Winter at Como Park_StaatsOur landscape that was brown and cold last week has been transformed into winter.  Daytime temperatures in the single digits, subzero temps at night, and snow have brought the look and feel of winter.  Ponds and lakes that were previously frozen with clear ice are now covered with snow, and are once again being populated with fish houses.  The ducks and geese have all headed south in search of open water.  And we are learning again how to drive in ice and snow.  How quickly this seasonal change has taken place!

Morning frost PS2341_StaatsI looked out the window this morning and saw crystal-like snowflakes dancing in the sunlight.  They sparkled and glistened as they drifted to the ground.  It reminded me of this image from the past week.  Our nights have been cold, and the other morning I went out to my car to go to work; insert key, start engine, and wait for the car to warm up.  But as I sat in the driver’s seat I looked out the front windshield and “saw” the most beautiful sight.  The morning’s frost had settled on the glass, and as the light of the day (and the street lamp) shined through the window it was all refracted through the crystals of frost.  The trees became abstract and a beautiful mosaic was created with the light and the early morning colors of the sky.

Our weather has remained cold this past week with temperatures hovering around zero at night.  With this extended cold snap all the lakes within the Cities are frozen over.  Until a snowshoe hike yesterday, it has been awhile since we’ve seen any open water.    We ventured to the far southern edge of Dakota County, Minnesota to the Miesville Ravine Park Reserve.  Way off the beaten path, and down a winding gravel road, we had the park all to ourselves on this late afternoon.  The crunch of our snowshoes broke the silence of the cold air.  The trail followed alongside a small creek which accompanied us with its sound of tumbling water.  There were a few bird calls and one squirrel that was racing across the snowy landscape, but otherwise we were alone as the sun was beginning to move low on the horizon.  We crossed the road to where the creek joined into the Cannon River and were surprised to see bits and pieces of ice floating in the water, sometimes gathering along the shore and becoming more dense.  The sun was shining on the hillside opposite of the ravine causing the barren trees to take on a golden reddish hue.  Their warm tone was a beautiful contrast to the white of the snow and the ice on the ground.

This morning dawned bright and cold.  The air temperature was hovering around zero, the wind was blowing sharply from the north, and the sun was crisp.  Our surroundings in the Twin Cities had changed over the previous 24-hours as we had added 17 inches of snow to the five inches that remained from our last snowfall.  With the forecast on Friday of heavy snow by Saturday, people were busy preparing for the worst.  At 9:00pm Friday night the grocery store parking lot was packed, and all the checkout lines inside were 10 to 12 people deep.  Saturday saw very few people on the roads as the snow fell all day long, with the wind blowing it into drifts that were beautifully artistic, not to mention deep.   I’ve learned that in a snow of this type, you do NOT wait until the snow stops to shovel.  Those people who didn’t begin to shovel until today were faced with snow up to their knees, and that was once they had cleared a way to get out the door.  For all the gray and snowy skies of yesterday, the bright sunshine today was welcome, even if the temperatures stayed only in the single digits.  It is a beautiful white landscape here, and I’m sure it will be a white Christmas in the Twin Cities this year.

In Minnesota we are proud of our winter sports and activities.  Although many people don’t understand, there is a complete culture of ice fishing fanatics who count the days in winter until they can slide their ice houses out on the frozen lakes and pursue their catch of the day.  On a bay of Medicine Lake on the western side of Minneapolis you will find an unusual collection of what looks to be ice fishing houses.  But this is a different collection of people — this is a group of art shanties that are set up on the ice for about five weeks each year.  The collection of 20 “houses” includes a teepee shanty, dice shanties (where you can sit inside and play card games), and a dance shanty, where the music has a great beat,  and people keep warm by dancing on the wood floor with a chandelier overhead.  If one ventures further out on the lake, you’ll find the more usual collection of ice houses, with the dedicated fishermen and women, but Medicine Lake (and Minnesota) is big enough to cater to all types in this cold season of winter.

icicles-Saint Paul-StaatsThe past week brought us some of the coldest temperatures in the past 10 years.  We bottomed out at 22 degrees below zero on Thursday night.  When it’s that cold, life becomes much different.    You spend five minutes layering up and getting ready to go outside, covering any exposed skin.   The moisture in your nose freezes instantly, and sounds travel through the air differently.  You are thankful for heat, wool clothing, and the familiar sound of your car starting.  But with the warmth of the sun beating through the blue sky, we were treated to beautiful icicles – translucent and glittering, suspended from the gutters.  Although we’re warmer now, the icicles remain, changing each day with the temperatures and the sun.