After three years in Minnesota, I keep wondering when winter will arrive in Blacksburg. It’s January now. Shouldn’t I be warming my mug so its cold, greedy clay won’t suck all the heat from my coffee? Or pulling our down comforter up to my ears rather than kicking it off in the middle of the night? Shouldn’t I be wearing long johns, and furry boots, snow gloves and a knee length down coat?
Shouldn’t I be worried that my eyes will freeze open?
It is a strange sensation, this waiting. I keep checking the forecast, wondering when it’s going to get cold. I will see highs in the 50s, 40s, and even 30s and think, “It’s not here yet.” The bone chilling cold of highs in the single digits, and lows below zero, has not yet come.
It wasn’t until we hiked the Cascades again today, and I heard the constant, deafening roar of rushing water – the river throwing itself against rocks, a billion wet droplets slapping cold stone, torrents surging downstream, moving, moving, always moving – that I thought, hesitantly at first, then with growing glee, maybe this is winter here.
For the sounds we heard in Minnesota, outdoors, in January, were not liquid. January sounds were stiff, crisp. Quiet.
In Minnesota, at first, we thrilled at the foreignness of the deep freeze. It was adventurous! New! I could go grocery shopping and not rush home for fear of the food spoiling!
We reveled in the richness of winter life in the Twin Cities. Snow sculptures, intricate as marble carvings – of viking ships, lions, Tom Sawyer’s fence – endured, larger than life, for days at the state fair grounds, for temperatures didn’t climb high enough to melt them. Ice sculptures of diamond dragons, and crystal palaces, glittered in Rice Park, unafraid of a melting sun. Art shanties, modeled after ice fishing huts, sat merrily, confident in their safety, atop a frozen lake that we walked on. That cars were parked on. That cracked under our feet – a deep, ominous pop – as a pickup truck drove by us on the 15-inch thick ice. The only evidence of the chilling liquid beneath was the darkness we saw as we looked down a fisherman’s hole in the ice.
And the glacial fear in my heart.
Our second winter in St. Paul, I bought a pair of snow shoes. I’d bundle up, as plump with clothing as Randy in A Christmas Story, and crunch into the silent wilderness of Ft. Snelling State Park, located on an island surrounded by the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. When the snow was fresh and powdery, my snow shoes wouldn’t even crunch. They’d make more of a “poof” sound with each step. On those days, I’d poof, poof, poof over to the Mississippi River, and I would gaze in wonder at its stillness. For the surface of the mighty Mississippi, in January, was solid. Frozen. There were deer tracks in the snow that had fallen on it.
In Minnesota, I remember the relief, the dissolving, the thawing of my protective shell that came with the first time I would hear water drip outside. It was a beautiful sound, the sound of fat drops of water plopping to the ground. It was a sound full of life, and hope, and warmth after so much brittle cold.
So when we hiked today, and I heard the gushing of water in Little Stony Creek, and I watched its crystal-clear liquid cascade between mossy stones, I realized, this is January. This is our winter now. I relished every splash, every bubble, every sign of fluid. I snapped dozens of photographs of this streaming January water, with renegade droplets freezing like jewels on overhanging leaves, forming icicles that glistened with the full glory of winter’s crystalline beauty.
As we approached the waterfall, and the icicles grew thicker, and the air grew colder, and I had to put my camera away because my fingers were growing numb, I knew that winter will go deeper here. I know temperatures can plummet. I’ve seen pictures of the Cascades frozen over.
But there will also be Januaries like this one, where there are liquid and ice, and you don’t have to form a protective shell to make it through.