Wind chills of 30 below zero, snow drifts higher than the top of the car in the winter, followed by springs so short they barely exist and then summer with it’s heat, humidity and blood sucking mosquitos – yep, you need to be especially brave and hardy to live in Minnesota all your life. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The reality is much less flattering, but there’s no need to go there just yet. Instead, today I’m feeling a little like a certain well-known storyteller that you may have listened to on public radio, who tells tales of his fictional hometown.
We’re starting to awaken from what feels like a strange winter in my hometown of Minneapolis. This year we’ve seen elements of the worst of what winter has to offer us, none of which lasted for more than a day or two, and all of which were spread out just enough to ensure very limited time outside because it was either too cold, too windy, too wet, too icy, too something to enjoy being outside in winter. Please don’t misunderstand, I much prefer sun, sand and 80 degrees, but realistically if we live here, we do have to peacefully co-exist with winter and spend some time outdoors in it, so we learn how to dress for the weather. Boots to -20 or so, heavily insulated parkas, down mittens, fleece hats and scarves, and we follow it up with a hot beverage or two. (Some of us might even have a hot adult beverage or two, but that’s a story for a different day.) That all assumes, however, that whatever layer you’ve donned is enough to protect you from the onslaught of the elements of the moment. Reallistically, there is nothing that protects you well when wind chills are in the dangerous range and then just when that stops, it starts to rain. As the day ends the temperature drops and the rain turns to ice and now everything has a lovely coating of thin ice for a few days. After that melts, the temperature drops again to well below zero. And around and around we went. All flippin winter.
But the other day it was different as Mother Nature messed with us in her own slightly twisted way. Winds shifted from North to South and became almost gently and balmy. The sun made an appearance and was high enough in the sky that it could produce warmth when it touched your skin, which we Minnesotans were brave enough to show since the ambient air temperature was in the 50s. The 50s! Folks in California pull out parkas and Ugg boots at 61 degrees, or so I’m told, but here we put on T-shirts and shorts and even a few sandals, although since many of us don’t do maintenance pedicures over the winter, our toes don’t have cute polish on and heaven forbid we show our bare toes without adornment. But I digress.
My mornings are special for me, my husband is still asleep, my furry four-legged children haven’t started chattering for the day and the world hasn’t woken up and begun to annoy me. I drink coffee, read the news and try to not get depressed at the general state of things out there. But this one day, as I sat here I suddenly became aware of something different around me. A sound I hadn’t heard for so long that I nearly didn’t recorgnize it, and I had to consciously pause for a moment and think about it. It was the birds chirping outside! For the first time in months, the birds were back and doing their spring thing. Suddenly, all the crap in politics, health care reform, wiretapping, none of it mattered. Spring was on it’s way to Minnesota.
When that happens, there is a noticeable difference in attitudes among residents here. A new spring in our steps is felt, smiles appear on our faces, we start looking strangers in the eyes again and saying hello after a long winter of being bundled up and looking down at the ground. That’s not rudeness by the way, it’s just our way of reducing the number of passages for cold air to enter under our coats – chin down to block the neck opening in case you either didn’t wear a scarf, or in case your scarf doesn’t quite cut the mustard. But hearing the birds as they are singing their little hearts out? Ah, who cares about a little cool air, we can deal with that, spring is on the way! There are chickadees, goldfinches, and robins, oh my! (OK, we have the chickadees and goldfinches all year long, but they don’t sing a whole lot in winter, and the goldfinches turn a kind of weird shade of chartreuse. When they start looking bright yellow again, that’s another harbinger of spring.)
Of course, just as we allowed our collective emotions to get excited and think winter might be over with, just that fast she turned on us and walloped us with a reminder that it ain’t over til it’s over and “here’s 4 more inches of snow and minus 3 degrees (Farenheit, for those of you in Celcius world) for a temperature” as a reminder to not got too big for our collective britches. Oh well, I hadn’t worn my new boots yet anyway.