March madness? Already there

This is my Sunday column for the March 24, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

March madness? Already there
By Aaron J. Brown

St. Urho’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day have passed us by, two stripes – one purple and one green – on a slushy brown highway winding into the dark and foggy moor called Springtime in Minnesota.

I grant you, St. Paddy’s Day is a widely accepted international celebration of Irish heritage. St. Urho’s Day is a strange local custom crafted in the 1950s by American Finns in this area for reasons unclear. But still, this is the season of arbitrary holidays designed to reinforce the thin, worn straps holding sanity inside the winter-scarred remnants of our chilled pudding brains.

For instance, I recently learned that National Ravioli Day occurred this past week, something I learned from a colleague after eating a can of raviolis for lunch. Was it really National Ravioli Day? Works for me. We need something to believe in. Let’s start with raviolis and work our way up.

We have a small dog named Molly. When we let her out on a cold, windy day she stands on the edge of the deck stairs barking into the wind. She continues on like this until one of three things happens, 1) we shoo her off the deck, 2) she gives up, or 3) the wind dies down. It seems strange behavior to us most of the time, but not now.

Now is the time we throw on our coats loosely, never mind the scarf, to charge into the elements looking for a fight. Maybe we can land a punch on the jowly neck of winter? Temperatures hover well below freezing but water still seeps directly through the tough heels of our boots and shoes. Never mind that, either. Walk it off. Curse. Spring will come soon enough. Of course, many people die this way, but that is the price.

This week the Mesabi Miner became the first ship to depart the port of Duluth for the 2013 shipping season. The snow-encrusted ship slipped out an ice channel forged by a Coast Guard cutter on the promise that, though the surrounding ice would not melt, the frigid waterway might not freeze over again.

I’m pretty sure I heard a small songbird die of exposure out my window one night this week. Not good for the bird, but the fact that he was around is probably cause for some limited form of optimism.

The children are beginning to realize that Earth rotates around the Sun, tilting on its axis. Well, not that exactly. They remember that there is such a thing as summer and it’s closer than Christmas. We are beginning to remember this, too. Is it legal to send your offspring running down a dirt road pulling cinder blocks? Because after a long dark solstice marathon of three boys and four walls, one of which plays Spongebob Squarepants on a loop, this is becoming an attractive option. Maybe a bike ride? OK, fine. A bike ride.

Now I’m wondering if that wasn’t a songbird but, in fact, a mouse living in our attic.

People turned actively hostile this week, both toward the weather and toward any human who bore some lingering allegiance to winter activities. “You went skiing? Screw you, pal!” This is actually a pretty good precursor to seasonal change. God does not lift the veil of winter until we are broken. Some years this happens early. Some years it happens later. Something to do with where Easter falls? I’m not sure.

Now I’m wondering how many mice are up there. Or were they flying squirrels? We’ve had flying squirrels before.

I wish I could promise you this would be my last column this year about the end of winter. But you know as well as I that such a vow would be made on a bed of lies.

Nah, had to have been a bird, right? A cute little songbird that died tragically in a blizzard. That’s the best case scenario.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor on the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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