You Call This Winter?

The arrival of winter up North is a bit of an event. Whether love, hate, or indifference comes to mind, it signifies a period of progression, where certain possibilities evolve into facts—“cold, hard facts” in this part of the state. By the middle of December, the two primary cold hard facts of winter, snow and ice, have built up serious momentum—except when they’re not and haven’t.

And as I sit at the keyboard typing this column in January, they’re still not. Sure, we have some snow and ice, but by now we should have snow and ice. This is a tragedy, and unacceptable for all winter outdoors people. I’m now assuming that all people up north fall into the “love winter category.” After all, this is an outdoor column in an outdoor magazine. All winter recreation in this neck of the woods requires a fair amount of snow and ice. One could argue that ice is possibly more important than mountains of snow. Spoken like a true ice fisherman you say?

Well, when a large portion of your winter playground is covered by water, a lack of ice really limits the possibilities for everyone, including mushers, skiers, snowmobilers and many others. Just about any winter activity you can think of is hindered by the lack of winter we’re experiencing, save the winter ritual of paying the heating bill, which was pleasantly laughable last month. Before you begin to envision a bunch of northerners in shorts and flip-flops lounging on their patios sipping frozen cocktails, we’ll touch a bit on the winter—or lack there of—the north country has experienced thus far.

Judging by a few online weather sites, I guess we have, technically, dipped below freezing (barely, single digits hardly count) a few times toward the end of December. The final say though, is always the FSWT (fancy-schmancy-weather-thingy) I have on the roof, which informs me that 0 degrees on New Year’s Eve was in fact the coldest temp recorded at my place in December. Honestly though, there is no need to rely on the technical wizardry online and the FSWT to confirm that we are in the “unforgiving” grip of El Niño.

There are better ways.

A quick glance at the front of the snowplow (now used twice), to find it covered in mostly dirt rather than snow is a clue. The pile of dirt and gravel at the end of the drive is confirmation. The signs really start to materialize around Christmas. Like when you get the obligatory happy holidays text from the neighbor across the lake. You know, the one from southern Minnesota with the water access cabin? He’s asking when you think he might be able to get a couple truckloads of gravel across to his place, and you have to tell him it will be a bit, as he can’t quite safely walk there yet. Here’s a hint. The kids, upon receiving new sleds for Christmas, don’t even bother to ask if they can try them out. How about having to cancel the after- Christmas ice fishing weekend, not because of a lack of safe ice, but because of the complete absence of any ice. Lastly, however sad, sick, and twisted it may be, is my favorite, and a first. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when the only creature stirring was the friggin’ tick I pulled off my stomach. Really? If that’s not a dead giveaway to a lame start of a winter, I don’t know what is.

… Wait a minute. I was just looking at the FSWA (fancy-schmancy-weather-app) on my iPhone, cringing at the mid-30-degree forecast through the end of the week, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but the 10-day forecast calling for highs of 0 and lows of 30 below! Winter may finally be on its way. Better late than never I guess, though the heating bill is gonna be brutal—yet worth every penny.