People who say they love winter mean it in the same way people mean when they say, "I love the dark." It's inherently paradoxical. One doesn't "love" darkness or the cold, bleak harshness of winter any more than one loves pain, distress or fear. Yes, there are Sadists and Masochists among us. But that's not this and not really a Love Thing, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Those who "love" winter in Northern Minnesota really mean they've found ways to embrace the reality that winter simply is. A "death and taxes" sort of thing.

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Cold. Dark. Arid. Lifeless. Still. Quietly violent. Graven.

When I was a kid, I used to "love" the feeling of a loose tooth - the pain of the roots, disassociating from the gum. The ripping sound. I'd wiggle the thing until my eyes watered, blood running down my wrist, Mrs. Westerham, third grade teacher, built like a gray hen, admonishing me.

"Stop hurting yourself because you like it."

She was on to something.

*****

Somewhere near Isabella there's a frozen lake that a certain tooth-wiggling sort of populace attracts, like penguins on a shard of ice, collective backs to the wind, not just surviving. Thriving.

The former hippie that runs the place is entrepreneurial, but lacking the shrewdness of the typical coffee roasting, beer brewing, spirit distilling, man-bun wearing, tattoo-sporting, neck-bearded entrepreneur one finds in slightly more southern latitudes. He has an impressive and seasoned talent for name recall and displays it at every opportunity, guests seduced into the recognition that his affinity for them - each of them - is somehow distinct, but the same, as his recognition and sincere familiarity is to everyone else. Heterogeneity at its best: I don't want to be treated equally. I want to be treated individually.

And at night, nearly morning, after the day's temperatures and sun's low slant have drained the energy from the intrepid skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts and birders and drinkers and lovers and posers and Citiots, including the couple from Eden Prairie, newly/perfectly outfitted and coiffed, quietly mumbling about there being no decent Vegan options - after all these are quietly inhaling and exhaling, ensconced in down sleeping bags inside their cabins, the outside dark, cold sky pressing in like gravity itself, ready to draw life, if presented the opportunity - at night, at night, at night...the 50-something guy with the full bladder and empty head, blinks into the dark, stepping off the small porch into the snow, barefoot and boxers.

The frigid moonlight bathes him through the spiny branches of an old oak tree that has seen this before. He makes water, considers spelling his initials, but stops, drills a hole instead and shivers, dimly glad of the fact that he's actually breathing and living and thinking, here in the 11-below air.

The air gnaws. The snow burns his feet.

He bends his neck back, thunderstruck by the heavenly canopy that drapes around him, an umbrella of ancient candles.

"I'm here," he hears himself say and it makes sense at the time, but knows it never will again, and smiles about it.

"Moron." He says out loud and realizes this will always make sense and he smiles again and turns to re-enter the warmth of the cabin and climb into the sleeping bag that he shares with the strange and beautiful creature, his un-figure-out-able wife. The image of her sleeping lips and closed eyelids, heavy and flickering, triggers a drawing of breath and he feels himself ready to cry for some reason and he shakes his head against it and steps onto the porch, his nakedness suddenly feeling gratuitously reckless. A tiny flash of panic, like realizing the oncoming truck could have been your death had your sneeze-and-swerve occurred an instant later.

Back in the cabin, the night and the cold and the dark don't care. If the idiot would have wandered into the woods and fallen asleep in the snow forever, crying about his warm-sleeping wife, it would have cared just the same. Nothing. One way or the other.

I love it. Draw back your bow.