January 6, 2014
Winter is our favorite season here in Minnesota. That’s why it’s so cold. The only reason we agree to summer is so we can have winter. It’s owed to us for suffering through summer. Winter is the most outgoing and least compromising season we’ve got. It’s also the most dangerous. Like us. That’s winter; fully-realized, just itself, no excuses — the perfect expression of that dark and stormy Minnesota soul. And winter makes us laugh. So when the sun is shining, the air temperature is -10 °F, and people are laughing through their mufflers, welcome to Minnesota.
Winter is so potent that all you have to do is say the word and people react. Some make loud groaning noises, others get mad and cuss. Other folks say “I just looove winter,” in a weird voice that makes you nervous. Kids will be screaming and jumping up and down for excitement. They love winter, the most.
It’s surprising that despite our love of the season, and even with the youths already outside having fun, we “grown-ups” need to be reminded and even pushed, to get outside. Hey! The sun is shining, let’s go outside. Exploring nature in winter is the best. Winter camping and dog-sledding is the stuff of legend.
Imagine, you’re out in the snowy forest, following wolf tracks, the sun glistening and sparkling, listening to the croak of ravens and the lonesome moan of wind in the evergreens. Quiet. Beautiful. Moody. Poetic. Dangerous. Invigorating. The snow refracting a rainbow, the white birches leaning, the grays and browns of the landscape. Painters and photographers love winter the most, too.
Don’t forget your sunglasses. It’s true. Without sunglasses you could get snow-blindness and become lost. Then you’d wander, sightless and whimpering through the snow for hours until you freeze to death a quarter mile from the parking lot. And become coyote food. Don’t let that happen.
If you do forget your sunglasses you’ll have to make a pair of snow goggles out of birch bark. This picture shows a nice pair. A double layer of birch bark sewn together at the edges. You only need one layer in a pinch. And you don’t have to sew it. A string in the back helps though. The smooth side goes against your face. Simple. You could make a couple of pair to learn how and keep them in your pack, just in case. Also, if you burn, bring suntan lotion. I scorched my face one bright, snow-covered winter’s day out at Louisville Swamp (MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge). But with sunglasses I still had a great outdoor day in 9°F weather. The aloe and lotion came later.
Maybe you’re a dedicated lakes person, summer or winter. Hard-water aficionados are the unacknowledged rulers of outdoor sports. Nobody knows more about cold, ice, water and misery. The popularity of ice fishing is linked to its practicality — it’s one of our food-gathering sports. For that reason it’s also one of our most ancient, going back to pre-historic days.
Ice skating is also ancient. It was first practiced in southern Finland more than 3,000 years ago when people strapped caribou antlers to their shoes. Since then ice skating has become the Queen of winter sports. Pond hockey is the sport of the gods, reserved for those listed in the secret book of ice and fire. Ice boating is the one I’d like to try. Skittering across a big lake in the glow of a winter sunset, that sounds good, to me.
And don’t forget those winter nights. After all, the signature event of winter is night. Star gazing doesn’t get better than on a winter’s night. A fire in the fireplace will bring out the story-tellers. Or just watching the moon-lit, snow-covered forest through a window in a warm darkened room is an evenings entertainment. If you’re lucky, a pair of foxes will dash through, or the rabbits will come out and do their leaping dance on top of the snow.