Take a moment to mourn the hard winters of yesteryear
By Jim Gust
Jim Gust, a retired teacher from the Shakopee Public Schools, lives in Eden Prairie.
Our Minnesota winters are changing. Some transplants, like my wife, applaud the civilized winters of the past 10 years. But as a native Minnesotan I can't help mourning the winters of my youth, when blizzards were common and only had names if they occurred on a noteworthy holiday.
The notables of my younger days include the St. Patrick's Day Blizzard, the Halloween Mega Storm, and the aptly named Super Bowl Blizzard: remembered for its synchronicity with one of those four Viking losses. My mother's childhood memory of the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1941 was watching my widowed Grandma Elsie tie a rope around herself as she prepared to venture out to the chicken coop to butcher the hens before they froze to death. As she closed the door, she turned and admonished her kids to stay in the house and not follow her ... even if she didn't come back.
All of these blizzards had big snowfalls, fierce winds stacking up monstrous drifts, and subzero temperatures that paralyzed the region. But these storms were only the superstars of countless unnamed blizzards and their corresponding frigid arctic highs during our real Minnesota winters.
For me, those winters started during November deer hunts on our Norwegian family's homestead in Ottertail County. My first deer hunts boasted subzero temperatures, in only mid-November. Frozen, numb feet laced into rock-hard rubber boots and stiff fingers stuffed into choppers are what I remember best of those early onset winter hunts.
The real winters continued as my brother and I rose at 5 a.m. to deliver the Minneapolis Tribune. When the temperature sank to -20, my mother would drive us, starting up her faithful '39 Dodge to ferry us along our paper route. We would take turns jumping out of the car to deliver papers to subscribers' front doors and rush back to warmth before the next house.
Real winter continued into January of 1982, when my new Ford Escort's defroster barely kept the windshield clear of ice on the way to the homestead. After sharing a cup of weak Norwegian coffee with my great-aunt and uncles, I borrowed a pair of snowshoes and set out on a rabbit hunt. When I was halfway through a frozen wood the sun came out. The light and subzero temperature transformed trillions of ice crystals into prisms, each one refracting rays of energy into ice-bows ... everywhere.
"Too bad no one's here to see this," I thought. Then I realized ... I was.
I will miss the sounds of our retreating Minnesota winters: big-lake ice crackling, snapping, popping and booming. Airliners sounding like they're flying at tree-top level when they're actually at 30,000 feet. The rifle-shot cracks of freezing trees, and the squeak of snow boots on brittle snow. All of these, caught by covered ears at subzero temperatures, -25 degrees and colder, are the sounds of the Minnesota winters now threatened with extinction.
I'll miss coming indoors, eyeglasses instantly frosting over, and uttering the uncontested truth: "Damn, it's cold out there."