After a few weeks in Tucson, necessity called me back to Minnesota for four days of the worst possible January weather.
Quite a shock! This must be the worst winter in the northland since 1997. The snow banks are unbelievable. The talk in the cafe is of flooding even though March, which can be the snowiest month, isn't even the next page on the calendar.
Doom and gloom.
Yet, despite the snow banks and glum spring prognosis, spirits seemed higher around the old home town than they were in December. People were in a pretty good mood at the cafe, the grocery store and the nursing home, at least.
That proves my theory that the problem with December isn't so much the cold and dark. It is all the holiday hullaballoo that does people in. Once past the holidays, people get back in their routine and feel more human.
Or, it could be that people notice that the days are getting just a little longer. Even a little extra sunshine can make a difference in the collective mood.
I drove the old Ranger east into lake country one bitter, cold evening as the sun set. Out in the wilderness where the naturally occurring pine and spruce add depth to the otherwise monochromatic winter color scheme, it is starkly beautiful at sunset in winter.
When you are in a vehicle that is properly warmed up and has a full tank of gas, the dusky deep blues of dusk at thirty below zero are eerie mystical. The remote risk of dying in the cold adds an element of adventure.
When you pass a cozy cabin with a wood stove chimney that puffs slow-moving billows of smoke you have a scene worth painting.
In the empty spaces between towns and cabins, I imagine I am in a space capsule traveling to the moon. Driving at night through the wilderness in the cold is almost that lonely, and almost as dangerous.
When it is below zero, the snow pack on the roads isn't quite as slippery as it becomes closer to freezing. Even so, I slid through two intersections while back home. Thank goodness nobody was coming from either direction or I would have had to take the ditch.
Funny how quick you forget what it is like to drive on ice. But traffic was so sparse that if I hadn't told you here, nobody would have ever known.
In Tucson, I would have been arrested. Or hospitalized.
Big disaster: I forgot my cell phone chargers in Arizona. What would happen if I was out on the roads, got stuck and didn't have a charge on my phone? I could die!
Funny how quick you forget what it was like not to have cell phones and how we actually drove around in cold weather without them and didn't think anything of it.
I borrowed a charger and felt a lot safer.
Late in the winter evenings when the sky clears in the subzero cold, the stars shine even more brightly in Minnesota than they do in the high dry air of Tucson, an astronomy mecca.
With the leaves off the trees, you can watch the stars from inside the house if you turn all the lights off. Star-viewing is the reason I elected to go without a yard light. The sparkling stars calm the soul and make for a great midwinter insomnia cure.
After my last dark night in Minnesota, a little squall came up that threatened my flight back to Arizona. The storm won't be named or otherwise remembered come summer. It didn't drop a lot of snow, and the winds were from the south.
But the winds reduced visibility to almost zero and just about prevented the plane from landing so we could get on. The waiting room was full of people headed to warmer climes who wouldn't have taken kindly to a delay.
In the end, the plane took off even though the other end of the runway was completely obscured by blowing snow.
The passengers were giddy and talkative for the entire trip.
Winter can be beautiful, at least when you know you are about to escape.