“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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We interrupt this final Friday of summer vacation to bring you this GIANT EYE.

There is, right now, a giant eyeball in Dallas.


I can’t tell if the artist who designed this is the sort of fellow who frightens small boys off his lawn with rakes and chainsaws and kicks the occasional puppy with his steel-toed boots, or if he is destined to be my very best friend in all the land. Maybe both. What kind of genius/madman comes up with this kind of nighmarish nugget of awesome? This monstrous delight? What kind of person painstakingly copies, then magnifies his own peepers and puts them on display?  And more importantly, is he fun to have over at dinner parties? (Seriously, Tony Tasset, you’re welcome any time.)

A giant, goddamned, eye. What will they think of next?

Spend five minutes staring into that mammoth pupil and….oh, rats. I think it just swallowed my soul. Also? I’m pretty sure I know what Hell is like. Heaven too (same thing, really – two sides of a single coin, darkness and light, matter and wave, hello and goodbye, the vastness of space and the singularity of time, and oh, god, my soul, my soul, my shattered soul). Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right. The giant eye.

Apparently, this ocular glory/horror was once stationed in Chicago (I’ve been to Chicago; the eye is appropriately bloodshot and bleary), but was recently purchased and positioned temporarily in the State With Which One Must Not Mess. I’ve been to Dallas, too. As I recall, it was rather thin in the art department, for a city of it’s size (of course, as a Minneapolitain, I am spoiled, art-wise). Perhaps they were simply waiting for a Sculpture the Size of Texas. It’s three stories tall. That’s a lot of art, if you think about it

Or, perhaps Texas is secretly Mordor, and you can’t have Mordor without the eye of Sauron. Perhaps there are, in the teeming guts of Dallas, hordes of Orcs and Uruk-hai and a whining Smeagol and perhaps even a giant spider, biding their time and massing their forces to unleash themselves upon the world. I’ve always wanted to visit Mordor.

And dangit. Now I want to go to Texas.

Perhaps I might locate my swallowed soul.

(ETA- Yes, I know, the picture here is from the previous installation. Is it my fault that Chicago is more photogenic than Dallas? No my friends, it is not. And speaking of the artist possibly being my new best friend, he also made this:

And this:

Seriously. New best friend. He just doesn’t know it yet.)

Infinity Dollar Bill


My son, last night at bedtime, asked me if there was a such thing as an infinity dollar bill. I asked him what he meant.

“It looks like one dollar, and it is one dollar, but it keeps on being more. And then you’ll have all the money in the universe in your very own pocket.”

I told him, no, there wasn’t a such thing as an infinity dollar bill, though I rather like the thought of it – sort of a conceptual vertigo, like all of heaven dancing on the head of a pin, or an entire universe in the nucleus of a cell, or consciousness and art springing from the gooey carbon muck of our brains, and so forth.”It sounds like a pretty cool idea,” I told him.

He crawled under his covers. “When I grow up,” he said, “I’m going to invent an infinity dollar bill.”

“I’m not sure they’ll let you do that,” I said.

“Oh,” he explained. “No one will know. It will be electric.”

“Will you need to plug it in?”

“No, it will have solar powered chips in it. And when I invent it, it will only be one dollar. But when I give the dollar to someone else, it will become one hundred dollars. And when they give it to someone else it will turn into a thousand dollars. And when they give it to someone after that, it will turn into ten thousand dollars.”

His eyes were shining.

“So,” I asked for clarification, “if you keep it, nothing changes, right?”

“Right,” he said “I can’t wait to invent this thing.”

“But what if you spend it?”

“Nope,” he said. “The infinity dollar only works when you’re giving it to someone. It can only be a present.”


“Because I’m inventing it,” he said. “And presents are awesome.”