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.
The annual victory of freeze-up over open water is as old as time in the Northern Hemisphere. Or at least, since the Earth ceased to be tropical, and populated by dinosaurs. For a lifelong Minnesotan, there should be nothing unexpected about marshes, potholes and lakes transforming from rippling or wave-tossed, to motionless and flat as a billiard table. The outcome is inevitable every November or December.
The sight could easily have been missed. We were leaving our duck hunting destination, heading homeward on a county road that leads away from a large national wildlife refuge. My hunting partner and I had spent several days watching our decoys bob and weave on its waters, hoping to attract passing ringnecks, redheads or bluebills. We'd had limited success; we were apparently early, and many of these birds were reported to be still holding at points farther north in their migration.
There's an expression in the world of photojournalism and documentary photography that says a lot about what it takes to regularly capture outstanding images with a camera. It's attributed to a photographer who worked primarily in the 1930's and 1940's. When asked how he managed to do such consistently good work, his answer was a cryptic "f/8, and be there."
One of the "didn't-see-it-coming" duties that came with moving into a new home recently, has been the hanging of photographs, artwork and other "stuff" that makes a house a home. In the process, we've been poring over old photographs that might be meaningful to display, since the home we built occupies a slice of land where a family cabin was the site of more than 60 years' worth of memories.