It is a tired subject: winter in Minnesota.
It doesn’t help that the jet stream often covers our state in a deep blue-purple swath or that International Falls actually went to court for the official trademark title: “Icebox of America”. Yes, by some people’s calendar, winter lasts six months here.
By the astronomical calendar, the winter solstice will occur at 10:19pm Central Time on December 21, 2019. This means in very real planetary terms that the South Pole of the earth is tilted toward the Sun and the Sun will be at its southernmost position in our sky, the Tropic of Capricorn.
But for those of us living in Minneapolis on the 45th northern parallel, which is halfway between the North Pole and the equator, winter has already arrived. As of Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport measured 9.2 inches of snow. We got an additional 2 inches last night and they expect another 4+ inches of snow tonight.
I am originally from Central Illinois and I often get the question “Why did you move north?” or the comment “It’s too cold there!” Minneapolis is about 300 miles south of International Falls which is on the Canadian border, so we do not get the average 109 days per year below freezing. But yes, it is full on three months of below freezing temperatures and that-which-will-not-be-named wind chills. But what we do not have, compared to the Illinois winters of my youth, is lack of sunshine.
It snows in Central Illinois sometimes but ‘brown Christmas’ was more often than not and the long stretch of grey sky, stripped trees, and low social activity made seasonal depression a real risk. Indeed, one reason Minnesota is so damn cold is that we lack cloud cover. I will take the cold if it is not also overcast for weeks at a time.
Here, the crisp winter sun reflects off the crystalline ground so much it requires sunglasses.
And this is where I will give the northern latitudes the real credit: life does not stop here. The people embrace the weather and life goes on. In the summer it’s baseball and in winter it’s hockey. In summer it’s patio season and winter it’s potlucks.
Nobody does summer like Minneapolis. The weather is beautiful and a year’s worth of outdoor festivals are jammed into the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is so much happening in town there is no way to attend all of it. And something happens to you between the activities and the hot weather (yes) and the explosion of green… you get lulled into a false sense of comfort and this lasts until about mid-October. At that point the spell is broken, you remember what’s coming, and it’s too late to move away. The cycle continues.
Winter has become my favorite season.
In summer, if I am not outside enjoying it while it lasts, I feel guilty. It’s my time to cycle, take walks, have happy hour with friends. But I am also a writer and time is a limited commodity. If you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you are saying ‘no’ to something else. Riding for two hours means not writing for two hours and two hours may be all that I have. Summer comes and goes so quickly that you have to soak it up. But winter has become the same for me.
Holiday season starts about October with the fall color and apple orchard pilgrimages and Halloween. Early November is about two weeks of prep for winter. Then round about November 19th, she comes howling in from the north but you’re so busy thinking about Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and other holiday celebrations plus the New Year that you barely notice…
It’s horrible outside and you’re in the soup, literally trying to fight the 40-below windchill. But I, Writer… I am ecstatic. I have made my list of books to read and projects I want to write. Alexis, my bike, is on her indoor training stand and the list of movies I missed over summer at the ready. I get to read and write as much as I want without guilt or social pressure as the snow falls outside my window and the electric fireplace adds ambiance to the radiator heat.
My to do list is always impossible and I have found myself disappointed when winter ends and I didn’t get everything done I wanted to. Because cabin fever is a real thing. You are half nuts by April and even though it is by no means warm, you can’t stand it anymore. My indoor activity changes as I prep for cycling and vacation season.
My life in Minnesota, 16 years now in my chosen home, is one of extreme focus and if you know me, you know it suits me. Summer with long, endless days and ‘No Joke’ winter, with the spring and fall, each about two weeks long, used to prep for those extremes. It feels highly structured, reliable, and is very comfortable to my spirit. As I age, I may long for those milder oceanside climates…
But for now, four seasons please.
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2019