Winter brings two unwelcome guests, one of them wet, one of them not so wet. The wet stuff, of course, is snow, except when it's sleet or freezing rain. We've had enough ice this year to drop tree limbs en masse: about half of one of my twin redbuds was knocked over, and moving the debris brought me all manner of scratches and cuts, none of which I was able to pass off as a dueling scar, which arguably seems more exciting than mere yard work.

What's easy to forget is that even on those godawful days when it's 29 degrees and the dewpoint is 28 degrees and the fog is freezing on bridges and overpasses and your windshield, at some point you're going to be inside and the relative humidity will be like 27 percent. This is the opportunity for my other unwelcome guest: dry skin. In days of old, this tended to be restricted to small areas: elbows, knuckles, and an inexplicable blotch on one thigh. No more. This year, with long periods of below-normal temperatures — the first half of February was on pace for one of the coldest months in recorded history — the areas of dry skin have expanded and multiplied. And at my age, skin doesn't recover particularly quickly: in response to an itch somewhere below the breastbone, I duly scratched — and it bled.

I routinely keep moisturizers within reach, but panic outweighed practicality for the moment. I went to examine the wound in a mirror. Amusingly, this one might actually have passed for a dueling scar. But actual damage to the torso always seems worse to me, presumably because of the proximity of vital organs, and I spent the next ten minutes trimming my nails, lest I scratch something else. And for some reason — circulatory issues? — the farther down the body the cut is, the longer it takes to heal; I have a few scrapes on my right shin that have been glaring red for most of the month.

The combination of Neosporin and Avon Moisture Therapy, historically, has been enough to deal with this sort of thing. This year, I fear they're being outpaced by the sheer volume of injuries. (And I will probably never run out of Moisture Therapy: Avon once botched an online order and sent me ten tubes of the stuff. They duly sent out the proper product — a deodorant — but bade me not return the missent moisturizer.) And sooner or later, spring will arrive, the furnace won't run so much, and indoor humidity will climb to 30 or even 40 percent; I hope that the new additions to the Areas of Dry Skin are temporary only, but now that I am officially old, I suspect I may be stuck with them.

As for winter precipitation, we've had an extremely odd winter: we're over our annual snow quota by a fraction of an inch, but in terms of actual liquid, we're running about 50 percent of normal. (On the 6th of this month, 2.2 inches of snow dropped on us, which yielded a mere 0.04 inches of water. Two days before, we'd had one-tenth the snow and five times the liquid.) Apart from scattered sticks hither and yon, the yard looks pretty good. Then again, I wear one glove when mowing: the plastic lever that keeps the motor going tends to dig into my hand, which is every bit as much fun as you think it is.

Addendum: It occurred to me, after finishing this piece, that I've also changed my fabric softener: it's still the same brand of dryer sheet, but it's a different synthetic scent. Could I be sensitive to something in its composition? Years ago, I'd have dismissed the idea: I had no reaction to anything. Since then, I've learned that a relatively mild antibiotic will make me break out in a major rash; it seems unreasonable to assume that I have only a single sensitivity at this point.

The Vent

  23 February 2014

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