The Canada Screamer

Australia has the Brickfielder. France has the Mistral, North Africa and Southern Europe the Sirocco. Santa Ana winds blow across California while parts of Canada and the Great Plains experience the Chinook.  All these winds are weather phenomena. The winds we have here in Wisconsin may not be meteorologically important enough to be named as our snowstorms are, but having come from a place where wind doesn’t blow with the same violence, unless, of course, there is a tornado, I think Wisconsin winds must have a name. I’ve decided to make up my own for the winds this time of year, the Canada Screamer.

For the past few months but especially the past few days winter has held sway here in Wisconsin with weather systems moving across the United States picking up moisture before uniting with the cold north wind sweeping down from Canada and the Arctic, the Canada Screamer. Yesterday winter brought four more inches of snow to our area to add the nearly 60 inches we’ve already accumulated this winter. But today, a deceptively gorgeous sunny day, the wind blew. Gusts measured up to thirty miles per hour here in my town and across northeast Wisconsin and will continue into the night and tomorrow. Those gusts blew the fluffy snow into drifts in our driveway and onto our front sidewalk. The largest drift, about four or five feet tall, is still there. I think I’ll leave it for Bruce to see or take a picture tomorrow before Travis and I shovel it away.

Naturally, Bruce is gone again as he has been lately when it has snowed, which is really testing the agreement we struck before we moved up north. That agreement said if I would move north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I wouldn’t have to shovel snow or use the snow blower, and I could have all the cozy sweaters I wanted. Today, since Bruce wasn’t here, I called the guy who sprays our lawn in the summer and has a winter snowplowing business to come plow me out. Wow! Was that fast! I don’t know why Bruce insists on clearing the snow himself when Seth did the job in a matter of minutes.

I didn’t go outside today until the driveway was cleared. I couldn’t have walked to the mailbox through the three foot drifts and didn’t want to deal with the wind flinging snow in my face. Even in the house I could hear the wind and feel the draft seeping beneath the window sills and around the doors. I’m just glad I live in a nicely constructed house in modern times rather than in a tarpaper covered wooden house on the prairie during pioneer days. There are many stories of women on the Great Plains who went insane. I think losing their minds probably had something to do with the wind or the fact that spring didn’t arrive for so long. There might have been the occasional year spring made an early appearance, but I’m sure some killjoy back then said things like, “Well, this is Wisconsin. It will probably be snowing next week.” to that poor pioneer woman. The good Lord knows I’ve heard that sort of thing before.

This time of year I’m tormented by images of warm weather. I imagine trade winds softly ruffling my hair and cooling the sweat on my brow as I bask in the sun with my SPF 70 on, the salty breezes soothing my cold limbs and lulling me to sleep under my sunglasses. Heck, I don’t even mind watching The Masters golf tournament on television because at least it gives me a glimpse of a world green and bursting with multi-hued azaleas and dogwoods. Somewhere somebody is wearing shorts and getting sunburned. Shortly after that I watch the Kentucky Derby with the riots of multi-colored hats and beautiful people parading about in the spring air drinking juleps. I can’t help but wish I were there smelling the roses at Churchill Downs. The closest I can get are the images I occasionally post on Facebook of places I wish I could escape to.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain much. Spring does last about two weeks here, but it is a glorious two weeks. You can practically see the plants grow and the new spring leaves unfurl on the trees. The scent of lilacs fills the air and here, at least, the Clearwater Harbor Restaurant and Bar (otherwise known as The Harbor) finally opens her doors for the season. That’s a sure sign summer is on its way. Summer, in my humble opinion, is the ONLY reason to live in Wisconsin, weather-wise. The days are long with sunrise at about five and sunset at about ten, give or take. Plants have a lot of growing to do in a short amount of time, so gardens explode with color and plants. You can practically see them reaching for the sun. And we have rivers galore and our Chain O’Lakes, a wonderful oasis of spring-fed blue green waters. Lovely.

I can hear the Canada Screamer barreling against my house as I write this. It actually pulled me from my reverie of summer, but soon my reverie will be reality. Soon I will wake to the chirp of birds and fall asleep to the song of peepers. Soon the gentle breezes of summer will fill my house with the scent of roses and honeysuckle, and I’ll hear the river in my back yard sing me a lullaby. It will be soon now. After all, tomorrow is another day. It’s actually the first day of spring, but winter and that Canada Screamer didn’t get the memo!

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A Southerner’s Guide to Surviving Midwestern Winters

We moved to Wisconsin in early November with the agreement between Bruce and me that I would never have to shovel snow or use the snow blower, an agreement that still stands, by the way. Less than a week after we moved in, it snowed for the first time. Only a couple of days after that first snow, my daddy called. The conversation went something like this:

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked when I said hello.

“I don’t know, Daddy. Blue?”

“Well, you can have blue, green, or burgundy. Which one you want?”

“Blue, I guess. Why?”

“I’m sending you a parka from L. L. Bean.”

Daddy didn’t want me to freeze to death, and I might have. When we moved here from Pensacola, Florida, I didn’t own a winter coat. I had a jacket, but nothing warm, and I was to find out that Wisconsin winters required just such a parka as my daddy sent.

Learning about winter and how things are done here took a while for me, a Southerner moved north. When I was little, it snowed in Georgia, but not often. I remember only having a couple of inches on the ground and looking for anything that was slick so we could somehow manage to slide down a hill. That meant cardboard, Formica veneer, and even one of those round Coca-Cola signs that antiquers would kill for to slide down Evergreen Circle before it was part of our subdivision. Once, when I was in third grade we even had fifteen inches of snow and were out of school for what seemed like a week!

The thing was it snowed so seldom we didn’t have the proper clothes to wear to play in it. We just wore our regular clothes and when we were cold and wet, we came in, threw our clothes in the dryer and waited for them to dry while we sat by the fireplace sipping hot chocolate. Later we donned the same clothes and went back out to play again.

When Erik, my oldest son, started school here in first grade, cold weather was well advanced. There was snow on the ground and on the playground at school. He came home from school one afternoon and told me his teacher said he needed snow pants and boots to play outside. I was indignant but also wondered, what in the heck are snow pants? I didn’t have friends here yet to ask about said snow pants and had no idea where to buy such an item, so I sent him back to school the following day without any. He came home that afternoon and told me his teacher wouldn’t let him play outside anymore until he had snow pants.

When Bruce got home that day, I confronted him with what Erik had told me. “Can you believe she isn’t going to let him play outside without them? They are only out for about twenty minutes.”

Calmly Bruce reinforced the teacher’s decree. I found Erik some snow pants at The Family Center here in town, and Erik was able to play outside from then on. I soon found out how to survive winter here in the Midwest and learned the season is not something to take lightly. Winter here, like summer in the South, is deadly if not respected, but it can be surprising. Southerners pay attention; Midwesterners, try not to laugh too hard at what I have learned about surviving winter in the Midwest.

  • For instance, in below zero temperatures the little hairs in your nose freeze, a particularly strange sensation.
  • In winter in the Midwest, your nose runs in wild disproportion to how cold it is especially if you are exercising. Finding myself without a Kleenex on occasion, I have deemed it necessary to use the gym teacher’s handkerchief, known in Wisconsin—according to author Michael Perry—as the farmer’s snort. (I hope my mama never reads this.)
  • Hats in below zero temperatures are not optional and usually not fashionable, so if you spent all morning on the perfect hairdo, don’t count on keeping it. Learn to love a hood on a coat instead.
  • In winter conditions fashion must, at times, be sacrificed for warmth. You know those lovely coats we Southerners like to wear, the wool ones with the perfect cut of fabric and beautiful stitching? Midwesterners wear those, but not transplanted Southerners. We need Gore-Tex and down and end up looking like stuffed sausages next to our sleek northern friends who are impervious to the cold.
  • Snow doesn’t mean you get to stay home cozy by the fire and wait for it to melt. People here actually drive in blizzards! Snow days only happen if the blizzard occurs at the time the busses start their route. Otherwise, if the roads are passable, kids go to school and parents go to work.
  • Snowstorms don’t usually bring everybody and their brother to the grocery stores to stock up on staples and batteries. Who knew?
  • There are different kinds of snow, packing snow, dry snow, grainy snow. I never knew that before I lived here. And despite the old wives’ tales in the South, it never gets too cold to snow.
  • When the temperature stays below zero for a few days, snow actually evaporates rather than melts. Now that’s cold!
  • Below zero temperatures actually can make your window sills look like a scene from Tolstoy’s Dr. Zhivago.

I’ve learned a lot in my seventeen years of living in Wisconsin. I have, under duress and out of necessity, learned to live with winter. It lasts about six months here. I’ve even become a cross-country skier and walk with my dog on days temperatures are mild, (that’s anywhere above 20 degrees) but I’ve never learned to embrace the cold. When Bruce and I first married, I told him I would never live above the Mason-Dixon line. I don’t remember saying that, but it sounds like me, so I believe him. My adventurous nature got the better of me, however, and I have made my home here for now.

Each winter come January, however, I think about my friend Rebecca, a native Texan whom I worked with at Stevens Point Area Senior High School when I first began teaching. She has since come to her senses and moved back to Texas, but I remember what she told me one summer. She said she stayed outside in summer as long as possible so she could remember how it felt to be warm come January. Amen, Rebecca.

Winter is long in Wisconsin, but I’ve learned to cope. I’m certainly not a fashion icon in the winter months. My daddy saw to that with his gift of a very warm and serviceable, but unattractive parka that I still have. I have added to the coat collection now with two more down coats that fluff me out like the Michelin man. I even have a pretty wool coat that gets use in late September and early to middle October. Come winter, my nose hairs freeze and my hair is flat under my hat. But I’m warm!