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In Our Own Backyard...The weather outside is frightful

Wool socks. Check.

Long underwear. Check.

Chopper mitts. Check.

Down jacket. Check.

I was all bundled up for the subzero temperatures, but I wasn't going tobogganing, ice fishing, or snowshoeing -- I was going Christmas shopping!

This past week in our area has been anything but ordinary, and despite the fact that many of us are dyed-in-the-wool Minnesotans, you have to admit that the weather lately has been taking it to the extremes.

Last Wednesday I was unable to get to work because the roads out in the country where we live were impassable. There was no question of getting through, no matter how determined I might have been. Instead, I paced the house like a caged lion, checking my laptop on every pass, trying to keep tabs on what was going on at work and feeling helpless in contributing to the production effort by the rest of the staff, all of whom live in town and were able to make it to work.

Finally, I bundled up, slapped on my snowshoes and attempted to open the trail through the woods that the deer often take, knowing they must have been struggling mightily just to get enough to eat. Every branch I walked under yielded a mini-avalanche of snow (with most of it going down the neck of my jacket!). At one point the tip of my snowshoe got trapped under the snow and I unceremoniously tumbled into a giant face plant. Getting up was even trickier, because my snowshoes were weighted down with heavy, wet snow and didn't want to cooperate.

By Thursday, there were several more inches of snow in the woods. All of the creatures that had holed up during the worst of it were beginning to venture forth. A giant pileated woodpecker swung comically upside down on my suet feeder, trying to replenish his daily supply of protein. Two white-tailed deer wandered through the cedar trees between our house and the lake, shoulder-deep in snow and with blankets of white on their backs, tearing down boughs in a sort of frenetic feeding frenzy, much like the woodpecker. And just as I went back in the house, I spied a red squirrel gobbling up sunflower seeds -- from inside my wire mesh bird feeder!

By the time Friday rolled around, the plows had been out pretty much everywhere and the roads began to look like roads again instead of mammoth snowdrifts. The temperature had plummeted, however, and my Christmas shopping episode had little of the usual festive excitement about it. Every lot was so full of snow there were only about half as many parking spaces as usual. The drifts were so high between each row that I felt as though I was taking my life in my hands when I nosed my car out from between them.

The layers of warm clothing I'd bundled up in took on a less-than-cozy aura after about 20 minutes in the mall. I began to sweat. My toes ached from being bundled so tightly in heavy socks and boots, and my long underwear started to itch. I had a shopping list a mile long, but the thought of getting everything accomplished in a single trip suddenly had far less appeal than it did when I first set out.

Saturday morning, though it was more frigid than ever, we began to feel the urgency of picking out our Christmas tree because we have grandchildren coming for an early Christmas next weekend. Once again, we bundled up and headed out for the tree lot. The only problem was that all of the trees were so stiff with the cold that we couldn't really tell what they looked like. Their branches were frozen in the upright position they'd assumed in the plastic netting in which they'd been baled for shipping from the tree farm. We couldn't tell if they were fat or thin, if they had any "bald" spots anywhere, or just what they would look like when they were thawed.

The tree salesman admitted it was a bit of a crap shoot, all right, so we just picked one and brought it home. My husband set it up in the living room and we waited for the rest of the day as it thawed out to see just what kind of a tree we picked out. And while it didn't turn out to be my dream tree by any sense of the word, it wasn't too bad and we considered ourselves lucky.

Sunday morning was just as brittlely cold as the day before, so as I dressed for church I kept in mind the long, cold ride into town. I donned my now-familiar uniform of long johns and wool socks, figuring no one would know the difference since they were beneath my dress pants and boots -- that is, until I made the mistake of crossing my legs in the middle of the sermon and my pant leg rode up...