The Polar Vortex hit the north woods along with the rest of the Midwest in January. The thing is, people in Cook County are accustomed to occasionally hitting 40 below zero. 20 below is so regular….and often sunny and still–that this is not typically when school is closed, this is when we felt safe sending our kids out to play. You know, as long as they were smart about it, and bundled. I have really good memories of dark December shuttles to the mailbox/bus stop. As we drove away from the Round Lake the car temperatures would drop through the -30s, and the kids would chant FOUR–ty, FOUR….ty, FOUR….ty…and then cheer when the car thermometer would get there. (I don’t have to say Fahrenheit or Celsius because the graphs meet at -40. I love that, by the way. It is just plain cold).
But now, we spend good chunks of our winter lives with the rest of the city population, so we often are dressed improperly, and we tend to rush from the car to the house on busy days. We immediately lose our heartiness and 20 above can have us shivering and grumbling with everybody else. We do appreciate the privilege of savoring the northwoods in the same way our guests do–and spend as much time as we can in the off season–at home where the hearty people live.
Shelby passed a couple moose on the Gunflint Trail a few weeks ago. Note how healthy they are, showing off the calisthenics involved to get at the tasty salt. It’s always a treat to see these guys, because everything we read these days makes us feel like we might be witnessing their extinction.
Sightings aren’t so rare on the Gunflint Trail, but apparently on the decline–due to a complex formula involving several different variables. I do know that the moose are happiest with these cold temperatures. Well, the scientists haven’t actually attempted to measure the moose happiness, but they have measured how much the mortality rate goes up when moose are stressed—which tends to be whenever the temperature rises above 23 degrees in January.
Have you heard that the emerald ash borer larvae start dying off at -20 degrees? Increased Lake Superior ice cover this time of year means less evaporation in July. Who can complain about a Polar Vortex with those kinds of side effects? The kudzu down south cannot creep up into the cold north. Let’s face it, the moose are native, the non-native species haven’t had thousands of years to evolve to the polar heartiness. That’s enough to celebrate the glacial temperatures when we can get them.
So we put on our layers of down—and when I’m all bundled up I add one last detail over my top jacket…my parka that happens to be the exact same model that Chevy Chase wore to cut down the Christmas tree and ride his speedy sled in Christmas Vacation. The cold is so sunny and still, I swear it scrubs my lungs clean, and must be killing any sort of invasive species in there—because—obviously Clark Griswold and I have evolved for this. So, let’s just celebrate the freezing, Let’s celebrate the temperatures where the snow falls (20 above) and the temperatures where the snow squeaks (20 below). Let’s snowshoe at dusk, and breathe the snow that scrubs the air, and cherish the hearty remaining wooly moose.