This picture is from a farm I passed today about twenty miles out of the city. We still have snow on the ground. Today it only just made thirty degrees under a howling wind that blew the car sideways on the highway. Notice they are advertising “wool” blankets – not cotton, nylon, or Thinsulate. Hm. Why? Because wool is warm, because they’re not growing cotton in Massachusetts (at least not yet – we’ll see what happens with global warming), and because it’s a farm with sheep, not a chemical factory.
I’m writing this post mainly to those of us in the north, but it also applies to those of you in warmer climes if you’re planning to visit us, if you’re heading to the mountains, or if you’re going to have a stretch of cool and rainy days in the middle of your winter. It’s about something basic: Wool is warm. Wool is safe. Wool is organic. And wool will last in a way that no cotton layer you have ever will.
One evening last winter a friend remarked that she realized wearing one thin layer of wool made the difference between whining and hating winter and actually enjoying it, or at least not feeling miserable. I don’t want to get all Jimmy Carter on you, but it does matter what you’re wearing if you want to either save the planet or at least your heating bill and be comfortable at the same time. I’m amazed at how many people I see wearing cotton all winter, layering up sweatshirts and “hoodies” under their (sometimes cotton!) coats and then complaining that they’re cold.
Before Patagonia, when we went hiking, skiing, or camping we knew to wear wool. We learned that cotton won’t keep you warm and can kill you if it gets wet because it will not dry. Wool does the opposite – wicks wet away (say that ten times fast) and keeps your body heat with you.
We seem to have forgotten how to take care of ourselves in this basic way. Cotton is so cheap that clothing has joined the category of “disposable” things, so we think that just piling on a summertime fabric will get us through January. And February. And March. Walking, shoveling, commuting, and being home without turning the thermostat to eighty degrees. Maybe we feel invincible because we have cell phones. (We can call someone from a mountaintop? Or a car accident during extreme cold temperatures?) Maybe it’s because we can invent new fabrics from chemicals and plastic bottles and pay luxury prices for them. But maybe it would make sense to go back to basics sometimes.
I bought two of these this winter and I live in them. I’m old enough that I want to make sure all teenagers and twenty-somethings in my vicinity are warm enough, so I bought one for my 25 year old stepdaughter. Though born and raised in Boston, she is now “from” New Orleans, where she lived for one and a half years, and consequently doesn’t know how to dress for winter. She wears the sweater every day, too – under a set of layers of cotton sweatshirts, hoodie on the outside. But she does wear the wool as the bottom layer, closest to her skin. So that’s something.