Saturday, January 23, 2016
Illusions of snow
Knowing that so many school children in Southern climates use clerkmanifesto as their source for reports on what it's like to live in a cold climate, I have become acutely aware of my responsibility to tell the whole story. Enamored as I am with the bitter cold of Winter in Minnesota, and perhaps even more accurately, with my adaptability to it, I have dwelled greatly on the curious pleasures of the hard Winters here.
But that isn't the full picture. And because I was once a child growing up in sunny Southern California I want to be fair. I want the young people writing their reports to be apprised of some of the misleading things they will pick up out there in the Southlands about Minnesota and true Winter.
Curiously, the misinformation that children, such as the one I once was, hold about a climate like Minnesota is less connected to temperature and far more connected to all our glamorous snow and ice. And so today I am setting the record straight by telling you the illusions I carried, I think quite naturally, about snow and ice, and how they turned out to be disappointingly untrue. Any sensible third grader in, say, Scottsdale, Arizona, would naturally want to relocate to the Twin Cities, but they will need to disabuse themselves of these notions first before they can begin their glorious adaptation process.
1. Ice is a readily available, delightfully slippery, skateable surface.
There is so much wrong with this. Let me walk you through it.
A. Ice skating sucks.
It's probably great if you grow up with it, but basically it is nothing like it looks on TV and in cartoons. Your feet at all times want to flop over onto your ankles, and the only reason they (sort of) don't is because your feet are locked in a vice like boot. Also, and this is surprisingly important, pushing off on ice does not allow you to glide giddily for ages, rather it allows you to glide for about three inches before you have to push off again.
B. There is hardly any ice skating.
I know I said ice skating sucks. But even if you defy the odds and become a joyful skater with powerful ankles you will find there is hardly any actual ice skating here. My idea was that all the sidewalks would be skateable. Or how about my own local Mississippi River? If it's ten below zero for a week surely I should be able to go commute skating up the river like Russell Crowe in that thrilling opening shot of the Mystery Alaska movie? Nope. All ice is apparently ruddy and uneven and snow covered unless it's carefully created, crafted, tended, and polished. If you want to skate at all it will be at a very specific rink or park that you have to walk or drive to and sometimes even pay for the privilege of using. That's right, you may have to pay for ice, in Winter, in Minnesota!
2. Snow is slippery, sculptable, dry, packable, sleddable, skiable, fun!
The trick here is that snow has a lot of different qualities and conditions. When Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson draws snow in Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes the snow partakes of qualities that snow actually has, but never at the same time.
A. Snow is dry or packable.
Want a nice fluffy snowball? Sorry, if the snow is light, dry, and fluffy it will be like trying to make a ball out of sand. For snowballs you will need wetter snow that will usually make cruel snowballs you have to be at least a little bit of an asshole to throw at someone. They will also leave your hands soaking wet and bitterly cold. Instant Karma. Also, if you want to build a Snowman, that nice thick layer of fluffy snow will resist forming any kind of a ball and will make for a frustrating project. You will need the heavier, wetter snow that's invariably thinner on the ground and that leaves you sopping and freezing, with a lumpy, misshapen, muddy, far smaller than anticipated Snowman.
B. Sledding is, actually, pretty fun.
But only on an inflatable sled, and if you're young and have no back problems, and only for about 20 minutes, and only if the snow is pretty fresh, and only if you can find a good hill, which can be hard to do here, because it is all pretty flat.
C. What about cross country skiing?
As far as I can tell there are three days every two years that are good for cross country skiing, but you can only enjoy them if you make sure you're cross country skiing most of the other 727 days.
Other than that you'll love it. Good luck on your reports.