Wintersong

I have cold feet.

I should add that I do not live in a home without heat.  And that I have plenty of socks.  I’m wearing two pairs right now.  Along with slippers.  Really, really ugly ones.  Slippers that, had I seen them in the store, would not have even warranted a second glance from me.  Slippers that, in a final, desperate act of trying to get her father to buy me a “nice” Christmas gift,  my sweet daughter proclaimed to be the WORST PAIR OF SLIPPERS she had ever seen.    I believe that her exact words to her father were, “Mom will NEVER wear those!  GROSS!”

I am wearing them right now.   They are warm and fuzzy and have leopard spots with shocking pink fleece on the inside. They come all the way up to the top of my calves.  They are a testament to what is possible given some imagination and enough polyester in the world of high fashion. They stand as proof that sometimes, old husbands know more about their wives than their young fashion forward daughters think they do.

Because of my perpetually cold feet, I shy away from most wintertime outside activities.   I watched part of the televised broadcast of the high school hockey games played  on Lake Pokegama last Saturday.  The temperatures plummeted throughout the day and at one point, the broadcasters reported that the wind was blowing at 35 mph during the second game.   At various times, whiteout conditions on the lake made it hard for the players to see the puck.  Even so, the games went on.  No complaining. No postponing them.  Kids up here are used to the cold, after all.  And I am pretty sure that at least for the players from the northern teams, skating on a lake is no big deal even in twenty below wind chills.  Watching this confirmed what I have always known about myself.  I would have made a terrible Hockey Mom.

I must have been a lot tougher when I was a kid.  I remember the skating rinks in a town too small for an actual  high school hockey program.   My friends and I spent many hours there every winter.  Each evening after dinner,  as we walked toward the city park with ice skates slung over our shoulders,  we could see the floodlights in the distance and hear the soft clack of sticks and thump of frozen pucks hitting the wooden surround of the hockey rink.   Boys of all ages gathered there, learning the game from men in the community who donated time, talent and equipment during those years.  Proof that while composite hockey sticks, fancy pads, and indoor rinks may enhance hockey programs, they do not make hockey players.  Passion does.

There was no fancy, heated ice arena with concessions stands.   Instead, a small, cramped cinder block building with wooden benches  served as the warming house.  When we couldn’t take the cold any longer, we’d wobble inside for a brief respite from the crystalline air that burned our nostrils and frosted our eyelashes nearly closed.  The memory scent of wet wool mittens, sweat, wood smoke, and adolescence merge and define for me that place and time during the winters of my youth.

We girls did not play hockey and as such, were relegated to the smaller, oval rink where we huddled together visiting and skating while the younger kids  played  games of Crack the Whip and Tag.  The rinks provided a gathering place for teenagers just a few blocks away from the watchful eyes of adults.  It was our main source of entertainment and possessed just the right amount of danger and romance for us before we were old enough to drive to places more dangerously romantic.  Like Grand Rapids, for example.

If I close my eyes, I still remember one skater perfectly.  I see her skating alone, spinning in perfect circles…a dark haired, graceful girl on an oval of  dark ice banked by snow that sparkles with diamond dust.  She leaps and skates on one foot, the other leg held parallel to the ice, arms outstretched…weaving and aloof, deep in thought.   She has the  posture of a dancer or gifted athlete and is silent and sure.  The rest of us  watch her, enthralled by her gift. We all know how to skate, but she is different. She is an Ice Skater.  We were  girls who’d grown up learning to love the cold by leaning into it.  Did her gift allow her to hear a song that none of the rest of us could hear?

I pull my chair closer to the fire and think about the gifts we are given throughout our lives.  The ones we don’t go looking for.  Like slippers.  And memories.  I think of  a girl I knew once who skated to her own melody on silver blades. The woman she is today.   We are still friends.  The fact that this is true is just one more gift that keeps me warm.

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Fair weather

The chickadees are out of hiding after our recent cold snap here in the woods. It’s good to see them filling up on suet and seed in anticipation of the next cold front. They are polite little birds who wait their turns and cause no drama, from what I can see.  An enormous woodpecker arrived to see what was on the menu yesterday, and the tiny birds with black caps took to the balsam a few yards away to wait until he’d had his fill.

I can’t say the same for the rotund gray squirrel who, at the moment, is trying to steal one of the balls of suet. I tap on the window to scare him away from the feeders, and he glares with small piggish eyes, sticks out his tiny pink tongue at me, and keeps working. Humans don’t have the market cornered when it comes to being greedy.

There are deer tracks around the raised garden box we filled with cracked corn, too. They are filling up with whatever they can find during their respite from sub-zero temps that make the snow squeak, the trees crack, and the ice on the lake rumble.

In other news, by the time this goes to print, Minnesotans will either be celebrating with “SKOL!” or uttering a different S word where the Vikings are concerned. I’m the fairest of fair weather Vikings fans. During the regular season, if they win, great. If they lose, I’m always glad I was doing something else on Sunday afternoons. I know a lot of super fans who paint their faces purple and gold and wear jerseys on game days even if they are just watching it on T.V.  Actual humans who can recite statistics about the players on the field. I am not one of those people. I’m okay with that.

I hope they win today, though. It would be nice to see the home team play in our spanking new stadium. I hope it snows a great deal in the Twin Cities right before Super Bowl Sunday, too. I think the rest of the world needs to see how people in a state like Minnesota throw a party in February. The first things they’ll notice is that we have trouble zipper merging on the freeway because we are just too darn nice to budge in line. We say “Uff-da” and play “Duck-duck-gray duck”and eat a lot of hot dish and bars.

We are sensible people who bundle up and never travel without a winter survival kit and jumper cables. We learn to ski, skate, drive snowmobiles, and ice fish when we’re kids so that when our parents tell us to “go outside” we have something to do. As adults, we do a lot of hunkering down in the winter. In fact, we can hunker like nobody’s business. It’s in our D.N.A.

But sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get a January thaw. We peel off a couple of layers of clothing and re-fill the bird feeders. We check the propane tank level in the yard or haul in another armful of wood for the stove. We make wild rice soup and get out the Top the Tater for our potato chips.

And if we’re lucky, on a particular Sunday, even die-hard fair weather fans like me watch the Vikings play for a spot in the Super Bowl.

Because win or lose, it’s nice being a Minnesotan.

SKOL!

Cold hands

I have been grumpy, frumpy, and downright dumpy lately. If you have been, as well, take heart. January is work both physically and mentally for some people. The struggle, as the kids say, is real.

It is hard not to take January in Minnesota personally.

Those were my thoughts this morning when I checked the weather and made the decision to head to town for groceries before the rest of the world stopped for milk and bread on its way home from church. My car hadn’t been out of the garage since last Tuesday. I kicked the frozen slush chunks out of the wheel wells, started it, and made my way (slowly) into town on icy roads.

At the store, I shuffled up and down the aisles in my Sorels, tossing in all the things on my list as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast at all, actually. It is hard to be speedy in Sorels. I began to sweat because of the long underwear and down jacket I was wearing and peeled off my gloves. Everything is more difficult in January, I complained to myself. Everything is harder. Even grocery shopping.

At the check-out, I was behind a pleasant-looking young woman in a fleece jacket. She had longish blonde hair and looked to be in her thirties. Her cart was only about half full. Good, I thought. This won’t take long. I shifted my weight and waited. And then waited some more. Here’s why…

The young woman was unloading her grocery cart. Without hands. Carefully and masterfully. An item at a time. It was not until she got to the full length mirror in the cart and struggled to lift it that the cashier and I both realized that both arms ended at the wrists. I asked if I could help and so did the cashier. She told us she could do it herself. I told her I was amazed at how well she was managing. She smiled and told me she was new at it. I watched as she loaded her bags and walked out of the store. I thought about how pushing a shopping cart across a parking lot full of ice and snow had to be so much more difficult without hands. How managing a key in a car door lock was accomplished without fingers. How hauling grocery bags into the house and putting everything away on a cold January morning would take much longer for her than it was going to take for me.

And so, if you have also been feeling a little grumpy, frumpy, and kind of dumpy this month, I have the perfect cure for what ails you. Look down at your hands right now.  I have been doing it the whole time I’ve been typing this.

Really.  Look at your hands. Notice them. Are they cold? Good.

That’s good.

 

 

 

 

 

In order

It is New Year’s day and what’s left of the Christmas tree is in a snow bank by the back door.

It had a good run. It shed at least half its needles as I removed ornaments mainly because I had a heck of a time getting some of the lights off. A month ago, when I strung them, I carefully wrapped each branch, continuing to add extra strings as I worked my way up and around the crooked balsam. It seemed like a good idea at the time.  This morning, I tried to unwrap the darn things in some logical fashion but ended up simply stripping some of the branches of their needles as I pulling the strings off the ends. It wasn’t pretty. I apologized to the tree’s ghost with each tug.

Putting Christmas away is never as much fun as putting it up. Even so, it feels good and right have things back to whatever “normal” is. New Year’s day is good for getting our literal and figurative houses in order, isn’t it? Maybe that’s why people make resolutions as they wrestle with lights and vacuum up pine needles.

This year, I will strive to drop fewer F-bombs (even the silent ones.)

I will read more books and fewer Twitter feeds (which will, no doubt, help with that pesky F-bomb issue.)

I will watch more sunrises and less morning cable news.

I will sit in the sunshine whenever possible. Even in January in Minnesota. Even it means sitting in my warm car in the Walmart parking lot like a pale, shriveled up junkie and letting the sun hit my face for several precious moments before I go in.

Finally, I will be grateful and present and will give myself a break for being human  which can be a challenge for pale, shriveled, sun-deprived, humans, especially. Especially in January in Minnesota.

That’s what I came up with, anyway. Maybe your goals are loftier than mine.

So here’s to 2018, whatever it brings.

And Happy New Year!