Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Keeping the keel down when it so darn cold


Wow! Another -30 below morning. Dozens of pine grosbeaks are lined up in formation on the electric wire that connects the house to the pole stationed just outside the kitchen window. They are waiting for feed, lots of feed, bags and bags of feed to keep them sustained in these bitter times.

It happens to be a clear morning with a blinding sun streaming in from the east. At least for now, it appears calm out there. None of those snow devils I so often see racing across the open field, dancing among the clumps of willow brush that dare to slow them down.

The days are getting noticeably longer. Now, when I rise around seven there is color in the sky. I light the gas range under the coffee pot to heat the water I’ve set out overnight to reach room temperature in an effort to conserve fuel. It’s become ever more important to find little things I can do to conserve. As the bumper sticker on my refrigerator reads, “Together we CAN make a difference”.

Ironically, I snatched it from the stream of junk mail that arrives daily in my mailbox, retrieved from endless requests for money, mostly for good causes, always goading me to also notice my sometimes careless use of paper. After all, we are in a strategic position to monitor northern Minnesota’s once tall, handsome aspen woods which lined our many miles of back roads, now reduced to miles of clearcuts in varying stages of regrowth. (I still haven’t found a way to curb that crazy, mostly unread, stream of paper that ends up in my recycling bag everyday.)

Back to that refrigerator sticker…. “CONSERVE” it reads, on a beautiful background of frogs, birds, salmon, apples, an ocean and children! It’s telling me that I have a role to play, right here at home, in my backyard, along my road, in my town, my state, my country, the world. Each time I open the fridge to reach for a snack, I’m reminded that I am part of the “bigger picture”!

When it gets this cold and I’m hunkered down waiting for the plow to come in or the car to start, with the view out the window a seeming frozen wasteland, it’s easy to start wondering, “What the heck are we doing here?” I chuckle at my efforts to stay positive, trying to convince myself that it’s “all good”, that winter is a time to slow down, reflect, “go inward” and discover what really matters. I’ll scan the bookshelf for a good escape novel or one of those “self-helpers” written by a highly enlightened being just back from a world-wide speaking tour, whose insights will guide me on the journey toward acceptance and contentment. And lo, it helps!

My mornings usually begin with a ritual donning of appropriate layers of clothing for that first frigid step out the front door, then shoveling a path to the bird feeder where I’ll then toss buckets of seeds to my hungry winged “companions on the journey” swarming so close around me that I feel a little like Francis of Assisi. Pure wonder and joy!

Once back inside, I relish the exquisite pleasure of that first sip of freshly ground coffee, and delight in the comforting warmth of that steamy cup clutched between my hands. In that moment, I’m free of even a hint of anxiety or frustration from the blind, fearful, or silly struggling I’m prone to over the challenges before me. As hard as it seems sometimes to care (and worry) about the planet and all the people I love, I know that my heartfelt concern inspires me to take action, and that’s exactly what I need to just “keep on keepin’ on”!

Being here in this wild country with its harsh winters, grants me the privilege of time — time to visualize the world still inhabitable for my grandson and future generations. Current events coupled with something deep inside call on me to do what I can to make that vision the reality, no matter how hard or how small my actions may seem. So, where does this all lead?

Despite all the time spent digging out and cursing cold fingers, all my longing to be on a sunny beach somewhere drinking Corona under a cabana, or imagining picking up plastic trash on a Pacific island with a couple of conservation-minded surfer dudes, I know that I’m really happy right where I am. Yes, the weather can be brutal but how can I complain?

I’ve got a hefty stockpile of dry firewood, a snug little house to come home to, and a lot more to be grateful for. So what if my life moves at a rate of a 33-1/3 RPM record when the world around me is speeding along at rates measured in terabytes per second. Even at a glacial pace, I can still contribute something meaningful from my remote, hunkered down location.

In addition to the bookshelf I have the Internet that connects me to kindred spirits near and far, also invested in creating a meaningful life and a better world. Now, I can read the “Green New Deal” in its entirety with a click of a mouse. I can weigh in on policy decisions by emailing support for our nation’s transition to renewable carbon-free energy sources. I can discover new ways to steward our natural environment and its wildlife. I can act globally by sending support to people elsewhere who are already facing the effects of our changing climate. And, I can work in my own community to help it thrive. That is, once the car starts. There is no argument. Our weather tests us to the limits! But given a minute, when asked, we know exactly why we live here.

Wow! The temp just broke zero! Time to celebrate another beautiful day in paradise!


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Gene Baland

What a great letter! You were a friend and inspiration to my Dorothy. I truly appreciated that and I enjoyed your thoughts above. Thank You!

Friday, March 1, 2019