Although we're far outside the normal time when deer hunters are obsessed with the state's favorite big game animal, these are far from normal times. The reason some are preoccupied with whitetails right now is the recent revelation that more deer—more widely dispersed deer—have been found infected with deadly chronic wasting disease, which we know by the now all-too-familiar acronym CWD.
It's not exactly flattering to be called "common." In the millennia-long history of England and its empire, if you were not royalty, you were considered "a commoner," and occupied a lower rung on the social ladder. In its government, if you were not royalty you had to be elected by your peers to be a member of—you guessed it—the House of Commons.
In the hierarchy of Minnesotans' holidays, the general fishing opener ranks right up there as a not-too-distant second behind Christmas. Minnesota anglers have an almost religious passion for the fishing opener, which gradually reaches a peak as we count down the weeks, days and now finally the hours that lead up to it.
There is an assortment of labels sometimes used to describe groups of animals. There is the "pride" of lions, the "gaggle" of geese and the "murder" of crows, the last of which says a lot about how we have regarded these conspicuous black birds down through the ages.
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.