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Living in the Extreme

March 5, 2014

It’s human nature to complain about the weather… here in northeastern Minnesota, we do it all the time. It’s the one thing everyone has in common; we are all at the mercy of the elements.

Sometimes, our complaints are just an effort at making conversation, and other times we’re angry because we’ve missed an event or had to reschedule because of rain, snow, heat or cold; maybe wind.

Many of us sit back and reminisce over seasons past… just like our parents and grandparents did when we were kids. We recall this year or that, compare stories of blizzards and floods, heat, humidity, and wind, sometimes tornadoes.

I’ve seen one major flood… in June of 2012. I don’t remember how many inches of rain fell over the course of those two summer days, but I think it was in the double digits. The rain came down too fast for the ground to absorb. We had standing water in the yard and a waterfall gushing beneath the basement door, then winding its way through the basement to the floor drain where it left as quickly as it came. We were lucky. Many were not so fortunate.

The rivers overflowed their banks. Bridges were washed out and many roads were rendered impassable. Homes were flooded and sewers backed up. People were displaced and it was months before they would once again inhabit their homes.

And who could forget the Halloween Blizzard of 1991? We didn’t measure the snowfall in inches that time; we measured it in feet! Just under four feet of the white stuff was dumped on us. I missed one shift at the hospital, then my husband drove me to a main road on a snowmobile where I was picked up by someone in a four-wheel-drive SUV. Once at work, the crew rode out the storm, filling in where needed, grabbing sleep when we could, and eating hospital food. Institutional food never tasted so good and it has since lost its appeal.

My most memorable winter was back in ‘79-‘80: I couldn’t zip my coat; my big ‘ol pregnant belly saw to that! The way I remember it, the mercury stayed below zero for three solid weeks in January. Since we didn’t have the money for a bigger coat, I kept a small blanket handy to help insulate my growing baby bump from the weather.

Then, on the twelfth of March, 1980, a blizzard hit… and a baby boy came into the world.

On that eventful morning, my husband dropped me off at my mother’s on his way to work with a promise to come straight to the hospital if things moved along quickly. He spent two short hours at work, just enough time for the roads to get slippery, before being called to the hospital.

My mom did not like to drive under ideal conditions, and driving in a snowstorm terrified her. She was a trooper though, she faced her fear head-on. She refused my offer to drive and got behind the wheel of her Oldsmobile station wagon and inched us across town and up the hill to the hospital, getting me there in plenty of time.

An x-ray revealed that my baby was breech and his neck was hyper-extended. He was born a few hours later by emergency C-section weighing in at a healthy six pounds twelve ounces and measuring eighteen inches long.

Yes, I remember that winter well.

My husband remembers 1970, a year of heavy snowfall… He tells the story of how one storm proved to be too much for the county snowplows. Those behemoths didn’t have enough power to push through the snow drifts. They were forced to think outside the box…

Finally, they fired up the big Caterpillars and used them to push the plow trucks from behind as they cleared the roads.

Others tell of 1936; another record-setting year, or so I’ve been told. Two friends were born that year and carry with them stories told to them by their mothers of record-setting heat in the summer, frigid temps and over-the-top snowfall in the winter.

Many of the records we have broken this year were set in 1936.

This winter, 2013-14, however, tops ‘em all… even those awful winters where my grandparents walked to school every day, trudging through snow, sleet, rain and wind; in extreme heat and bone-chilling cold…uphill both ways; barefoot.

This year has been worse than anything my grandparents experienced… With this much snow, spring flooding is sure to be a problem… we’re not looking forward to that.

In fact, the last time it was this cold for this long it was the winter of 1874-75 and my great-great grandparents, Jacob and Sophie, were in their prime. They had to be… they were raising seven of their eight children, the oldest of whom was my great-grandmother Anna, who was thirteen and a half. The youngest, a boy named John, was born in the fall of 1876, a year and a half after that brutal winter.

Our children and grandchildren will remember this most recent winter and upcoming spring, 2013-14, especially since our winters have been mild, thanks to the El Nino cycle we’ve been in for several years.

This winter has all the elements of legends. Today’s children will someday sit around a table and tell their stories. Their young ones will listen and learn… and retell the those same stories over the years.

If and when this year’s records are broken, decades from now (hopefully), those young children will be old and gray… if indeed they are still alive.

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