Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter tales

On a December night 20 or 25 years ago, Peter and I attended a performance of Handel's Messiah at the St. Paul Cathedral. With my winter coat I wore thin gloves and dressy boots which provided no real protection against the elements. He wore a suit jacket with a sweater underneath, and no topcoat. After the performance, we got a shock. The temperature had dropped to about -25F, and the winds had kicked up something fierce. We lowered our heads and struggled three blocks to our car, periodically gasping as another gust stopped us in our tracks. That was the coldest we've ever been, and the last time we've gone so unprepared.

Years before, when I worked in downtown St. Paul, I regularly walked about four blocks wearing those same boots. My toes froze every morning and evening for weeks on end; I'm surprised they didn't just break off.

I suppose I just took all that cold and discomfort for granted. After all, I grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, which often registered the coldest temperature in the nation (until International Falls got itself a weather station). When I was five, my mother kept me home from school one day (a four-block walk), because it was 48 degrees below zero. And that was before they began to calculate wind chill. By the next day it was only 30 below, so she wrapped an extra wool scarf to cover most of my face and off I went.

A couple of years later, on a similarly brittle day, a neighbor offered to drive me to school. By then I was going to the Catholic school across town, and my mom was relieved that I wouldn't have to walk five blocks and then wait for a bus that might be delayed. But the neighbor's car broke down six or seven blocks from my school. "Sorry," he said, and soon I was trudging through the deep and swirling snow. By the time I got there, my face was so frozen I couldn't speak. 

By high school, I insisted on wearing flat-heeled pumps and nylon stockings every day--rain, shine, or 10 inches of fresh snow. It was only a two-block walk, but we went home for lunch every day, guaranteeing that in bad weather my feet would be red and wet all day.

Today I'm wiser, and much less fashionable. When it's really cold, I wear boots with lovely pile linings and with flat soles that can grip the ice. I wear earmuffs, which minimize hat hair while keeping me relatively warm on all but the most bitter days. And after years of numb fingers, this year I finally found a lovely pair of wool mittens that keep my hands from freezing, even while I shovel snow.

Now that I'm retired, I can usually stay indoors when it's ridiculously cold. At the very least, I can dress for the cold without worrying how my hair or makeup will survive, or what kind of fashion statement I'm making. And because of that freedom, I don't seem to mind quite so much. 

I was thinking about all of this the last few days. It was about zero here early in the week, and parts of the house were drafty. We'd had to clear snow two days in a row and deal with a leaky roof besides. In the back yard and across the boulevard, the snow is piled so high it's impossible to shovel new snow onto the piles. We haven't taken the kids out for a couple of weeks (except to take Augie to preschool) because all that winter gear is just so cumbersome. Even filling the bird feeders is more difficult.

So yes, I'm tired of winter. But our recent snow was nothing compared with what they got in Chicago and points east. Now the sun's been out for a couple of days, which never fails to brighten my mood, and they say it's going to warm up to thirty ABOVE on Friday. And the birds, like the dark-eyed juncos in these photos, continue to show us how to persist.

So things could be worse. In fact, once upon a time--and indeed, more than once--they were. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, yes?


Anonymous said...

This has been a rough winter here. Sounds like you guys had a bad day there. It made for an interesting story to read.

Jeanne Estridge said...

Our gift from the big storm was ice --about an inch of it on every exposed surface, followed by high winds that snapped tree branches and power lines.

On the upside, they closed the college for two days, so I got two days to read and write and watch TV and laze around.

And I'm STILL sick of winter.

Hang in there!

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh I remember very similar days, trudging through snow in fashionable footwear, because being cool was more important than being cold. I'm glad that silliness is over. I'm still in the SW, but it's pretty cold for here, too. My sister in New Brighton is having roof problems, too, and I thought of you with yours - a rough winter for many. Think Sun! Stay Warm!

DJan said...

I have never experienced such cold weather as you did growing up! I don't want to, either. I remember once when it got to 25 below in Boulder, it was brutal, even without any wind. I love your bird pictures, and it does make me wonder how they get along in those terribly cold temperatures. I love to feed my birdies, it makes me feel good!

Jeanie said...

My favorite part (maybe the only part I like at all) of the cold and snow is that I can wear snow boots to work....not fashionable, but very comfortable. We are going from below zero to the 30s today so it will feel balmy. I might still wear my snow boots :)

Kat said...

This is the second winter in N. Alabama that we have had this many snows in the 30 plus years I have lived in the south. I loved your photos in the entry. Stay warm, Spring will be here soon. P.S. We have snow and ice on the ground as I write for the 5th time this winter.

Grandmother Mary said...

As I post my rain forest photos I feel very bad for you. Hope they warm you a bit.
The day I brought my daughter home from the hosp. in Nebraska, it was 23 below zero. They had kept all new borns an extra day bec. the day before, it was 26 below. Can't say I miss all that.

Linda Myers said...

On my bucket list is to live one winter someplace where it's cold and snows. I'd like to experience it - maybe so I can get it out of my system, maybe to confirm it would be better than our Pacific Northwest rain.

Thank goodness for feathers! Birds seem well insulated.

grammy said...

Just got caught up
Love your pic with the kids (o: Life is Good.
Mr Feb. is looking fine
I can't believe your story of being a little kid and walking in freezing weather. I am a Colorado girl and we had some cold... but not like that.
My Hubby has a bad knee...or two...wonder which one he will replace first. We need to be closer to retirement first. I thought you were going to say one of you fell of the ladder. yikes
Have fun with the kids.

Deb Shucka said...

The birds are great teachers. You made me laugh at the vanities we clung to in our younger years, even at the risk of frostbite. Lovely story.

Daughter Number Three said...

"brittle day" -- that's a phrase I'm going to remember.

I'm from the middle of New York state, where it doesn't get as cold as here (usually not below -10) but the average snowfall is over twice ours here in Minnesota. My niece, who went to Syracuse University, went to college prepared with her winter gear and was shocked that her roommates thought they could get by without boots.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

I thought Hubs was gonna have a cow when I told him I need more bird seed. With all the ice and snow I fed fifty pounds of black oil sunflower seed. He's's gone already??? What can I say, I'm feedin' a ton of birds, and Rockey my squirrel!!!

Stay warm sweetie and have a blessed day!!!

injaynesworld said...

Brrrr... I'm cold just reading this. Very well-described. Isn't it nice that as we get older we at least get some good sense along with our sags and wrinkles. ;)

Far Side of Fifty said...

I gave up fashion for my warm polar bear with a hat head look a long time ago. I used to be vain too...It sounds like you are enjoying your retirement!! :)

Leah Rubin said...

You sure know how to stir up some memories! I think I led a parallel life! Love your voice...

Jeanie said...

You know, I look at all the snow in the East and Chicago, and in Cleveland where my family is and I think: "Gee, this Michigan winter is worse than usual, but really -- not so bad." Don't know that I'll think that in another two months. But I have to now or else I'd go crazy!

Stay strong and hearty up there in MN!

microsoft outlook exchange said...

Wow! those images are really good! Awesome work!

Buttercup said...

Your post really made me smile. I insisted on wearing loafers and no socks all through high school in CT. I went to college in New Hampshire for a year and it was 30 below at times in January -- also before wind chill. It was just 30 below. I did wear boots and proper clothes then. But when it got to 20 degrees we all shed out coats for little jackets. It was a heat wave. Now in NYC I've got fleece lined boots that I have been wearing just about all winter. They're predicting 38 today -- heat wave!


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