January. Oh January. A challenging month for even the most optimistic North Dakotan. One could easily throw in the towel around here, especially with the uncharacteristic snow accumulation we have seen already this winter, but most of us stick around.
Or go to Jamaica for a couple weeks.
Some people do this.
But the glass-half-full individuals, we put on another layer and say things like “Wow, that snow…hard to drive in it, but gorgeous isn’t it?”
or “Whew, it’s cold out there…great day for chicken noodle soup.”
And my favorite
“Halfway through. Once we get through January, it’s all downhill…spring’s just around the corner.”
I imagine these phrases come out of the mouths of the residents of our neighboring states (oh, and Canada) in all directions, in our typically northern accents, patting one another on the back while brushing snow out of our hair and stomping our feet on the rug, cheeks rosy from the bite of the wind.
Yes North Dakota Januarys bring out the true colors of our people: the Jamaican cruisers, the Arizona dwellers, the optimists and the people who are not phased who expect it and keep their mouths shut and Carharts on. There are the non-natives that are so damn cold they can’t keep the coffee coming in fast enough. There are the natives that love it because every new inch brings a new story about a neighbor they had to pull out of the ditch or the challenges of getting the cows fed or how the Schwann’s man got stuck in their yard and didn’t even offer a complimentary package of corn dogs for all the trouble you went to in digging the southerner out…twice.
But always, no matter who is residing in this, picking up their children from school, breaking ice, enjoying winter sports, there is astonishment at how it can possibly keep snowing and how it ever was summer.
And then the stories, the comparison from winter to winter come rolling in.
“This is bad, but not as bad as the winter of ’77. Or ’96.”
“Do you remember last Christmas when we couldn’t even get our doors open?”
“I heard (insert name of town forty to fifty miles away) got another 10 inches. Can you imagine? Boy we were lucky.”
These are conversations you will hear in every diner, in every gas station while you are pumping your gas and shifting your weight back and forth against the cold, in line at the bank, by the cheese section in the grocery store, or at coffee with your neighbors.
Oh, I love it. The drama of this season.
For me, a self proclaimed winter optimist who has uttered the aforementioned phrases, I have to confess at times this season (and this month especially) make me feel a bit like a recluse. Like, all I want to do is wrap myself in a blanket and write songs about how cold I am and how much I love the warm body in bed next to me and chicken noodle soup and coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon and warm baths and my snow suit and neckerchief.
Yes, winter has typically been my creative time, not sure why, but I think it forces me to get inside my own head and listen…either that or take a nap. Cause it’s so damn quiet out here.
Anyway, I can’t remember if I told you or not, but for Christmas I received a shiny new pair of snowshoes from my in-laws. I have great in-laws.
I got snowshoes and husband got a kayak and now I am torn between wishing the summer to hurry and come back or the winter to stay…because we have toys.
We’ve never really had toys.
Anyway, since no amount of wishing will warm up this world and even though we are tempted to take a run down the nearest snow-covered hill in the new kayak, we know better. So I have so been enjoying exploring our winter wonderland in my snowshoes. Which seems like a safe winter activity. Much safer than thrusting a body attached to skis down a mountain at great speeds…or you know, doing the same in a little canoe type thing…
So the snowshoes are marvelous. I can go places on the ranch that I can’t even go in the summer because of unruly vegetation and mushy creek beds. I put those things on and I feel like Jesus, impossibly walking on the ocean’s water…only my ocean is white and cold and the waves don’t move the same way.
I attached my winter body to the fantastic contraptions for the first time last week and laughed with evil glee as my pups fell through snowbanks and frolicked and fell and tumbled headfirst into drifts while I effortlessly glided on up and over and down and around, like Jesus…wait, I think I used that already…well anyway, you get the point…
And I could go on and on, but I want to tell you a quick story about how snowshoes seem like a great idea, especially when you are on a mission to get in shape and actually be useful on the ranch. They are a wonderful invention that turns an inconvenient pile up of snow into a grand and beautifully daring adventure, and a way to get around the place to check things out, until you forget that the temperature gauge dangling outside your window does not report windchill and halfway through your trip to find the horses, which turned up a lot of footprints and turds, but no actually horses, you discover that the snot that has been plaguing your nostrils the entire trip (as snot does in cold weather) is actually not snot at all.
Because it is blood.
It is blood and it is gushing down your face and onto your scarf and staining the white snow. And just moments before you discovered this new turn of events you felt you were a bit tired, but could make it the mile back to the house with little effort. Because you are an outdoors woman. This winter is no match for you and your snow suit and your muscles.
But now there is blood.
Now there is blood and you quickly become aware that you are indeed alone out there in the wilderness. You think you might freeze to death.
Because there is blood.
And you are cold and cannot possibly go one more step. And your feet are heavy. And you are sinking in the snow. You know you are sinking in the snow. What? Aren’t these snowshoes supposed to keep you up on this stuff? LIKE JESUS?!
Oh Martha Stewart, the house is far.
And there is blood…why…why…why?!!!!
The beautiful, snow-covered trees that you were photographing without a care in the world just moments before suddenly become obstacles looming just to get in the way of your safety.
Those drifts so deep, your feet so heavy, the dogs no help at all…those dogs just carrying on, sniffing each other chasing birds all happy and free like there is no one bleeding out here!!!
Oh lord there is blood and the house is so far away…
…those damn horses…
…damn exercise…if you ever make it back alive you vow to stay snuggled up on the couch where normal people belong in the winter. Who do you think you are? A mountaineer?
No. You decide you are not a mountaineer. You are a pale, pasty woman with noodle arms who belongs in the house writing songs about warm blankets and soup and love, not out here like some kind of crazy adventurer…
…you put your hand to your face…
…still bleeding…still blood…still the potential to die…or faint and then freeze to death and then die….
…you trudge up the hill, you stop to make sure you’re still alive.
And you are.
You are alive and you eventually make it home, sweaty and bloody and panting with the panic of it all. You make it home and realize, to your relief, that the funeral plans you made for yourself on the long, bloody trudge home can be written down and saved for the next near death experience…which you are certain you will never have because you are never leaving home again…
Where the horses and one mule are standing right in front of your door licking the salt off your car and laughing at you and your bloody, crusty nose.
You may have even heard one of them call you a weirdo.
This may or may not have happened to someone, somewhere.
And it may be funny or tragic, depending on the level of your optimism.
Oh January, how you taunt me.
Be careful out there.
A Winter Recluse turned Mountaineer turned Recluse again