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…
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.
WHEN I READ A RECENT POST on the City of Vesta Facebook page, I knew I needed to share this story with you. It is a heartwarming story of kindness and gratitude that renews my faith in the goodness of humanity. And it is, too, a moment in which I feel overwhelming pride in my hometown.
Before I get to the referenced post, I expect many of you are wondering, “Where is Vesta?” I’ve found in my 41 years of living in southeastern Minnesota that most people have no clue. Vesta is west of Mankato, west of New Ulm, west of Redwood Falls. The small Redwood County farming community of around 320 sits along Minnesota State Highway 19 half way between Redwood and Marshall. It is the only town directly aside that highway for the 40 miles between the two larger cities.
Vesta is in the middle of the prairie, the windswept prairie. If a winter storm sweeps in with strong winds, then conditions quickly deteriorate to blizzard status. You don’t want to be caught on the road if that happens. It’s dangerous.
Recently, a motorist found herself in such dire conditions while driving Highway 19 toward Watertown, South Dakota, to visit grandchildren. Forty mph winds, blowing snow and zero visibility—to the point where she had to stop to see if she was still on the road some two miles from Vesta—resulted in a life-saving decision. She got off the highway at Vesta.
And that’s where this story begins to unfold into a story of generosity and kindness in my hometown. The first person she encountered was Dave and his buddy, out on four-wheelers. I knew exactly who she meant. Dave owns an auto body and repair shop in Vesta. He also plows snow for locals. When my mom was alive and still living in Vesta, it was Dave who cleared her snow. It was Dave who answered Mom’s calls for help with car issues. I always felt reassured that he was, in some ways, looking after her and so many other seniors.
I digress. Dave directed the recently-diverted motorist two blocks east to the community center, a designated shelter for stranded travelers. Upon arrival at the former Vesta Elementary School, the grateful traveler found the doors locked. So off she went to find someone, anyone, to let her inside. She noticed two trucks parked outside the grain elevator, which led her inside and directly to Vesta’s emergency coordinator. Jeremy drove home and got the key to open the shelter.
Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. The out-of-town guest got a tour of the community center and was also advised she could help herself to the spaghetti and chicken noodle soup in the fridge, watch TV in the work-out room and then sleep on a cot, pillows provided. She was also given the Wi-Fi password. Later the city clerk’s husband brought an extra blanket after the clerk stopped to ask if the shelter guest needed anything.
Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. Soon town kids showed up, per a text sent by Jeremy that they could hang out in the community center during the blizzard. The way-laid motorist soon found herself in rousing games of dodge ball and kickball inside the gym where I played as a grade-schooler.
Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. Jeremy kept in touch, texting that the local bar was open if she wanted pizza. She was happy with the soup. The next morning the emergency coordinator texted again, notifying the overnight guest that roads had been plowed. He’d also reached out to the Marshall Police Department to assure that roads were open to motorists. Drive on a “closed” road and you risk a $750 fine. Jeremy went that extra mile to assure the woman could resume her journey to Watertown.
Her lengthy post to the City of Vesta Facebook page shows deep gratitude for all those who made her feel welcomed and safe in my hometown. She wrote: It was quite a night in the Vesta Community Center. Everyone’s kindness in this town was so timely and heartfelt that, rather than feeling like a stranded traveler, I felt like a VIP walking down a red carpet.
I am not surprised by the goodness of the folks in Vesta. This is small town southwestern Minnesota at its best. Caring, kind, compassionate, loving, welcoming. I’ve always felt embraced by the place of my roots, even decades after leaving. I understand this place. These will always be my people. My prairie people.
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.
DECIDEDLY NONTROPICAL MINNESOTA seems an unlikely place to find wild or captive flamingos. And it is…with the exception of the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley and Como Park Zoo in St. Paul and their resident flamingos. While those two zoos are not all that far from Faribault, we have our own flock right here. Not real, of course, but fake flamingos, which are good enough for me in the midst of a particularly long and snowy Minnesota winter.
In the storefront window of Fashions on Central, a fashionably-dressed headless mannequin grips the leashes of five plastic flamingos wading in a sea of gauzy fabric. With two fish among them and a starfish to the far left, I recognize this as a tropical scene. Yet my imaginative snowbanked mind drifts to snowdrifts enveloping those warm weather birds.
Enough of that thinking.
I appreciate the creative efforts at Fashions on Central, a women’s clothing store owned and operated by Buckham West. Proceeds from the sales of gently-used clothing, shoes and accessories go directly back to the local senior center. I love this environmentally-friendly mission of recycling donated, used clothing. I’ve shopped here and, in fact, found a like-new gray wool pea coat for a bargain $7. It’s kept me warm for multiple Minnesota winters already.
While I’m not in the market for beach clothes like those worn by the store-front mannequin, I know others may be as they plan spring break vacations. No matter, this tropical scene gives me a visual respite. If I focus hard enough and long enough, I can imagine myself ocean-side, hot sun warming my skin, leis layered around my sweaty neck, fish swimming, flamingos flaunting.
And then, if I walk several blocks south from Fashions on Central to Division Street and aim straight ahead rather than turn right to Buckham West, I can escape, too. Inside Buckham Memorial Library, books set in tropical locations await me. Yes, there’s always a way to flee winter in Minnesota, even when you can’t leave.
DURING ONE OF SOUTHERN MINNESOTA’S recent cold snaps, I pulled out my camera to photograph some particularly intricate art. Not artwork in a public gallery exhibit, but rather art displayed in a private space—my upstairs bedrooms.
I live in a 90+-year-old house, built sometime in the 1930s. Locally, it’s the Swanson house, although Randy and I have owned this 1 ½-story structure since 1984. But it will forever be the home of its former owners.
Although we’ve made many improvements through the decades, including installing a new furnace and central air conditioning that included additional duct work, the upstairs remains notably cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A single heat vent opens to both bedrooms. Updated replacement windows installed some 30 years ago also did little to improve cold weather heat retention on the second floor.
And so Jack Frost finds our second floor vacant bedrooms a welcoming short-term studio in the deep cold of a Minnesota winter. With the three kids long-grown into adulthood and us empty nesters for 11 years now, he can settle in as an artist-in-residence without notice.
When temperatures drop into that frigid category of frostbite warnings, tires crunching on snow and extra blankets layered on the bed, Jack Frost arrives. It’s OK hosting him as a short-term guest, but anything beyond a few days and I’m ready to boot him out.
He does some creative work on the canvas of cold window panes. Whether he etches or paints or draws or exactly how he crafts his art remains an unknown to unscientific me. But I’m impressed by the primarily nature-themed work he designs.
In his last exhibit, Jack Frost incorporated mostly branches, grass stems, water and feathers. They were beautiful in their detailed intricacy, a Frost signature style.
When sunlight shown on the eastern window in the morning, the contrast of light and dark in the artist’s art sharpened. Dazzled, almost.
Yet, even in diminished light, the graininess of some pieces produced more introspective and moody scenes.
Jack Frost’s art installations in my second story home gallery are typically short showings of several days. Just enough time for me to pause and appreciate his work before outdoor temperatures rise, the sun melts his art and he vanishes. Poof. I can’t say I welcome him with open arms because I really don’t like sub-zero temps. But I can appreciate Jack Frost’s art as more than just frost accumulating on energy inefficient windows.
NOSTALGIA WEAVES into our lives the older we grow, time blurring the edges of memories. But then something comes along to jog the mind into recalling a sweet childhood memory. For me, that’s Faribo Frosty.
Since 2005, the Hoisington family has built my community’s version of Frosty the Snowman. I loved Frosty as a child—the song, the Little Golden book, the animated holiday cartoon narrated by Jimmy Durante. There’s something so compelling about a snowman that comes to life via a magical top hat. And when he melts, oh, the sadness.
But the melting of Faribo Frosty, given his robust size and current height of 17 or so feet, is not imminent. Lead creator Andy Hoisington cares for Frosty with the devotion of a man who recognizes the importance of his snowman. Families and grandparents and couples come to the corner of First Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest to see Faribo Frosty in the Hoisington’s front yard. I’ve been there with my grandkids, most recently a few weeks ago. When my granddaughter was two, she stretched her arms wide to hug Frosty. Couples have gotten engaged here and been photographed here to announce a pregnancy.
Ginormous Faribo Frosty, crafted with shaved ice from the local ice arena and from snow by Andy and his family (including adult sons Jake and Josiah and son-in-law Nick), attracts visitors from well beyond Faribault. He’s also been filmed for metro area television features, including KARE 11 Boyd Huppert’s “Land of 10,000 Stories.”
I’ve watched the Hoisingtons work on Frosty, shoveling shaved ice from a trailer, climbing a ladder to pack and shape the beloved snowman. He requires constant maintenance given Minnesota’s diverse winter weather. This is truly a labor of love after 18 years.
I am grateful for this family’s dedication to bringing joy into my community with their version of Frosty. Faribo Frosty makes me happy. He makes me smile with his wide smile, his bright carrot nose, his over-sized signature red scarf and mittens, even his black bucket pipe and his black top hat. Faribo Frosty is, in every way, nostalgically magical.
TELL ME: If you live in southern Minnesota, have you seen Faribo Frosty? If you live in another cold weather area, do you have a similar winter attraction or have you seen one?
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.
ICE FISHING RATES AS A SPORT that must seem absurd to anyone living in a warm weather climate.
I mean, if you aren’t from a place like Minnesota or Wisconsin, how would you react to anglers driving their vehicles onto a frozen lake, fish houses in tow? That seems reckless and unsafe and dangerous, and it can be. No ice is ever considered 100 percent safe. But, take precautions like knowing your lake (or river) and its ice thickness, driving with windows rolled down and carrying safety equipment, and the sport can be relatively safe.
Still, this time of year and with the particularly snowy winter we’ve had in Minnesota, ice fishing right now doesn’t seem all that safe to me. Snow acts like a blanket, insulating the ice, resulting in thinner, inconsistent and weaker ice. Decades have passed since I engaged in the sport so I am not writing from current day experience, only from basic knowledge.
Sunday afternoon while out and about in Faribault, I came upon three guys with ice fishing equipment on the frozen Cannon River Reservoir by the Woolen Mill Dam. As I watched, I hoped they knew what they were doing because I didn’t feel all that confident in the strength of the river ice with water flowing below.
But I appreciated that they were out enjoying the 30-degree sunny afternoon, warm enough even to shed their gloves and heavy coats. They’d already set up two portable fish houses by the time I arrived at North Alexander Park. I stood there and observed as the trio carried ice auger, ice saw, and scoop shovel and towed a sled with fishing gear across the snow-covered river. I was uncertain whether they were spearing for or simply angling for fish. Turns out neither.
Local avid outdoorsman and columnist Larry Gavin clarified: Those guys were actually netting carp. The net is stretched from one tent to the other using a hook and a series of holes. They were checking to see if the location was a good one. Every year they net Wells Lake and get a semi tanker full of carp that are shipped overnight to Chicago. There is a high demand for carp as a food source in some ethnic dining.
It was such an iconic Minnesota winter scene, the fishermen in their camouflage attire, a visual clue that they are year-round sportsmen. I can only imagine the camaraderie, the BS, the anticipation of these friends as they searched for fish.
I loved the way their sled left a snaking trail across the Cannon, almost like a line of poetry winding through the snow, writing of winter outdoors, of fish tales, of ice fishing in Minnesota.
FYI:The ice fishing season is winding down in Minnesota. All dark houses, fish houses and portables must be off inland lakes by the end of the day beginning on March 6 in the southern two-thirds of the state and by March 20 in the northern third. You can still ice fish, just can’t leave houses unattended. Local officials can set different restrictions if unsafe conditions call for such action.