slightly in my cozy bed before beginning to unzip the sleeping bags, which is harder since I’m inside them now. When I’m done, I toss the blankets back and sit up. I slide off the bed to the carpet, then stuff my feet into my boots. Finally, I kick the straw bale back, flooding my entry tunnel with dazzlingly bright, cold sunlight, and I crawl out into the world.