DISCLAIMER: If you don’t want to read the words snow or winter, then stop reading. This is a post about both. But also about spring. And a book.
Three prompts led me to write on this seasonal topic. First, when I was scanning my mom’s journals recently, I came across a May 11, 1966, entry in which she wrote, “Snow on the ground.” This didn’t surprise me. Occasionally snow falls in southern Minnesota in May. While I don’t recall the 1966 snow Mom references, I do remember driving back from my native prairie once on Memorial Day weekend to see snow atop a car in New Ulm. That would be at the end of May.
Secondly, a few weeks ago, Randy asked whether he should put the snow shovels away. I encouraged him to wait. And he did, until he felt confident the possibility of snow had passed. It has. I hope.
With minimal words per page, Schroeder writes the story of a week-long snowfall. Day after day after day the snow piles high around a menagerie of animals. Rabbit, fox, bear, moose… Illustrator Sarah Jacoby’s art has a dreamy, soft quality, just like the falling snow. That both artist (from Pittsburgh) and author understand winter is clear in their work.
Eventually, the sun shines, the snow melts, the grass greens. And spring, so it seems, has arrived. But then, a last page surprise. You can probably guess what that may be. It happens here in Minnesota seemingly every year. Just when we think winter has ended…
AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, I view the natural world through a creative lens. I appreciate the nuances that comprise the whole. And right now those details are sharp, vivid and nearly visually overwhelming (in a good way) after living for too many months in a monochromatic environment.
I need only step into my yard to take in the greening of spring. Buds forming and then unfurling on the maple.
Clumped, clamped buds about to open into fuchsia bleeding hearts.
Curled fiddleheads stretching, soon to unfold into fronds of ferns that wave in the wind.
Within the perimeters of my property, spring bursts in new growth. Tiny green buds line the thick wood stalks of old-fashioned hydrangea that will soon fill the spaces flanking my front steps. Red and yellow tulips jolt color into flowerbeds, among a jumbo of irises that will eventually blossom in yellow and purple, their sweet scent a reminder of my mother. Iris was her favorite flower.
Oh, how I love these early days of May. These days when everything appears lush and intensely green. Spring green. Vibrant. It’s as if every bright green in a box of Crayola crayons colors the landscape. And when the sky is intensely blue, the greens seem even more intense.
These are the days when dandelions pop and grass seemingly grows as you watch. These are the days, too, of raking away the leaf remnants of last fall and cutting back dead flower stems and mentally transitioning into this season we’ve been awaiting since the first snow fell.
It was an undeniably long winter in Minnesota with near-record snowfall, with teases of spring (even summer) before snow fell again. We are now only finally beginning to believe that we can put away the snow shovels, shove the snowblowers into the corners of our garages, banish winter coats to the back of the closet.
Every day of warm temps and blue skies and new greens convinces me that this is for real. Spring has finally arrived in southern Minnesota in her poetically beautiful way. I hear it in birdsong, in the piercing whistle of a cardinal flashing red in the wooded hillside behind my house. I hear it in the rhythmic raking of dried leaves. I hear it in the roar of motorcycles flying down my street.
But mostly I see the shift of seasons in the greening of spring, of trees no longer bare, but spreading in a canopy of green. Of wild raspberries stretching across limestone wall to latch into the earth. Of hostas erupting.
This marks a time of renewal, of hope, of emerging from the cocooning quiet and oppressiveness of winter into a world that feels, looks, sounds utterly and joyfully alive.
FARIBO FROSTY ISN’T RUNNING away with promises to return next winter. Instead, he’s melting in place, his once broad smile replaced by a frown.
But Faribault’s ginormous snowman, crafted by the Andy Hoisington family, may be the only one saddened by the 50 and 60-degree temps forecast for southern Minnesota beginning on Friday. I’m smiling and I expect many others are, too. It’s been an incredibly snowy winter with our seasonal snowfall total in the top three for Minnesota. This has been a forever winter.
And even though it saddens me to see rotund, 17-foot tall Faribo Frosty slimming down and eventually melting into a puddle, I expect he really will be back. The Hoisingtons have built and maintained an over-sized snowman for 18 years, their gift to the community and a reason to smile.
I am smiling wide these days as the snow pack dwindles, revealing dormant grass. Everywhere I look, lawns are visible. Yes, snow still covers shaded areas and snow piles remain. But mostly, it’s beginning to look like spring here, which if you go by the calendar, it is. Tell that to the good Minnesotans who found themselves in yet another blizzard earlier this week.
Here in southern Minnesota, rain, rather than snow, fell. Temps, though, stubbornly continue in the 30s with a raw wind. So winter coats are still the dress code of the day.
But winter is loosening its hold under pressure from the sun. Tulips and other spring perennials are popping through the soil in my yard. A few more weeks and they will blaze bold hues. And if I rooted around, I expect I would find crocuses emerging under a layer of leaf mulch.
Another sure sign of spring are spring openers for the Minnesota Twins and the St. Paul Saints. The major and minor league baseball teams rescheduled their openers this week because of weather. No one really wants to sit in a stadium and watch baseball in 30-degree temps coupled with strong winds. But by the time the ball hits the glove late this afternoon (Saints) and on Friday (Twins), conditions should be comfortable, if not balmy by early April in Minnesota standards.
So, yes, I think we’ve turned the corner. Faribo Frosty will need to accept that and graciously exit while promising to return again some day…long after the crocuses are done blooming.
WINTER RETAINS ITS firm grip on Minnesota, even in this official season of spring. We are in a Winter Storm Warning for Friday evening through Saturday morning with some 4-6 inches of snow forecast for my area along with wind gusts to 45 mph. Other parts of Minnesota will see more snow and wind, resulting in blizzard conditions.
Temps have also been unseasonably cold. Think below zero in some areas of our state earlier in the week. We did not reach 50 degrees in March, unusual even by Minnesota averages.
What to do? Endure. Escape. Or embrace.
The definition of endure is obvious. Don warm clothes, crank up the heat and wait.
Escape means traveling to some place warm, like Arizona or Florida or California or Texas. Plenty of Minnesotans do exactly that over spring break. Or, when that’s not an option, envision the summer ahead and a Minnesota northwoods lakeside cabin. I’m picturing that in my mind, in mid-July, warm sand between my toes, water lapping, blue skies, loons calling…
Or, if you’re a south metro first grade teacher, you can embrace, or rather defy, the cold with Beach Day. On a 10-degree morning, my almost 7-year-old granddaughter headed off to school in a tank top and shorts, prepared to celebrate a day at the beach. An oversized sun and waves graphic defined her defiant, colorful shirt. Per her mom’s care, Izzy layered her snowpants and winter coat over her summer attire and packed a sweatshirt.
The wise teacher advised students they could wear shorts, “if you want to be cold.” Apparently Izzy and a few others wanted to be cold. Ah, the optimism of youth who weren’t about to allow a low morning temp of 10 degrees to spoil their day at the beach.
TODAY, THE FIRST DAY of spring, hope springs that this long winter of too much snow will soon exit Minnesota. Most Minnesotans, including me, are weary of days marked by new snowfall that has accumulated, pushing this 2022-2023 winter season into top 10 records in our state.
But now, with the official start of a new season on March 20—the season of new life, the season of planting and budding and greening—I feel a mental shift. Psychologically, my mind can envision a landscape shifting from colorless monochrome to vivid greens. I can feel the warmth of warmer days yet to come. I can smell the scent of dirt released, breaking from winter’s grip. I can hear the singsong chatter of returning birds. I can taste asparagus spears snapped from the soil.
All of this is yet to come. I understand that. A date on a calendar doesn’t mean spring in Minnesota. That season is realistically weeks away. April can still bring inches of snow.
But we are edging toward spring. I feel that in temps sometimes reaching just past 40 degrees. I feel it in the warmth of the sun, shining brighter, bolder, longer. I see dwindling snow packs and exposed patches of grass. I hear spring in vehicles splashing through puddles rather than crunching across snow. I see spring, too, in the endless potholes pocking roadways.
On this first day of spring, I am reminded of a poem I penned in 2011, a poem which splashed across four billboards along a road just off Interstate 94 in Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota. To this day, publication of that poem remains an especially rewarding experience for me as a poet.
I submitted the poem to the now-defunct Roadside Poetry Project’s spring competition. Poems changed out seasonally in this Fergus Falls Area College Foundation funded contest. It was a bit of a challenge writing a spring-themed poem, as I recall. Not because of the theme, but rather the rules—four lines only with a 20-character-per-line limit. But, as a writer, it’s good to be challenged.
I suppose you could say the same about Minnesota weather. It’s good to be challenged by an especially snowy winter so we appreciate spring’s arrival even more. Yes, that’s a positive perspective—a way to mentally and psychologically talk myself into enduring perhaps six more weeks of winter in this official season of spring.
NOTE: I intentionally omitted any pictures showing snow/winter.
IF NOT FOR THE SNOW, I can envision this as some place warm and sunny. Some location other than here. Some place with real palm trees, not just those painted on the side of a building.
I can picture myself on the patio, relaxing and conversing at a table with friends, drinking margaritas while the hot sun bakes my skin. But wishful thinking doesn’t land me in Arizona or Texas or California or Florida or Mexico. I am in Minnesota, outside the shuttered Cancun Grill Mexican Restaurant, drawn here by an inviting tropical scene of ocean and palm trees.
Just days after a major multi-day winter storm dumped some 14 inches of snow on Faribault, I find myself photographing the “for sale” restaurant. The contrast of snow layering tables, chairs and patio against the backdrop tropical-themed mural catches my creative eye, allowing for a visual and mental escape from all this winter.
I’ve never dined at this restaurant, although I wish I had based on the positive online reviews: Authentic wonderful Mexican cuisine. Best tacos here. Excellent burritos and margaritas. Large portions. Delicious. Great service.
Now it’s too late to experience this taste of Cancun in my southern Minnesota community. But I can dream. I can dream of palm trees I’ve never seen, except at Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul. I can dream of places I’ve never visited. I can dream of staying at an all-inclusive fancy resort, of warm beach sand filtering through my toes and sunshine on my face. I can dream of lazy days lounging by the sea with a good book rather than time spent shoveling snow.
In this moment I am not in Minnesota, enveloped in a wintry landscape. Rather, my imagination melts away the snow, replacing it with beach sand so white I need sunglasses. Ah, this is lovely, this Cancun of fleeting travel.
This permanently closed restaurant along busy Fourth Street Northwest/Minnesota State Highway 60 in Faribault offers me a momentary escape. I feel the breeze as palm trees sway against the merging blue sky and water while I sip a strawberry margarita on the sun-drenched patio.
BEFORE THE RAIN OF MONDAY, which reduced our significant snow pack, I determined to document the snowy landscape of Faribault. Plus, Randy and I needed to get outdoors, stretch our legs and embrace the 30-some-degree warmth of a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Traveling around town these days requires a bit of extra caution, starting in our driveway. The towering snowbanks flanking the ends necessitate creeping out, all the while trying to see whether any vehicles are approaching. The same goes for many intersections around my community. It’s been a few winters since I’ve seen snow mounded this high. City crews are doing a good job of moving or removing snow to increase visibility. They were on my corner Monday morning to clear snow from the storm sewer drain and intersection.
Parking lots hold mountains of snow which take me back to just how much fun I had as a kid playing on the massive piles of snow my dad built with the loader on his John Deere tractor. Up and down the snow hills my siblings and I ran, playing Canadian Mounties or whatever our imaginations decided.
In Faribault on Sunday, I observed families scaling the hill by the high school after sliding down. I love seeing kids enjoying winter outdoors in Minnesota.
In a corner of the high school parking lot, the snow is pushed so high that I’m clueless as to how it got that high. It’s impressive. I don’t even want to think about how long it will take for that glacier to melt. June?
The same goes for the snow piled in the Faribo West Mall parking lot. Or maybe it’s the Walmart parking lot. The roofline of the discount retailer is barely visible.
Along and near the river in two city parks, picnic tables surrounded by snow remind me that many months will pass before anyone can picnic. Well, I suppose, technically one can picnic in winter, if you are willing to slog through a foot plus of snow to dine.
To my photographic delight, though, three ice fishermen slogged through the snow to fish on the Cannon River by the Faribault Woolen Mill Dam. Randy suggested I might want to walk out there for some close-up photos rather than rely on my zoom lens. No, thank you. At this stage in winter, especially, with snow acting as insulation on ice, I don’t trust the ice. These guys, with their portable pop-up fish houses, clearly think differently than me.
My thoughts about right now are those of being ready for winter to end. But, realistically, I understand that we have two months of winter remaining here in Minnesota. As a life-long Minnesotan, I can’t deny that. Onward, into March.
Birds chatter among the trees that border the trail, along the rambling river. I pause. Listen. Appreciate that these feathered creatures manage to survive winter in Minnesota. Even with temps reaching to 30 degrees on this day, I feel the cold.
I move initially at an unhurried pace. Walk too fast and I miss too much. Randy is well ahead of me, yet he also hears the birdsong, notices the robins, chickadees, a lone woodpecker.
Tracks mar the snow. Animal and human. I wonder about the wildlife that venture onto the river where snow meets ice, meets open water.
A pocked layer of thin ice nudges water which flows, rippling, curving with the topography. The creative in me reads poetry in the way the water wends. I am lost in the moment, in the scene, in the setting, in the wildness.
I press on, toward the aged limestone building hugging the trail. Diagonal lines—power and shadows—cross the stone on the boarded building with a misplaced modern garage door. This 1903 building originally housed Faribault Gas & Electric Company, supplier of power to Faribault via the Cannon Falls hydroelectric plant. Every time I view this building, I wish it could be restored, used in a way that celebrates its history.
My thoughts meander here along the Straight River Trail. Focusing on history and nature and introspective observation.
But then a dog draws me back to reality. A massive canine, fluffy and white, leashed. His owner stops, allows me to pet his Great Pyrenees with the friendly face, and gorgeous long fur. Ducky. I assess that keeping him clean must be challenging. Ducky’s owner confirms, then continues on.
Cold bites at my exposed fingers as I retrace my path, heading back toward the park. I notice a sagging wire fence like graph paper gridding a snowy hillside. Single family homes and an apartment complex rise high above the trail, backyards revealing much in the nakedness of winter.
Soon a shrill whistle cuts through the bluffs. I race to reach an opening in the woods where I can photograph a train as it crosses a trestle over the river. I miss the locomotive, focusing instead on the moving canvases of art created by transient artists.
I see art, too, in the fenced lines of a river overlook in the park, a space packed with snow and inaccessible in the winter.
Then I curve along the sidewalk that rounds the playground before aiming back to the parking lot. I notice reflections of trees in puddles of melting snow. The bold blue sky. The way light bounces off the segmented walkway. I feel invigorated by all I’ve seen, by the sharp cold air, by the essence of time outdoors on a February afternoon in southern Minnesota.
WINTER IN MINNESOTA can be decidedly difficult in the sort of way that challenges us to either adjust, adapt or embrace, or flee to Arizona, Texas or Florida.
That got me thinking. If you’re not from the Bold (Cold) North, you may be unfamiliar with our winter weather obsession and terminology. Wind chill is an oft-referenced word in Minnesota winter weather forecasts. Defined, that’s the feels like temp on skin when wind meets air temperature. The result is not pleasant with repeated warnings of exposed flesh can freeze in just minutes. That’s the time to layer up, don long johns, pull out the heavy parka or down coat, shove hands into mittens (not gloves), wrap your face and neck in a scarf, clamp on a warm hat and lace lined boots over thick wool socks. Or stay indoors. Just for the record, recent Minnesota wind chills have been between 20-35 degrees below zero.
YES, MINNESOTANS REALLY DO DRIVE ONTO FROZEN LAKES
Regarding risk, Minnesotans continue to participate in a sem- risky winter sport. Ice fishing. As absurd as this sounds to those who have never lived in a cold weather state, this is the sport of angling for fish on a frozen lake. It can be (mostly) safe if anglers follow basic rules for ice safety, the first being that no ice is ever 100 percent safe and know your lake. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers basic ice thickness guidelines such as stay off ice less than four inches thick. If it’s four inches thick, you can walk on lake ice. Nine to 10 inches of ice will support a small car or SUV. You’ll need 16-17 inches to drive a heavy truck onto a frozen lake and so on. Every winter vehicles plunge through the ice and people lose their lives on Minnesota lakes.
Yet, we Minnesotans continue to embrace the sport, exercising caution. Clusters of simple pop-up temporary day houses to homemade wooden shacks to fancy sleep-overnight factory models create mini villages on our frozen lakes. Anglers hang out therein, drilling holes in the ice, drinking beer, playing cards and doing whatever while waiting for the fish to bite. Decades have passed since I participated in this winter sport. But I did. It was the cracking noise of the ice that got to me.
PENGUINS, FIRE & UP ON THE ROOFTOP
Ice. I quite dislike that aspect of winter. And we’ve had a lot of ice this winter on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, every hard surface. As I age, my fear of falling and breaking a bone is real. I deal with ice by either staying off it or walking like a penguin.
Recently I observed my neighbor trying to remove ice from his driveway with fire fueled by a small portable propane tank. It was the weirdest thing—to see this flame in the black of evening aimed downward onto his cement driveway. It didn’t work well. The next evening, two of them were out chipping at ice the old-fashioned way with a long-handled bladed tool designed for that purpose.
Yes, we chip ice from our sidewalks and driveways. We shovel snow from our roofs in an effort to prevent ice dams (of which there are many this winter). Getting through a Minnesota winter, especially one as snowy as this season, requires fortitude and effort.
CELEBRATING PAUL BUNYAN STYLE
Winter here also requires plenty of flannel, our unofficial winter attire. I recently purchased two flannel shirts to replace two that I’d worn thread-bare. I love my flannel. It’s comfy and cozy and warm and makes me feel Paul Bunyan authentic. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul, let me explain. He’s a legendary lumberjack, a symbol of strength and endurance. And he wears red buffalo plaid flannel. My community even celebrates flannel with the Faribault Flannel Formal, set for 5:30-9 pm Saturday, March 11, at Craft Beverage Curve (10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and Corks & Pints)). And, yes, that means attendees wear flannel, sample hotdishes (the Minnesota term for casseroles) and participate in lumberjack games. Yeah, sure, ya betcha. This is how we survive winter in the Bold (Cold) North.
ALTHOUGH THE CALENDAR is about a month out from the official start of winter, we in Minnesota are already in the throes of the season. Cold and snow define winter here and we have both already. Too early, I say.
Three consecutive days this week found me shoveling snow from the sidewalk and driveway. I allowed Randy the honor of shoveling the first snowfall of the winter. But I figured I best do my part, so I laced on my warm winter boots and headed outdoors on the second day of shovellable snow.
Thirty-five minutes to the north, my nearly 4-year-old grandson bundled into his snowpants, winter coat, mittens, hat and boots to clear snow from the driveway with his small plastic shovel. As only a child can feel, Isaac was, his mom said, “Loving the snow!” With an exclamation point. I encouraged him to head south and shovel Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway. He never showed.
And so I am accepting that winter is upon us. That means replacing the cotton bed sheets with warm flannel sheets, layering up (inside and out), wearing lots of flannel, cozying under a fleece throw with a good book in the evening, delaying rolling out of bed in the morning because the house is still too cold. The thermostat is programmed to drop to 62 degrees at night, up to 67 during the day, and then bump a notch to 68 in the evening.
Staying updated on the weather has become even more important, mostly to determine how bad the roads will be (and when to shovel). Have plows been out sanding and salting? How’s the visibility? Watch those bridge decks and ramps for slippery spots. Slow down. Take it easy. Spin-outs and crashes were a regular part of this week’s vocabulary.
Inside my house, a few changes are happening, too, as I adapt to winter. Laundry, which I typically clip to outdoor clotheslines, now drapes a drying rack. Sheets and towels go in the dryer. Already I miss the fresh scent of linens dried by the sun.
Wednesday I cooked up a big pot of chili. I crave chili and soup in the winter. I start my morning with a bowl of old-fashioned, fruit-filled oatmeal, the same as always, no matter the season. That is a constant, just like my need to write. Winter doesn’t alter my writing. But it does limit my outdoor photography. Even though I own combo mittens/gloves with the mitten end flipping open to expose half of my fingers (thanks, Randy, for one of the best gifts ever), I take fewer photos in winter. I don’t like freezing my fingertips, just like I don’t enjoy shoveling snow.