The Natural Enquirer: A Northwoods winter
Sure a lot of people love winter. They are drawn to pursuits that engage the season on its own terms; things like skiing, skating, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sleigh riding, snowmobiling and even camping. But change the scene to the Northwoods snow belt, and it’s a different story. People don’t go there to pass time during the cold months. Indeed, many clear out and head south.
Those of us who remain try to carry on our lives in a normal way. We go to offices and factories and schools. We build buildings, serve food, sell products, study and drive trucks, cars and buses. Thus, when you have to get to your job every day, you tend not to think of winter wonderlands. Instead, you think of the weather as a hostile foe, and snow as a serious obstacle.
If you want to soak up the beauty of nature in a white blanket, you probably should go somewhere else. Snow in towns is pristine and picturesque for perhaps an hour or two before it begins turning to a dreary gray. When it’s not there, and the ground is as hard as iron, you worry that it’s coming; when it’s there, you wish it would go away. What’s not to hate? Even without the gray stuff on the ground, life outside can be miserable. The mercury is almost always below the freezing mark, and when The Hawk drops in, subzero readings hang around for days, even weeks at a time.
The Hawk is what we call the winter wind around here. It’s an appropriate tag, for when the wind hits full force, you can feel its talons tearing at your face. Your eyes water, your skin becomes as coarse as a catcher’s mitt and your psyche brims with a mixture of anger and defiance, self pity and despair. The snow only makes things worse.
When the really bad weather strikes, television crews, from the network news programs, gleefully transmit the same pictures every year from the towns, little old ladies (or men) heavily wrapped in wool, being rolled like bowling balls across ice-covered streets by gale-force winds; or ghostlike images of people struggling through waist-high snowdrifts to buy bread and milk. I’ve heard that Eskimos are supposed to have something like 937 words for snow. Some Northwoods folks tend to have only a few-none of which can be repeated here.
I’m sure that many people who live in the Northwoods could take issue with some of the things I’ve said. But I doubt if anyone would argue over the amount of effort it takes just to suit up sensibly to protect yourself against the Upper Wisconsin cold. Dressing for winter calls for more equipment than is worn by the average football linebacker.
So now for the obvious question: why do those of us who hate harsh northern winters continue to live here? I wish I had a bright answer to that, but I don’t.
As far as those of you who live in other parts of the country are concerned, perhaps it’s enough to know that not everyone is wild about the great out-of-doors of a Northwoods winter. If you don’t believe that, then read the lips of those you see on those network news shows about winter storms. They are not mouthing the lyrics to “Frosty the Snowman.”
Peter Dring is a retired nature biologist and phenologist who lives in the Land ‘O Lakes area. Questions or comments for Dring can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.