Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Keeping Warm

We’re having a good old fashioned Maine winter right now. The snow is over my knees and the temps seem to be averaging zero.  I will wear my long johns 24/7 from now until March.

I started poking the fat stored in my arms and legs, butt and thighs, waistline, etc., and wondered if it is indeed true that these significant layers of fat are good insulators.This is what I discovered...

In order to keep our body temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (a temperature scale proposed in 1724 by and named after German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit), or 37 degrees Celsius (named after a Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701-1744)), the hypothalamus - the brain's inner thermometer - sends a message to the blood vessels in our skin, to narrow themselves as much as possible. This keeps the warm blood away from the skin's surface where it is subject to cooling. Fat in our bodies does not have many blood vessels in it, so the flow of blood is slowed down even more when we have a layer of it under our skin.

Hence, having a more substantial layer of fat under our skin is like having a blanket of insulation. This is great news for those of us who live in Maine year round and have always felt there was a good reason why that little extra never goes away.

Unfortunately my ancestors - the good Italians that they are - decided at some point that there could never be enough fat under their skin especially when the temps dipped like they do up here in Maine. So they started bulking up in the spring and didn't stop until they got snowed in. But then they totally forgot to stop when they discovered fire and later, televised football.
I then looked at the goosebumps on my arm and decided they too must have some purpose. Goosebumps (a.k.a. pilomotor reflex), are a leftover from when our bodies were covered with huge amounts of thick course hair. When we got cold, tiny muscles called erector pili pulled on our hairs so they stood straight up. Our hair, when on end,  kept us warmer. Those little muscles still work as they did millions of years ago, but the concept doesn't because we just don't have the hair we used to. Some might argue that the discovery of fire also contributed to the uselessness of body hair and even more devastatingly, to the uselessness of goosebumps.

While all of this new knowledge managed to keep my mind off being cold for a few minutes, I realized my mind was beginning to forget what warm is. So I painted a memory of warm in my studio just like my hairy ancestors did in their caves - a skill still of use, thankfully.

Keeping Warm • 8" x 8" watercolor framed to 12" x 12"

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