When winter wins


When we — and by “we” I mean “me” and the only other person in this company of 500 people willing to go outside — walked into the warming house at downtown Saint Paul’s fabulous “Winter Skate” pavilion this afternoon, it was as if we’d rescued castaways.

The two workers inside were huddled over two Buddy Heaters. The normal propane heating system wasn’t working. The coffee maker had stopped working because the water line (inside the warming hut) had frozen. And, worst of all, we were the first humans they’d seen all day.

It was -5 and it fell to two from-out-of-state ringers to uphold the image of the hearty Minnesotan.

The ice was perfect; not a blade had touched it all day. The sun was delightful. The air was like CPR for boredom. This is the way winter was meant to be experienced.

But not by Minnesota, apparently.

The rink usually closes down at the end of the Winter Carnival (its last day is Sunday). Last year, Saint Paul kept it open for an additional two weeks so NBC could feature it as part of Hockey Day in America, creating the illusion of a people unfazed by the challenges of the place they’ve chosen to live.

“I haven’t been out of the skyway system in four days,” a colleague joked this afternoon. Perfectly understandable; he grew up here.

Two years ago today, I was in Moorhead preparing for coverage of the Red River flooding. It was -10 below and I wrote this:

I know what you’re thinking: This winter can’t end soon enough and thank goodness it’s warming up. It was -10 this morning, and we may not see that again until next year. Winter is a punch-drunk fighter; that was his/her last shot. Now that I know it’s leaving, it’s easier to miss it already.

Here’s a picture I took of the area just south of Moorhead earlier this week. Look at the blue of the sky. Feel that sunshine. Listen to the snow squeak as you walk on it. It was about 9 below — the kind of temperature that gives you a sense of accomplishment when you walk from the house to the car and live to write about it.

You can’t turn the heater on “high” because of the whine of whatever mechanics are going on under the hood that protest the burden. But it’s OK, because the sun coming through the car windows provides enough heat to survive, even though your toes let you know you’re still alive.

You can’t do that when you’re standing on a crowded light-rail car with broken air conditioning… as we’ll soon find out.

Write if you get work, winter.

Winter relishes a good fight. But today, it was bored, too. Minnesota had given up.

(Photo: Linda Fantin. Native of Wyoming)

  • Tyler

    I can’t help but wonder if our modified winter storm/wind chill advisories and warnings are making people shy about adventuring into the weather…

  • Drae

    One winter back when I was in high school, we had a nasty, bitter arctic front come through, and they didn’t cancel school. We didn’t even have a 2 hour delay. We were told, by the principal, to wear adequate winter gear. We’re talking 30 to 40 below temps, and that’s not including the wind chill. These days, they delay or cancel schools for temps much warmer than that.

    But I will say that hearty, brave, fearless, and car-less Minnesotans can still be found enduring the cold and wind at bus stops and train stations throughout the metro.

  • Kirk W

    Bob, just head down to the West or East River Rd ,or the Lakes at 6 am and you’ll see some tough people–out running and defeating winter in their own little way.

    Or head to the Loppet this weekend and see all the skiers skiing on grass…

  • Chuck

    Bob, I hear you. My son and his fiancee both work in the so-called warming houses in the city parks of Chaska. They come over to my house after their shifts, all shivery and blue-nosed, and report how cold it was in there–and lonely too, if you want to know the truth. At least in Chaska, there appear not to be too many ice skaters. And I can’t blame them. Unlike you, Bob, I prefer to stand in front of my gas fireplace and warm myself next to my cat. He’s got the right idea. Keep as warm as you can and don’t go out until mid-April. I’m a Minnesotan born and bred, but I’m not a winter-loving Minnesotan. I do, however, like to pat myself on the back for how tough I am to survive winter. (See my previous comment about “surviving” by plunking myself before the fireplace.)

  • Drae

    OH! And I have to say I believe part of why fewer Minnesotans endure the cold weather is due in part on their seeming refusal to wear the adequate winter gear my principal suggested. Instead, they wear no hats or ear muffs of scarves or gloves or boots. It’s as if they’re trying to show how hearty they are by under-dressing for the weather, but then they spend the rest of their day in the skyways refusing to go back outside.

  • Snyder

    I agree with Drae. When the sun is shining and it’s not too windy, a day like today isn’t that bad outside. I’ve run 10K races in similar conditions and survived just fine. It’s really sad to see how many native Minnesotans have forgotten the lost art of layering. It’s really not that difficult of a concept.

  • tboom

    I blame it on meteorologists.

    Bud Kraehling (not a meteorologist, just a broadcaster who repeated the National Weather Service forecast) would tell us “it’s going to be cold, bundle up!” Today’s broadcasters scared us to death for fun and profit (fun and newscast ratings). If they spent a their time covering news rather than pulling an ice house behind a weather-mobile, we’d be better off.

    Truth is, the cold doesn’t need to be dangerous or even unpleasant. Just put on your boots, long-johns, heavy coat and enjoy.

  • David

    I’ll be bundling up for my broomball game tonight!

  • Bob Collins

    // boots, long-johns, heavy coat and enjoy.

    I’m kind of hot now, sitting in the soul-crushing cubicle farm with my fleece lined L.L. Bean shirt, fleece-lined jeans, long underwear, and SmartWool socks.

  • Drae

    tboom says: “If they spent a their time covering news rather than pulling an ice house behind a weather-mobile, we’d be better off.”

    LMAO! It’s one of the more ridiculous news gimmicks I’ve seen in quite awhile.

  • tboom

    Bob, sorry to hear that, the worst part of office work is the transition from inside to out. I put in 25 years on the cube farm and have been working outside for the past decade. It takes an extra 15 minutes to get ready in the winter, but the work is well worth it! Too bad insulated Carhartt bibs aren’t fashionable with business casual.

    In reading my previous post I’ve concluded: I need an editor.

  • J

    I moved here in 1975 from Louisiana, and the first thing I bought was a North Face down jacket. Winter ’75-’76 was awesome and spectacular! I learned to ice skate outdoors and cross-county ski. Every time I walk out into falling snow my whole being says MAGIC. I think that winter is easier for those of us who like to be outdoors and moved here from places with less winter because the cold dry air and snow that stays on the ground is a constant reminder of the MAGIC.

    The part that I don’t like is how incredibly hot it gets in the summer.