Everything is easy until you open the door.
That’s true of life, but especially winter in Northern Minnesota.
After Christmas, winter becomes an extended stay in a Residence Inn. We already know what keeps in the hotel fridge, how long to microwave the popcorn, the cost of every item in the vending machine. Our only enemy is time, the cold journey to the warmth of what comes next. And we’re running out of quarters.
Winter is revelatory. No personality can escape uncharted by a Minnesota winter. If you’re a complainer, your friends figured that out weeks ago. You’ve shared the “Why do I live in a place where my face hurts” online meme so many times that people literally want to hurt your face.
Winter activity enthusiast? Your sweaty rosy-cheeked selfies have made the point far too clear. Same for you, sports fans. We get it. You love or hate the Green Bay Packers. They’re the best or worst there ever was.
Or perhaps you’re an emotional survivor. You isolate yourself from winter and all who speak its name. You stoke the fire and stare out the window at old ghosts hanging off the bare branches of your forgotten forest. The forest of your past. A past that never leaves you.
These are the people winter makes.
Winter also reveals your maturity. Not just your age, though the cold weather is particularly wicked on arthritic joints and bald heads (or so I’m told). No, I mean there is a foolproof way of telling whether you are a grownup or a hopelessly overgrown child.
Are you dressed properly? Not just dressed for the weather now, but also how the weather might be when you go home or if your car gets stuck.
As a parent, I know how kids fight winter clothing.
“I don’t need a face mask!” “Boots are lame!” “I don’t need a jacket!” “Shorts are fiiiine!”
Kids have been like that since evolution made them less hairy than their parents.
Walking up to the door of my son’s middle school as the final bell rings is an exercise in emotional separation. If I allowed myself to be upset by every kid wearing spandex shorts while sprinting headlong into below zero temperatures I would cry an ocean of tears.
Dining at a fast food restaurant during a cold snap a few weeks ago, I saw several teenage employees running from their cars into the building wearing nothing more than their short sleeved uniforms. If one were to ever put on a jacket I expect they’d immediately be named shift manager.
But what I’ve started to notice is that not only do the kids don casual wear through winter’s maw, but so do my fellow parents. I’ve stood outside the school with adult humans wearing jammy pants in an ice storm. Their eyes say “Don’t judge me.” My eyes say “How are you still alive?” Meanwhile, their legs say “K-k-k-k-kill m-m-m-m-me.”
I was at the library on one particular cold day when a grown man in a t-shirt came into the building gasping like a malnourished deer that had been grazed by a tractor-trailer.
Wearing snow pants or long underwear by choice is like crossing the Rubicon into true adulthood. There is no turning back. And why would you want to?
Warm socks and thermal tops. Layers. Ear muffs and a good scarf. These are the markers of an actualized adult, functioning in contrast to a sea of shivering juveniles.
We all must endure winter’s crucible. Bundle up. Put a log on the fire. Time favors those with patience. Cold favors those with parkas.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.