COLUMN: Northern Minnesota’s awkward dance with summer

This is my Sunday column for the June 10, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. This is based on a shorter piece that aired on “Between You and Me” last week on Northern Community Radio.

Northern Minnesota’s awkward dance with summer
By Aaron J. Brown

The other day the dog went outside and barked her way back in within a couple minutes. Later that day the boys did the same thing, although their barking had verbs. We haven’t seen this kind of behavior since January.

Indeed, temperatures have crept up along with the sun’s position in the sky, back to the hammer-to-anvil position usually reserved for lower latitudes. It’s plausibly hot now, though in no way that people outside of northern Minnesota would understand.

In northern Minnesota, hot is a term reserved for any condition warmer than a room in which one could wear pants comfortably. Pants are really just heat tubes. If you could grow tomatoes in there, it’s hot.

So we have the shorts out now and they fit OK, always a good test of winter’s diet. The legs are still there; need to tan them up some to be presentable.

I always slump into June the way Hemingway’s Santiago from “The Old Man and the Sea” walks back from his boat after catching the monster fish only to have it eaten by sharks over several days. Literary scholars argue about whether the old man goes back to his house to die or whether he lives for a while and then dies. Anyway, June.

I teach, so May brings papers and end of the semester business. Our kids are in school now so May also brings programs and activities. May piles up community events, like politics, the arts and radio shows. By the time May is over, I’m lucky to be functional at all and my luck is middling at best.

And here comes June. In northern Minnesota June is the promise. To abuse another literary reference, June is California in “The Grapes of Wrath.” When the Joad family finally escapes the Dust Bowl to get there, the realization that picking peaches for a nickel a bushel is what waits.

In these north woods summer is fleeting and magical. It arrives suddenly and, despite having more daylight hours, somehow seems to pass faster than any other season. You’ve got to be ready for summer, with your list of projects ready to go, supplies requisitioned, ambition steeled for the heat and humidity. Because summer means projects and if you haven’t planned them by now there’s only a 50/50 chance you’ll complete them at all. July is hot. August is hotter. Then the school year returns, fall and rumblings of winter.

The lawn needs to be mowed. The deck needs to be stained. We need to do some dirt work to keep the water from pooling along our basement wall. There’s talk of putting patio block down, but the honest motivation there is simply to avoid having more grass to mow. It is probably best if we don’t let the children play Angry Birds in their pajamas all summer. We should, I don’t know, read books or something. And maybe this is the year we put in the shrubbery. Maybe.

Summer is a big hot season that wants very much for you to take it easy. And maybe we should. But every June we have to decide whether we’ll take that advice or wring every possible hour of enjoyment out of these long, luscious days. I think a lot of us choose to live in Minnesota because this quandary only lasts a few weeks.

Hot? Oh, it’ll get hotter. But not for long.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on public stations like 91.7 KAXE. The next show is Saturday, June 16 at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota. Find out more at


  1. Great column Aaron…you nailed it.

  2. Exactly right, and it doesn’t change when you get older, like me. And when in my life time will I ever feel that an investment in a sun dress is worth it?

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