Monday, December 19, 2016

How we start Winter here

This is how the weather goes at this time of year in Minnesota. 

Finally, on one day in December, it will be so lovely out, so clear and white and fairyland, so bejeweled and clean that your heart will be pierced by the beauty of it all. You will be so filled with wonder that actual tears will form in your eyes and spill over. Struck by the revelations of God you will fall to your knees. 

Then your tears will freeze solid on your cheeks and if you don't pop up quick back onto your feet and move around some you will freeze to death right there in the snow.

But a day like that doesn't happen all at once. There are months of lead-up to it. It takes weeks and weeks to assemble conditions so perfect they can kill you. And it all starts in Autumn.

Autumn here is pretty glorious. Flowers bloom. The trees turn one by one to fire. Winds come, the leaves swirl in mad pitches of thrilling chaos, and the sky runs through a series of tumultuous passions. It is all a trick to distract you from the coming of Winter. But it's a good trick. If Autumn were just fairly pretty you'd hardly see it because you'd be too depressed thinking about how any second now you'll be spending the vast bulk of your days putting on clothes, taking off clothes, and scraping ice off of things in perpetual darkness. So instead Autumn dazzles you all the way to November.

At that point things turn dead and ugly. In November the skies go to a flat, dark, endless gloom. The sun disappears utterly. Strange, dark smelling fruits fall to the sidewalks and rot, clotting into your shoe treads. But you don't care as long as the dreaded snows hold off. As long as you don't have to shovel, as long as you don't need gloves, mittens, and six hats to go outside you're okay existing in an ever darkening half life of dead plants and grey dirt.

And Minnesota knows this. The god of seasons understands. So it grows even darker and uglier on you. The weather ceases to change and is wet, featureless, and 41 degrees at all times. You are in perfect health and yet feel like you are dying of pneumonia. All color leaches from the natural world until not even black or white is left. If it manages to go on long enough even gray disappears. You are left in the end with merely vague shapes in a dull fog.

Then, suddenly, horribly, it snows. The temperature falls out into a chasm. You curse the beginning of winter. You toil to dig clear. You go back inside for more clothes. Your back is killing you once again. You are full of dread.

And the next morning the sky is blue for the first time in a month. You walk to work and though it is minus seven degrees the trees are full of snow. Thick clusters of strange red berries hang joyfully from the branches and all wear perfect tall white hats. You are walking on a cloud. You hear songbirds and look up into the trees. The raw blueness of the sky blinds you for a moment, and then you see them:

Thousands of robins, heavy in every tree for six or seven city blocks, redbreasts vivid and plump, all of them resting awhile on their journey south.

And that's how weather goes here in Minnesota at this time of year.


  1. Thank you! I've never endured a real winter, living in Southern California. I've visited winter, but never really lived it. I would hate the clothes changing. But I've always been wistful for the beauty of the snow. A white Christmas....I feel like you gave me a little taste of it.

  2. Having grown up in Southern California I can still trace that feeling of wonderment in relation to snow. The cost in dealing with it is just so terribly high, but it makes the magic of it continually surprising. But god how it has an expiration date in a city, growing uglier and more inconvenient every day. Ours is currently pretty without being particularly amazing, and the sidewalks are getting to be a pain in the ass. I'm getting a bit more used to the clothes this season. The cold I'm already adjusted to and can walk out in ten degrees without a coat an be fine for awhile. As to White Christmas: People only grow more committed to lights here and in the snow, well, at night my neighborhood is very lovely right now. I'm glad I could provide a taste...


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