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In Our Own Backyard...Flying in the teeth of the gale

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In Our Own Backyard Cloquet,Minnesota 55720
Pine Journal
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In Our Own Backyard...Flying in the teeth of the gale
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

When my husband and I were in church last Sunday, the minister spoke of how high the snowdrifts were when most of us were young, especially compared to today's temperate winters. Those of us in the congregation glanced at each other knowingly, remembering those days and wondering if this particular Sunday would be the one when we would see them once again.


The winter storm warning for that day had been touted in all of the news reports, and predictions were for up to 13 inches of snow, treacherous roads and high winds. We weren't certain if we'd even make it in to church that morning but, despite the dire warnings, the clouds were high and there wasn't even a trace of precipitation in the air.

When we returned home around noon, the weather remained unchanged. In fact, the sky actually looked a little lighter, so we decided to eat a quick lunch and go for a ski around the lake, thinking the weather forecasters must have missed the mark this time.

As soon as we were strapping on our skis, the first snowflakes began spinning leisurely through the air, turning the lake into a picture-perfect winter scene. But as we rounded the first bay, the wind came roaring out of seemingly nowhere and smacked us right in the face. The gently whirling snowflakes of a few moments before turned into Ninja death stars that stung our eyes and bit into our skin, propelled by the velocity of the raging wind.

The fur around the hood of my parka blew straight back, and my eyelashes were almost instantly coated with ice crystals. I stopped to zip my collar further up around my face, snugged my hood down over my freezing forehead and blew my nose for good measure.

I hollered into the wind to my husband on the trail ahead of me.

"Once we hit the end of the lake and the wind's at our backs, it's going to be the ride of a lifetime!"

We could have turned back right then and there, but somehow the encroaching storm had us in its grip and we felt the mad urge to keep going in the teeth of the gale.

Over the roaring wind, I heard the sled dogs from across the lake set up the type of wailing chorus normally reserved for feeding time. But this time they went on and on and I figured they must have been stirred up by the sudden onslaught of the storm.

A single black crow worked his way across the lake, bucking the wind and getting tossed about as he was buffeted by the blowing snow. It was getting harder and harder to see, but we tucked our heads into the wind and forged on.

When we reached the far end of the small lake, we tucked into a sheltered narrows where the wind didn't penetrate quite so much, and the snow once again turned to big, drifting flakes like the inside of a snow globe. We managed to catch our breath as we paused to rest for a moment, noting how all of the animal tracks led to the water on the other side of the natural dam where the current keeps it open most of the year. The sudden silence of the channel was remarkable in light of what was going on out on the lake, and we had almost convinced ourselves that it wasn't as bad out there as we had imagined. Almost....

As we headed back out to the main part of the lake, we were greeted by almost a complete whiteout. The wind was whirling the driving snow in a million different directions, and we could no longer see our dock at the other end of the lake. The sled dogs were still howling, but this time their cries took on a certain eeriness that added to the wildness of the moment.

As predicted, the prevailing wind was at our backs this time, and it urged us homeward - though we had a hard time seeing just where that was!

We worked our way across the lake, eyes trained downward on the trail ahead of us and our thoughts to ourselves, since it was almost impossible to hear one another when we spoke. At times, it felt almost as though we were flying, with the wind rushing all around us.

At last, we arrived safely back at our own stretch of lakeshore, unstrapped our skis and trekked up to the house. I toted our soggy clothing into the bathroom to dry off, Ken lit a fire in the fireplace, and we settled in for the rest of an afternoon of enforced leisure.

The storm raged outside for several more hours, but within only minutes, our ski tracks were completely obliterated from the lake. Only inside our hearts and minds did we remember the wild trip around the lake - and the afternoon we became part of the storm.

Wendy Johnson
(218) 879-1950