It’s no secret, winters in North Dakota are long and cold. We always know they’re coming, but still they surprise us as we lean into November with brave faces and feed our bodies with soup and turkey and hot dishes (that’s Lutheran for casserole). We wait for the snow as we prepare our Thanksgiving meals and watch it fall as we wrap up presents, bring in Christmas trees, snuggle our families and ring in the New Year with champaign and a bit of dread, not necessarily about the year ahead, but the month we’re staring down.
No, the initial blast of holiday cheer can’t trick North Dakotans into thinking that winter is a party.
Because we still have January. And January is just the beginning really, marching in on us promising unpredictable, below zero temperatures, blinding blizzards, snow drifts, icy roads, and then usually a nice little thaw to tease us before it starts all over again.
January scares me. It always has. And I know it’s coming, I do, but for some reason I find myself worrying that I might not come out of the deep freeze with the rest of the furry animals tucked away tight for the winter.
I worry I’ll start eating hot dishes (Lutheran for casserole) and never stop.
I worry I’ll grow too comfortable with the extra padding on my rear-end and the bulky sweaters and the scarves that hug me and hide me from the elements and I will decide not to emerge with the warm sun.
I worry I might just turn into a hibernating bear-like creature who never shaves her legs or takes off her beanie and walks all hunched over and shivery if she ever decides to move at all.
This kind of paranoia is not healthy. Fear is not a good place to be. So this January, instead of bidding farewell to the holidays, packing out the gigantic Christmas tree and pulling on the wool socks with no intentions of removal, we decided to keep the party going.
We decided to leave the Christmas tree up. We decided to buy more groceries, turn on the oven, pull out the crock pots and paper plates and keep on eating.
We decided to dig out the schnapps.
And the snow pants.
We decided to call our friends and neighbors to see if they’d like to join us as we flung our bodies down the giant hill outside our window.
We decided to clear off the stock dam and turn it into a curling rink.
We decided to use icicles as stir sticks,
drink hot chocolate, sit close together on the couch,
play some games, tell some stories and sing a little.
I decided to make a chocolate cake.
We decided to build a fire and stand around it and then head inside to eat some more.
We decided to laugh in winter’s face.
Take that winter.
I think winter won there.
But I’m not scared anymore.
I just forgot for a moment what it is that really gets us through life in one piece. And it’s not just the special occasions that are put on a calendar reminding us to love one another, to be thankful and to celebrate.
No, it’s the every day and the way we chose to live it.
It’s the phone calls that we make that turn into plans to sit next to one another and eat dip and chocolate cake. It’s the way we bundle up against the cold and scream as we push each other down hills, remembering what it’s like to forget everything but the world you just climbed to the top of and flew down.
It’s clearing a space for games and music.
It’s the invitation into one another’s homes, into our lives, to sleep on the couch or on the air mattress in the next bedroom and wake up for bacon and coffee and a recap of how someone nearly killed the pug in a sledding rollover.
Because we are made for so many things–work and worry, fear and bravery, singing and listening. Our lungs are made for breathing, yes, but they also work for screaming as snow sprays you in the face while you fly 25 miles per hour down a hill in a sled with your father and your friend.
How else would you find out a brain freeze can start on the outside of your head?
And our fingers are made for working and typing and pointing out things that are wrong with the world, but they also fit really nicely in mittens, as you pull each other up.
I mean, sure, it’s damn cold out there, but our legs are made for walking, hiking, climbing, jumping and standing on the top of things, we might as well use them properly.
See that’s the thing about us northerners. It’s not that we have found a spot in our hearts for the blinding snows of winters, the icy wind or temperatures that dip so far below zero that I don’t even want to mention it. It’s not that we ever get used to the deep freeze.
It’s just that we know, in the deepest of winters, on the coldest of January days, what to do to warm up.
Note: Only four sleds and two skinny little butts were injured in the making of this blog post.