26 January

Into The Whirlwind: Frostbite Spirits

by Jon Katz

It is bitter cold, and at dusk, the landscape was eerie, the snow was heavy, and as is our custom, we went out to visit the animals and check on them. They came rushing out to see if we had hay, and they retreated into the pole barn, which was dry and sheltered from the wind.

It wouldn’t wish to be an animal on nights like this, but then, that’s my issue, not theirs. When I go out in this cold and snow, I have to take at least one glove off to picture.

The first year I moved upstate, the fingers on my right hand and two on my life suffered from frostbite. It was a -30 degree night, and those are rare now.

I got help quickly enough that I didn’t lose any fingers or fingertips, but they do get white in the cold, and the pain is sometimes breathtaking.

I got my pictures and came inside – I was outside too long with gloves – and there is really nothing to do but stick the hands in my pocket (or Maria’s) and wait for them to warm up.

After 10 or 12 minutes, the pain starts to go away, but it is draining. It makes me think.

This is one of those tradeoffs. I live in upstate New York in the winter and love to take photos in the snow.

So there will be some discomfort when I take my gloves off. It’s a fair deal, I’ve tried different kinds of gloves that will keep my hand warm and let me use the camera, but they don’t work, aren’t warm, or get in the way.

I’ve learned when to get inside, and I even have a wax melt to use if I think of it, which I didn’t today.


  1. Can you use gloves with no fingertips? Your photos are so beautiful that we want you to keep taking them, but don’t want you to suffer pain.

  2. Jon,
    I know this pain all too well! I live in Central Vermont and I am a painter of winter. Sure, I paint the other seasons but winter is my best subject. There really is nothing like it, that’s why we keep doing this to ourselves.

    When XC skiing or alpine touring(often with my two red and white border collies) I stop and snap pics as long as my hand can take it.

    I have also painted plein air on solo ski tours. The cold forces you to innovate, one time I made a chair with my skis and a hole in the deep snow. I’ve learned to work fast before my hands get too cold to function, which is inevitable, it’s just a question of when.

    Enjoy the serenity and breathtaking beauty that winter brings. Keep photographing what you can. I’ll keep stupidly pushing what my hands can handle because this incredible snow, this season that once felt like forever, is fleeting.

    Thanks for sharing your photos and writings over the years. I very much appreciate your observations and voice.
    Take care. – Carrie Pill.

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