“Seriously, how can you stand it?” – a meditation on my beloved Minnesota

As I write this, it is -5°F. I think the high today is two. The snow squeaks underfoot with each heartbreaking step. The wind insinuates itself through our coats, into our boots and long johns and balaclavas. It whispers through the walls. The snowpiles on the sides of the road have not melted since November. They are now as dense and cruel as concrete. The streets are narrow and slick. Salt has grayed the edges of the world, uglying what once was beautiful.

This winter has been long, man. A long, bitter slog. And even the most dedicated of winter enthusiasts has found themselves looking at real estate listings in exotic-sounding places like Arkansas or Louisiana or Texas. Swampy places. Deserty places. Places where they close the schools if someone heard one time that it might be approaching freezing. Right now, that sounds wonderful.

I’m just kidding, of course. I am never leaving my state. I love its farms and its rivers and its lakes. I love its ancient granite cliffs in the north and its insanely fertile soil in the south. I love its forests and its massive bogs and its high prairie to the west. I love the rush of spring, the loll of summer, the symphony of color in the fall. And I love the winter. I really do. Even now.

I get a lot of people looking at our weather reports – did you know that some people read the weather reports of places where they do not live. They look at the crazy low temps in Embarrass, Minnesota, and they fan their faces – thrilled, swept away, utterly spent. It is weather porn. No one can convince me otherwise.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh, right. People write to me and say, essentially, HOW CAN YOU STAND LIVING THERE? Their words are kind, alarmed, and urgent. They talk to me the way one talks to a spouse in an abusive relationship. Or a long-term kidnapping victim. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY, they plead with me.

The thing is? Even when it’s cold, it’s still pretty awesome. And there’s something that happens to us in the cold – an intense camaraderie, a joined sense of purpose, a collective pact of survival and victory. We are Sam and Frodo in Mordor. We are the Light Brigade, facing certain doom, and going down fighting. We are the 10th Mountain Division, fighting and  dodging Nazis on Nordic skis. Nothing makes you love your neighbor more than to help them build a glowing, multicolored ice castle in the front yard.


Nothing makes you love the half-crazed kids in the neighborhood – especially after they descended on your home to play Minecraft and subsequently tore it to shreds, than to see them doing this outside:

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One thing my state does incredibly well in the winter making a lot of social things for us to do in the winter. Because, no matter how cold it is – and yes, it gets frakkin cold – we can still get outside. And we should. Getting outside changes our relationship with the cold. It changes our relationship with the seasons. And it makes it love it – and one another. I have been accused before that perhaps the over-cold temperatures make us high. This is possible. After, all, we do organize kite-flying festivals every year. On a frozen lake. It is marvelous.

And cross country skiing festivals:


At some point, we simply learn that it’s not the weather – it’s the gear. And it’s the relationship, too. When we dress warm enough, we go beyond simple survival. We become part of the outdoors. We explore; we connect; we wonder. We have this incredible opportunity to fully experience the astonishing beauty of winter – ice crystals and wind, deer tracks in the snow, deep drifts, frosted tree trunks, the utter silence of a frozen forest, the swish of a ski on a well-honed track, the cut of branches holding up the sky. The landscape is beautiful. The people are beautiful too.

Yesterday, we went to the art shanties – twenty-two ice houses-turned-artist installations. There was a shanty turning wind into art, there was a shanty that had transformed itself into a giant music box, there was a shanty where you could write and read people’s letters. A shanty full of polar bear art. A shanty made of salt. A shanty with a Totally Legitimate Elevator. And the people drove out to the ex-urbs. And they parked their cars and they walked out onto the frozen lake. And they participated in the art – they made, they wrote, they danced. They climbed inside a giant, multiple-bike-powered polar bear puppet, and drove it around. And they smiled in spite of the cold, through the cold, because of the cold. And it was good.

Seriously, how can I stand living here?

Seriously, how can I live anywhere else?

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20 thoughts on ““Seriously, how can you stand it?” – a meditation on my beloved Minnesota

  1. Lovely. The polar bear reminds of the the Great Kinetic Sculpture Race (sadly now called Kinetic Grand Championship), which I thought was only something you’d find in Northern California. There must be something about those northern climes which mixes art with enthusiasm and energy. Down here, where deserts make up a large part of the landscape, we practice a slower art. We get giant boulders like “Levitated Mass”, places designed for calm meditation.

    It is good you’ve found where you belong. Not everyone does.

  2. As a neighbor to your east, I find much to appreciate in winter. This morning, the Sun was reflecting off the fresh snow and the glints made think the stars had fallen from the sky and were shining from our front yard. As the days grow longer, and the Sun climbs in the sky, it actually feels warm on my skin even though the the temp may be 0° F. Signs of life returning are everywhere. Skunks have been out and about for a month, more birds are about and filling the air with song, early blooming bushes are turning red as the sap begins to rise. It is truly a beautiful time of year.

  3. This is great!! I don’t know much about Minnesota but I do know I miss snowy winters. (I used to live in Montreal, Quebec). This post was all warmth and love towards a season that tends to get a lot of bad rap. You made me all nostalgic for my Canadian winter days. Sure it’s “frakkin’ cold”…but would you really have it any other way? Nope!

  4. awww, that is wonderful Kelly, thanks for sharing all of this. I live in California and don’t often see real winter (Sacramento) so I enjoy seeing other communities and what they do with real winters, aside from complaining about them! I was seeing a lot of people on my fb page complaining about the snow and ice and cold, and I finally told them to Can It! We are suffering from the worst drought ever in California and this is where a lot of food comes from, so I am tired of hearing about all your winter wetness! I feel for those in the real winter places, really, but enough is enough. Wait until you don’t have enough water to flush your toliet and then I will listen to your complaints!!!

  5. I have lived in Minnesota for 19 years, moving here from the Great White North after marrying my MN native husband. It truly is about the gear. Though if you move here from Canada and expect the winters to be milder than what you’re used to, the winters here may be a bit of a shock. 🙂

  6. Great post! I love your winter weather! You mentioned moving to Texas, and it’s funny because, during the summer, everyone looks at us like, “How can you live in that hell?” The summer is as long as your winter! And I always long for the winter around August!

  7. Pingback: Tone deaf bosses, hiding a hijab, and the homeless patch of ND (5×8 – 2/10/14) | NewsCut | Minnesota Public Radio News

  8. -43 windchill as I write this comment, and since we lack the interesting arts aspect to our winter experience here, I have only this to offer; through enduing winter, we avoid earthquake, tsunami, seriously exotic diseases, and spiders of a size to abduct dogs. It’s worth the avoidable threat of frostbite.

  9. That looks very cool. No pun intended.

    Where I live, the first day of snow is like, “OMG SNOW CLOSE DOWN EVERYTHING HAVE A PARTY” and then every day after that is like, “Okay everything is closed, what do we do now?” And after a while people start complaining about the government because apparently our transport system shouldn’t shut down after like two inches of snow. Which is probably fair.

    But this year we haven’t had any snow. Just, like, constant rain and flooding all over the country. No big deal.

  10. I took that silly internet meme about “What State Should You Live In?” You know what I got? Minnesota. Yes. I am here. I am home. I love this place so veryvery much.

  11. I don’t know you. I have no idea what your life in Minnesota is like. But I wonder, do you have to get to work every morning at 8 a.m. – 40 hours a week after driving your children to school? The roads have been covered in back ice. It is perilous just getting to work. D

    Do you have a neighbor who is a single mom that you shovel the driveway for? An elderly neighbor? Winter has been harder than a witches tit this year.

    I have had to shovel, dig and plow myself (and my neighbors ) out of some ungodly cold fricken snow. Yes? You too? Has that been your struggle?

    Yes, we did the Loppet this year. Love the Ice Shanties. We even went camping but this is not a winter to exhaust in the glory of winter and not even mention the struggles. Hello? Minnesota Sister. Are you living in another world?

    • Oh, god, the black ice. I had a very near miss in early January on 35W, taking my kids to the dentist. Very near miss.

      But I’ll say it again – cross country skiing when it’s ten below is a thrill, and with the insane cold, we actually haven’t had all that much snow (I think we’re on track to only end up with half of what we got last year), so I haven’t yet thrown out my back shoveling. Yet. I did get frost bite though. That, admittedly, sucked.

      I don’t know. I still dig it. Even when it sucks. I still dig it.

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