Love and frostbite

By Jim McGuire - Contributing columnist

Saint Valentine was a Third-Century Roman priest. He served under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, who thought unmarried men made better soldiers. Valentine ignored his order forbidding priests from performing the marriage ceremony—and was subsequently imprisoned, tried, and sentenced to death for his defiance.

On Feb. 14, 269 A.D., Valentine was beaten, stoned, and beheaded. Martyred for his belief in the power and sanctity of love.

Today, sweethearts young and old alike will again pay homage to that same mysterious force. A romantic spark that begins with two wandering hearts — and grows into a bright inner blaze as those joined hearts connect and magically intertwine.

Valentine’s Day springs from a beautiful thought, and a marvelous old story. If some of its historical details are a bit shaky, it’s still true in substance — love is the most wondrous and wonderful power on earth.

However, there’s a second takeaway from the tale that’s too often ignored: love can sometimes hurt — especially if you’re prone to chronic forgetfulness or foolish procrastination.

Does that shoe fit? No, don’t panic right away. Just be forewarned — it’s deepfreeze cold outside! Bone-chilling, cheek-numbing, turn-your-spine-to-a-popsicle cold!

A southward dip in the polar jet stream has delivered arctic temperatures across the Buckeye State. Should you have to venture forth amid such bitter winter weather, passion’s heat will begin losing BTUs in a hurry.

But first review the essential Valentine’s Day checklist: Chocolates? Flowers? Perhaps something jeweled and sparkly, or sensuously silky? You did remember that absolutely imperative oversized and overpriced card?

(Was that a gasp?)

What about reservations at her favorite restaurant?

(Uh-oh! Not another gasp!)

Well, you’ve brought this on yourself. Cowboy up! It’s Valentine’s Day. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Dress warmly. Unless you’re an Inuit, forget fashionable. We’re talking survival. Think deer blind, ice-fishing, snowmobiling. Frostbite and pneumonia strike me as real possibilities.

And as you shiver and congeal, let me reassure you other irresponsible but otherwise good men have trod this same painful road to Valentine’s Day enlightenment. Like a longtime outdoor pal, who returned home one weekend evening a few years ago, after several carefree days of hill-country grouse hunting.

“Fresh snow started falling the day I got to the woods,” he later explained. “So I stayed an extra day … well, maybe three. You know how snow can improve things — especially late in the season.”

I nodded. New snow not only brightens up a cloistered hollow, but should you spot grouse tracks around a particular grape and greenbriar tangle or a certain cedar thicket, you know it might still harbor a passing bird. Not that an early warnings makes hitting a thunderously departing grouse any easier … but at least you’re prepared to miss with both barrels.

“Anyway,” he continued, “one thing led to another, I kept jumping birds, even managed to put a couple in the game pouch. Guess I just got carried away poking around my favorite partridge coverts.”

“So what went wrong?” I asked.

My pal shrugged, still mystified. “I flat forgot about Valentine’s Day.”

“You missed it?” I sputtered, incredulous he’d committed such an irremissible sin. “No card, no candy, no flowers … not even an apologetic phone call?”

“Umm-m, technically, it was still Valentine’s Day when I pulled into the driveway.” He shrugged — or maybe shuddered. “My wife was standing at the kitchen window, staring my way as I parked. I felt her vibes before I ever exited the pickup.”

“So what happened?”

“I hung my head, made myself go inside, then nodded and agreed with everything she said. Afterwards, I begged for 30 minutes to go to the store and back. Figured I might be able to salvage something — candy, card, flowers. Anything.”

“Did you?”

He shook his head. “Nahh-h. The place was picked clean. I bought two stringy steaks and a $40 bottle of wine that tasted like lighter fluid. Back home it was agreed I could make it up to her by subsidizing a new spring wardrobe.”

“And that was it?” I asked.

“Well, almost,” he said, “except for the time it took me to polish the saltwater off my shotgun.”

I raised an enquiring eyebrow.

“Before going to the store,” he explained, “I’d fixed a quick batch of brine for the birds I’d brought home. Didn’t take but a minute.” He shook his head. “While I was gone, she uncased my shotgun, laid it on the back steps, and drenched it using every drop of solution. Took me all night to clean the metal off before it rusted.”

I told him how Saint Valentine’s earthly remains now rest in a bone box inside Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland.

“You’re lucky,” I said. “Given your egregious Valentine’s Day behavior, and knowing your wife’s temperament, I’m surprised you’re not now in your own ossuary.”

“Yup,” he said. “Maybe one of those flimsy plastic grocery bags she hung from a nail in the woodshed.”

By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at