Winter Memories

Speaking of winter in My Ántonia (1918), Willa Cather noted that “man’s strongest antagonist is the cold.” As I type (on 01/31/2013, just before noon), the dry temp in Fargo, North Dakota registers right around -9 F, around -9 in Grand Forks, -17 in Jamestown and Dickinson, -18 in Towner, -13 in Valley City and Bismarck, -20 in Williston,  and, for international scope, -11 in Irkutsk, Russia (a Siberian city with a population of over 1/2 million).

On the walk to work today I was thinking back to some of my elementary school days in the context of cold winter weather. The phrase “blizzard warning” often triggered the following thought — with an anxious question mark at the end — of “school closings due to severe winter weather?” in my earlier elementary school mind. When superintendents and sometimes governors yielded to the winter and Boreas, and they finally decided to shut institutions (sometimes the entire state) down for a day or two, the next thought that went through my elementary school mind was, “With school canceled, now I’ll have time to try and convince my mom that it’s still not bad enough for us to get outside to go sledding, work on that winter fort…” and so on.

Winter driving on Interstate 94 in North Dakota, February 2013.

Winter driving on Interstate 94 in North Dakota, February 2013.

In a big way, winter is dealt with by getting out in it (bundle up, of course).

The large snow piles heaped in the middle or on the edge of parking lots also reminded me of first grade “King of the Hill” matches on playgrounds. For whatever reason, students who partook in these matches had recess privelidges revoked (at least for that recess), and they got a stern talking to. What never made sense to me, though, was how an elementary school student was supposed to look at a giant heap of snow piled high in the middle of the playground and not feel hard-wired to climb it. I don’t know how today’s elementary schools deal with snow removal and snow piles. But looking back at it, I suppose those early piles of snow taught me some rudimentary basics of Darwin, and the blowback of cultural and institutional regulations imposed by those watchful recess supervisors.

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