What a difference a little time and distance make. The weather, a favorite topic of Minnesotans, has continued to dominate news and conversation as we've reached the midpoint of March and are moving on toward April. The past week brought snow-melting temperatures and more than an inch of rain to a large swath of the state. In some places monumental snow depths decreased by as much 10-12 inches in the course of two or three days. Rain is a great melt-down accelerator, though with the ground still frozen that rain can also aggravate flooding.
As much as we may complain about the extremes of Minnesota winter weather, the impact of cold and deepening snow is more an inconvenience than a threat. County and MNDOT plows dependably open our roads after a snowfall, so we're able to get where we need to go. A Minnesota garage is as likely to house a snow blower as it is a lawn mower, so we can clear our sidewalks and driveways with relative ease. Down-filled clothing and other Antarctic-worthy gear can be found in nearly every Minnesotan's closet. Blizzards may come and go, but we're rarely unprepared or homebound for long.
In the last week of February, on a morning that would prove to be the coldest of the week, I trudged out in the biting pre-dawn to fire up the family chariot so it would be warm when it was time to leave. Inside, the internet web site Weather-dot-com had announced an outdoor temperature of 15 degrees below zero. The vehicle's motor turned over grudgingly, but after several spins it fired up.
Minnesota has a roster of official state icons. On this lengthy list is our state bird, the loon; we have a state fish, the walleye; a state flower, the showy lady slipper; even a state grain, wild rice. We also have a state tree, the red pine. It's often referred to as Norway pine, but based on my limited research, Minnesota is the only state where this Scandinavian substitute is routinely used. Given the Norwegian heritage of so many Minnesotans, this is no great surprise.
If you asked a stranger on the street what a "winter severity index" might measure, the answers could be pretty creative. Perhaps it would measure the number of Minnesota schools that close for a snow or extreme cold event. Or the number of roadside assistance calls for tows and jump-starts during the recent "polar vortex" that descended on our state from the Arctic.
My first sighting of a live Minnesota elk was at least a quarter-century ago. This timeline is linked to the days when my hunting partner and I would bunk at his grandparents' home in Mahnomen, Minnesota, from where our adventures would take us to far-flung places; most often in pursuit of waterfowl. On this particular day we were driving a county road in the approaching dusk, when in the distance we saw a very large animal emerge from a ditch and cross perpendicular to the gravel road.
It's still possible to find winter angling shelters that would seem right at home on the movie set of "Grumpy Old Men," the 1993 romantic comedy with a background rich in ice fishing footage and lore, and set right here in Minnesota. The on-ice village where co-stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau spent their hopeful angling hours resembled a community totally lacking in building codes and covenants. One-of-a-kind might be the best compliment that could have been paid to those fish houses; ramshackle, or derelict, might have applied equally.
It seems a great irony that the first day of winter—December 21—marks the point when the amount of sunlight each day will actually begin to increase with the passing of every day. Ironic, because the things that make winter most troublesome to some people lie just ahead. Things like the coldest days of the year, which—if history is any predictor—are likely to arrive during the last week of January.
One of the constants of my workday is receiving a flood of incoming emails, as well as those "instant messages"—innocently referred to as "IM's"—that magically appear in a corner of your computer screen and instantly distract you. Not much more than a week ago I got one such "IM" from a co-worker who lives on a popular fishing lake near my home, and commutes to the same office I do. From time to time we share experiences we've had with roadside wildlife, contending with traffic and "talk shop" as two people who serve the same employer.
During the week or so leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, state news carried the story of more disease-infected captive deer on a farm in Crow Wing County, near Brainerd. The animals had tested positive for fatal-to-deer chronic wasting disease, also known as CWD. These deer, now destroyed, were among about 100 estimated to be on this farm. Most are the whitetail variety. Some are mule deer, which are native to the West and Plains states, and are exotic here.