COLUMN: "Notes from the Freezer"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Notes from the freezer
By Aaron J. Brown

Across the Upper Midwest, especially here in northern Minnesota, we settle in for the portion of winter no one sings songs about. Christmas is over. New Years has passed. We asked to let it snow, and it has. We drank to days of Auld Lang Syne and now must find new, more creative excuses to drink. Because it’s very cold, you see.

Cold like this draws the national TV weather anchors like the Gore-Tex wearing, banana-freezing, condescending gnats they are before driving them back toward the coasts faster than our pup Molly Dog does her morning business. You see the weatherpeople out there, in the dark, talking to New York. Of course it’s cold. It’s dark. It’s January. Why are you here now? It’s much more temperate in the summer. Do we see you then? Of course not. You only appreciate extremes. Minnesota is a summer secret paid for by the price of winter, specifically January.

Minnesotans know that the January cold snap – annual, inevitable – whips back the heads of the unaccustomed, and chills the feet of the natives. Our feet are always cold these days. Cold in boots, in sneakers and certainly in the sort of shoes most modern folks are expected to wear to work. Work these days constitutes all manner of sitting, a profession most unhelpful when it is so very cold.

In cold like this the doors of a Chrysler minivan sound like the fantastical hum of a “Star Wars” Imperial fighter ship. Jwaaaaa! It’s a sort of hum that adds six consonants to a vowel in a way that only special effects people could. Well, special effects people and also January in Minnesota. Everything in a Minnesota winter sounds like a science fiction noise, from the deep freezing of our lakes with its space ship groaning, to the creak of every joint and piston.

A certain sound emerges from the ground when we walk in these temperatures. It is the sound of a small animal being strangled, one with each footstep. WRANTCH WRANTCH WRANCTH! We are comforted by the fact that these individual sounds are not animals we’re killing with cold, just hours in our life. Or maybe just minutes, if we stay healthy.

It is this time of year where young boys such as ours form a love/hate relationship with the institution of mittens. They resent them, and yet their tiny fingers know their survival depends upon them. We try many methods of putting them on; however, about the only effective way is to sneak them into the coat sleeve in advance.

The aforementioned Molly Dog’s bark to get back inside becomes more urgent, somewhat like Morse Code for “ME FROZEN LIKE STICK (stop) MMM FISH-STICK (stop) ME WANT FISH STICK (stop).” Dogs change gears quickly. This year our oldest boy Henry and I dug something we call a “Molly Maze” in the back yard.

In this kind of cold, resentment forms over the presumably “cold” temperatures touted by national network morning programs. Fifteen degrees in Connecticut is not cold. Not really. Below zero is really the only metric that counts. The “Arctic Chill” they tout only matters if that bulbous blue blob materializes over your home town. It always forms over our heads. Always.

We know, from experience and legend, that this winter freeze will subside, washed over like warm barbarians through the ancient Roman Empire of Holy Freaking Cold. It’s going to happen. But we also know from experience that it will occur no time soon. Nevertheless, the passage of the annual January cold snap brings some hope to us, the shivering people of the North. There’s still hockey, and a little football, and the care and maintenance of our heating systems, plenty to keep us busy until the good, warm times roll again.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. OMNorthStars! The bitter truth.
    Winter in Minnesota:
    Back to school
    New crayons
    Black-eyed Susans
    Fat bees
    Scampering squirrels
    Turning leaves
    Season premiers
    Board games and jigsaw puzzles
    Frosty breath
    Snow Days
    Winter Carnival
    Chapped lips
    Xcel bills
    Perpetual midnight

  2. Well, it certainly hasn’t snowed nearly enough… but at least it hasn’t gotten nearly cold enough… to keep me from doing some snowmobiling!!!

    I’ve rode 1200 miles already this season. The highest I have seen the speedometer is 111 mph.

    Happy New Year.

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