COLUMN: The deceptive numbers of late winter

This is my column for the Sunday, March 6, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune

The deceptive numbers of late winter
By Aaron J. Brown
I froze my fingertips on the gas pump the other day. The temperature was colder than expected, the gas prices higher. It is not the numbers that get you. It is the unexpected numbers. Then again, are there really such things as unexpected numbers?

A guy can work around the cold or even expensive gas if he needs to. We’ve lived in northern Minnesota long enough, run engines far enough, endured hardship sometimes for generations. The science of survival was established long ago. $4 gas is the same as not having $4.

$5?  Same concept. They make manual augers, and bikes, and root cellars where you can store potatoes and casks of anything you like. You can trade for these things, or barter, or make them. They have books at the libraries and if they close the libraries we will shut down their mines and block up the streets. This has all been done before.

A few weeks of warm weather can lull you into a false sense of security. The joyous declarations of springtime during the recent record-breaking warm spell seemed to me to be the ramblings of crazy people. I said so, spouting wildly to those who would listen. And still I nipped my fingers on that cold metal, threw on my gloves, withdrawing my fingers into a fist in the middle for warmth. They stung for a while. I learned nothing. Our northern Minnesota cynicism cannot hold down our human yearning for spring. Even penguins yearn for spring.

This is the time of year where we wear our attractive spring coats earlier than we should; chest exposed to the elements. Normal cold, thus, feels colder. With daylight savings time upon us we plunge our early mornings back into darkness, all to create resplendent light when we are inside eating dinner. We know this all works out in the long run, but still, it seems mad. Where at the beginning of winter I am quick to flip down the flaps of my winter hat, today I resist until my ears throb with pain.

Temperature is nothing more than time. Wait long enough and you’ll get the climate you like after enduring months of one you despise. It is no wonder that we are the way we are. The place we live has something for everyone, but mostly suffering. Nevertheless, when pressed our attitudes, like our conversation, may extend ever so gently beyond the realm of weather.

On the Iron Range economic issues are just a form of weather. Seasons bring predictable patterns. The winter ushers in construction unemployment and shipping layoffs. Summer presents tourism and long shifts. Maintenance shutdowns in the fall or spring. The financial machinations in New York, Beijing, Mumbai and London, like a butterflies wings in the wind, tell us when we should fill the freezer for a long stretch. At the community college, down times are up times, up times are down. It is the same for state agencies and pawn shops, rummage sales and dollar stores.

Like the spring, we can be lulled into false security. A good run by the mines and the prospect of more mining allows us to leave an extra button open on our coats, or two. But we all know that these are warm spells. We will need coats and sandals, swim trunks and scarves, if we are to truly survive this place.

Rising costs and a changing world might alarm us, same as a storm or a lightning strike. But the same old logic applies. The wise and strong will endure. Others will move, or freeze, or watch their docks be crushed by the ice or their ice houses swallowed by the spring lake. Spring will come, then summer, fall and winter again. If we keep our wits and prepare, cherish what’s worth cherishing, we will earn our people’s right to live here even longer.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer and community college instructor. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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