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?

Monday, January 31, 2011

February, anyone?

Mr. February, aka Michael, from the St. Paul Firefighters 2011 calendar. Proceeds from the calendar help support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Autism Society of Minnesota.

Feel free to provide your own caption celebrating strength and good looks!


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