S’no Thank You January 24, 2016Posted by The Typist in Fargo, literature, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist.
Tags: Blizzard, D.C., Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, winter
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I was in DC in January ’87 and remember the wonder of my first sled ride a few weeks after my arrival just after New Year’s. I left New Orleans New Year’s eve for the three day drive, knowing an early start New Year’s morning not very likely. The first city-closing snow a fellow roomie and I stole our hostesses clothes moving boxes for rude sleds and trudged to the other Washington Monument, the Masonic one, and tried to slide. Children took pity on us to learn we had grown well into our twenties without ever having sledded down a hill, and cheerfully lent us sleds and disks for turn or two. As we trudged home we watched a lone police car struggling along, and first heard the sound of snow chains.
My only prior experience of winter was a trip to Western Massachusetts with my girlfriend one year, driving the turnpike through a fresh snow wonderland, rural houses back up toward the low mountains along the road with their great stacks of wood and smoke threading up from their chimneys, that turnpike verse of James Taylor’ Sweet Baby James ringing in my head, the idealized winter of nonsectarian holiday cards. Somehow in the years between then and my arrival in D.C. I had forgotten the lesson of being blown off my feet on an steep and icy Boston sidewalk.
That memory came back to me in the terror of the Washington, D.C. Super Bowl Day storm that first year. We rode the train in from Arlington and walked and slid on the prior storms melt ice slick from Union Station to the park at the far end of East Capitol in our Southerners’ idea of winter coats (a lined London Fog is not a winter coat) and regular shoes, sneakers chosen for traction, but without so much as rubber mucklucks to put over them. We preceeded to drink much beer throughout the hours of the Super Bowl party as the storm rolled through, dumping a massive slush of most unfluffy wet snow. We proceeded to try to walk back to the station in the howling dark, wading through the wet cold stuff which quickly soaked our shoes and everything exposed below the knee. There was not another soul or a moving vehicle in sight. As we began to lose all feeling in our feet and consider whether we would actually make it to the station alive and if pounding on doors begging admittance might be our only hope of survival, a heaven-sent DC Metro bus came slip sliding sometimes side to side but mostly forward down East Capitol, struggling to get back to the garage, which picked us up and took us to the station.
By the time I arrived in NW Minnesota for the horrific winter that in melting drowned Grand Forks (whose officials rushed to New Orleans’ aid with their experience in ’05) I had learned winter’s lesson well. “Been in the ditch yet?” was a common question, but I could always answer, “nope.” Detroit Lakes was small enough I could have snow-shoed to work in a pinch, and I remembered my first nerve wracking drive back to the airport from my future in-laws small North Dakota town through a ground blizzard. A ground blizzard is something like what we southerners know as a ground fog, if that ground fog were being run to ground by the hounds of hell. The invisible road was a matter of long pratice, muscle memory and the steel posts with reflectors that marked the shoulders. I had no intention of going that native, although later I was required by the local work ethic to venture out and wind up in fear of my life more than once. When in Nome…but here is a fine line between dogged and stupid, as deadly hazardous as driffing over the highway’s center line, as a few proud and hardy northerners learn every year in spite of the winter survival kits in their cars. Thankfully I survived my few crossings over that boundary into white-blind peril.
When people asked why I would take my family to a disaster zone and risk future hurricanes, I reminded them that people went back and lived Grand Forks, where the Red River of the North–not much of river to the eyes of anyone from south of the Delta–is bound behind dikes as massive as those that front the Mississippi in New Orleans to contain Spring floods. And that in North Dakota the weather can (and routinely does) kill folk–most often for stupidity–six months out of the year, not once in a generation.
I have fond memories of that idyllic drive through the wedding cake Berkshires, of snow shoeing in old fashioned beavertails the woods along the Red River on a perfectly windless and sunny ten degree Dakota day , mastering the yogic art of turning around in the brush in those beautiful, clumsy things and discovering the mystic beauty of an ice whorl on the river, and taking my children sledding down those massive river dikes along The Red of the North. Still, from now on I’ll take my Blizzards far out on Airline Highway in one of New Orleans’ few Dairy Queens. With lots of crushed Oreos, putting out of my mind the resemblance of that muddy gray treat to the exhaust-blasted sides of a suburban D.C. street in February.