Tag Archives: Winter

White Chicken Chili

Molly's white chicken chili.

Molly’s white chicken chili.

There’s something like a 3rd or 7th polar vortex bearing down on the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes region on this sunny, cold Saturday lunch hour. Yesterday Molly suggested that we make white chicken chili. I set the navy beans to soaking yesterday afternoon, and she put soup together just before lunch today. Lots of coriander, cumin, Tochi’s taco seasoning, green and red chilies, etc. This is what she was telling me after I asked, “Why is this so delicious?” We also added cilantro just before serving. Note: what you can’t see in this photo are the two chihuahuas at my feet. Seriously. They are named Willow and Honey. This soup is heating us up for sure. Polar vortex, your serve.

Winterscape Driving

Winter Driving

Our view of winter driving before the sun set.

Typed out on Saturday, January 25, 2014:

Since Molly and I are driving in a borderline blizzard, at night, back from Bismarck to Fargo, and since she’s driving, I thought I’d type out some descriptions here while riding shotgun. We’re just passing Casselton, where the famous mushroom cloud rose up out of the northern Great Plains winterscape a little more than a month ago. It’s nearly pitch black here in the car, the only illumination coming from the buttons and dials on the dashboard and headlights from oncoming traffic in the northern, west-bound lane.

We’re keeping it at a steady 60mph, snow blowing thicker and thicker south-to-north across the road. More urgent travelers are passing us in the left lane. When they pass, they kick up the snow starting to drift in the left-lane, and it creates a kind of rooster tail that the wind immediately sweeps north. Beyond the interstate off in the prairie it is nearly pitch black. The illuminated billboards on the right side of the road emerge in the distance out of the blowing snow. As we approach they glow increasingly brighter. In this blowing snow at night, just as we pass the billboards, you can see how they create drift. As the wind hits the flat surface it swirls, and the blowing snow curls up over the top of the signage. All of this is brightened by the billboard flood lights.

On the radio is Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. Of course, those of us who live on the prairie know Garrison gets his best material from our hour-to-hour reality. It’s good stuff. And we appreciate him for it.

We just passed I-94 Exit 343, and the lights of Fargo brighten, creating that orange pinkish hue through the blowing snow. This grows in intensity the closer we get. That you’re reading this blog entry means we safely made the Saturday night drive. Good weekend to you all.

Winter Oil Explosion in Casselton, North Dakota

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west.

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west. Oil plume just to the left of the signage on the horizon stretching south.

This afternoon while following up on a US-Dakota War historiographic line of research in the library at North Dakota State University, I received a few texts from a friend that read, “KFGO News says 7 oil tanker cars on fire, many have exploded near Casselton.” More went up after this text. This raised my eyebrow. It’s not often that oil tanker cars blow up in North Dakota, and my first thought was, “I sure hope this wasn’t in downtown Casselton.” I was thinking I would just stay in the library, but I also thought about how seeing something first hand is different from seeing it on the flatscreen. Historians are fanatics about primary sources. “Might as well make a contribution,” I thought.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota. The setting sun just dipped behind it.

Molly and I drove out west of Fargo on I-94 to Casselton, about a 20 minute ride one way. Here are some of the raw observations: when we started in Fargo, the temperature was -3°F, and when we finished up in Casselton it read -5°F. Sun dogs were also out to the right and left of the sun. Wind was steady out of the north. As we left Fargo, the sun was setting and snow wisped north-south over the interstate. By mile marker 340, we discerned that the horizontal haze in the distance was indeed produced by the burning oil. Since the wind was blowing hard from the north, this horizontal streak stretched south over the horizon. In the flat Red River Valley of the north, this means that the streak stretched south and was visible for a very, very long way. The setting sun dropped behind this streak, some photos of which are included.

I took the exit off of I-94 into Casselton, and we drove north on Highway 18 that runs south-north through town. I eventually parked the car in a parking lot just to the northeast of where the east-west railroad tracks intersect the north-south Highway 18. This is raw video from that:

Here are some subjective thoughts from the outing: I’m uncertain if anyone was hurt, or worse. I hope not. We all hope not. I also thought about the variety of apartments, residences and businesses along these railroads. Molly and I live two blocks north of one of these rail lines. I have friends that live right along them. And what about our neighbors to the north who went through something much worse than this in October 2013 in Quebec. Then I thought of how this will certainly be politicized in

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

numerous ways. Then I thought about how the world — all of us — have been born into a culture that relies on petroleum. It’s kind of a cultural inertia, something America, the West and the world has been increasingly addicted to at least since the turn of the 19th century. It seems that until oil becomes expensive enough, there will not be a massive enough cultural effort to harness other energy sources. We see signs of it, of course, with wind turbines and the hydroelectric. But it’ll be a while before all of these other alternatives eclipse petroleum. That’s kind of the way with the petroleum industrial complex. There is plastic all around us, too.

Anyhow, stay safe in Casselton, all. Looks like they may have already started evacuating the entire village…

Blizzard Orko: Downtown Fargo Snowfall as of February 11, 2013

Readings of the snowfall at 8:30AM (CST) in downtown Fargo, North Dakota on February 11, 2013.

Readings of the snowfall at 8:30AM (CST) in downtown Fargo, North Dakota on February 11, 2013.

I’m not only talking about the weather just because it’s a safe topic of conversation. It is healthy for the mind and soul to discuss unsafe topics, and it is necessary to revive and invigorate culture. For example, it may be prudent to hold off on opening the conversation at Christmas Eve dinner with, “Hey, what do you all think about politics and religion, and can you pass me the gravy?”

But in any case, here is a very safe topic of morning conversation, a snap shot of the local patio readings from Blizzard Orko (the name ascribed to this blizzard, and not to be confused with Gandolf the White Blizzard, but certainly connected with Willa Cather’s thoughts on blizzards). These were taken at 8:30AM, CST, in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Looks like just over 10″ in downtown Fargo as of this morning (centimeters are to the right).

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.

Gandolf the White Blizzard

It is the evening of January 11, 2013, and I am on the second floor of The Arts Center in downtown Jamestown, North Dakota. In the past couple days the Weather Channel and regional meteorologists have been psychologically preparing the public for the first intense blizzard of the year. The Weather Channel has subsequently named this blizzard Gandolf — yes, I’m serious. Originally I intended on making the Eisenhower Interstate 94 drive from Fargo to Jamestown after an NDSU departmental meeting concluded in the late afternoon, but eureka rattled through my brain earlier in the morning and I thought it would be better to make the drive then and there. My hope was to beat the thermometer from Fargo to Jamestown, knowing that the light rain would turn to ice as the temps dropped below 32 F. And if I didn’t make it to Jamestown, how would I be able to attend the art gallery reception for Walter Piehl on Saturday evening with Molly at The Arts Center? Yes, I needed to act.

Ice forming on the windshield and radio antenna during the early stages of Gandolf the White Blizzard.

Ice forming on the windshield and radio antenna during the early stages of Gandolf the White Blizzard.

The drive turned into a white-knuckled affair, a ’93 Chevrolet S-10 rear-wheel drive pickup providing joyous stress. I found that by keeping the speedometer at no more than 40mph, the rear wheels would stay secure to the pavement. During the drive, I also thought about how author Chuck Klosterman killed off several main characters (spoiler alert!) with a blizzard in Downtown Owl, this piece of fiction set in a small town in rural North Dakota in 1984. Then I thought about the book, Children’s Blizzard. Then I tried to stop thinking such thoughts, and I continued driving.

Note: when driving in winter rainstorms that are turning to ice, there are two opposing thoughts that bash at each other in the brain. It goes something like this: after a driver is 30 miles into a 90 mile drive, and just after the rear wheels slip a little at 50mph (the pick up will jerk a bit), the driver considers two options: turn around and endure another 30 mile drive back, or press on and gain another 30 miles. In the long term, if the driver retreats and makes it back home, they will have logged 60 miles, which, essentially means one could have been 2/3s the way to the destination. So I pushed on. Would I end up sliding off the road and into the ditch? Stop thinking about these thoughts. I did, and I made it to my destination. My advice: don’t do this. Ever. Anyhow, the photo pictured above is what the windshield looked like in the early stages of Gandolf the Grey, this between 8:30AM-to-12PM in Cass, Barnes and Stutsman counties, North Dakota.

Walter Piehl and his art.

Walter Piehl and his art.

The below short video clip is an intensified Gandolf, when a winter rain storm receives more training to ultimately become Gandolf the White Blizzard. As I re-visit the video over and over from a historic building in downtown Jamestown, North Dakota, I can’t help but thinking how 100 years ago an individual in the building would have heard similar sounds from this very vantage. Note, for example, the subtle chug-chug-chug in the audio, this coming from a train just a block north. The large grain elevator (not visible) is located along the tracks. Yup, 100 years ago it was possible during a winter blizzard to hear the same blasts of shivering whispers blow through the small cracks in commercial brick construction, and also hear the thump-thump-thump of the iron horse on the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Historically, it is important to respect White Blizzards — lest they teach us mortality instead of just humility.