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In Our Own Backyard...Cold? Who's cold?

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Columns Cloquet,Minnesota 55720
Pine Journal
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In Our Own Backyard...Cold? Who's cold?
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Everything takes a little more effort in this frigid weather. The car — if it starts at all — sounds like a Leer jet revving its engines at top rpms. Clearing the windshield means painful minutes of chinking away at the ice and snow, with the defroster all the while laboring at high speed. Simply the act of driving to work in the morning means creeping along at 45 miles per hour, through frozen ruts and drift-narrowed traffic lanes, and holding my breath lest I unexpectedly fall victim to a patch of black ice.


Even getting ready for work takes a lot more time. In the summer, I breeze through the shower, don clothing and sandals and head out the door. In the type of subzero weather we’ve been having lately, however, wool socks and Cuddleduds become a part of the equation, as are turtlenecks, polar fleece and stocking caps. By the time I’m finished, I’m feeling a bit like the Pillsbury Doughboy!

Even the dog has been wearing one of my old polar fleece vests on his morning walks, and he doesn’t seem to realize just how cold it is when he minces around in the snow, endlessly hunting for just the right spot to do his “business.”

The key in the lock as I head out the door moves stiffly in the keyhole, and the door itself feels heavy as lead. The garage door works as if in slow motion, shattering shards of frozen ice as it rises and going back down just as slowly. Occasionally, it hits a chunk of frozen snow and reverses itself, causing me to run even later than I already was.

And why is it that the heater in my car doesn’t quite kick in until I’m only about a mile from work?

Even in the evening when we light a fire in the fireplace, the wood seems stiff and cold when we bring it in from the woodshed and twice as heavy. The logs hiss and sweat for several minutes before the flames take hold, and it takes several minutes more before the fire begins to cast its first feeble rays of heat.

We all tell ourselves we’re Minnesotans, so we should just buck up and take it. So that’s what my husband and I decided to do last Sunday after the couple of mild days went the way of the north wind and the thermometer headed south again.

We talked ourselves into going to church, joining the handful of other hardy souls who gathered there, but when we got home we wondered how in the world we were going to spend the rest of the afternoon. There was little question of going skiing out on the lake because the wind was whistling across it at a merciless gale, creating wind chill levels not fit for man nor beast. The snow was far too deep to hike in the woods, and the roads were so rutted and icy that it wouldn’t have been the least bit enjoyable to go for a walk. 

And so, we did the only thing we could do — strapped on our snowshoes and headed into the nearby forest. We knew the exertion factor would likely be high enough to get our blood running.

After bundling up in as many layers as was humanly possible, we found it a bit difficult to bend over to fasten our snowshoes. And when those little metal tabs, stiff and cold as they were, refused to go through the holes in the straps, there was little option but to take off our mitts in order to get them fastened. Bad idea. By the time both of us were finally ready to go, our fingers were already freezing. We hoped once we got moving, we’d warm up. 

Soon we were caught up in the magic of the forest and began to forget about what was cold and what wasn’t. The woods were filled with tracks, as though the animals had danced by the moonlight the night before.

The split hooves of deer tracks were everywhere, and I wondered how much tougher it must be for them to navigate their way through the deep snow without the benefit of the webbed “feet” that we wore. The single-footed track of a fox led ahead of us down the trail, occasionally straying to one side or the other, probably to pounce on some unsuspecting critter under the snow.

“Snow snakes” writhed dramatically along the branches of nearly every tree, and tunnels led to secret spots beneath their lower branches, possibly where rabbits or other small animals holed up for the night. 

The sky was blue and clear, and we seemed to be protected from the wind that whistled down the lake, making the air temperature unbearable everywhere but in the woods. At one juncture in the trail, we saw where a neighbor had labored on foot through the deep snow with her dogs and we felt good about being able to pack down a trail with our snowshoes, both for her sake and the sake of the animals who had to struggle through it as well.

It was hard work, but by the time our house was once again in sight, our internal furnaces were blazing, making us toasty and warm (all, that is, except for our frozen fingers!).

Wendy Johnson
(218) 879-1950