it’s almost december, and the air is still fall. climate change is pushing back the cold a little bit at a time, and it feels as though the winters of my youth were colder, snowier, but that just may be my hippie bias talking.
thanksgivings in austin were always snowy, it seemed. after eating thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle’s, we would go out on the snowmobile with our cousins, taking large drifts in the pasture, getting stuck in them and fidgeting as we stood by while bill wrestled with the polaris to get it out of the drift.
i remember one christmas where there was no snow. we lined our long gravel driveway with luminaries christmas eve, and it was easy to set the paper bags on the snowless ground and light the candles. now it seems that every other christmas is set in a brown backdrop.
there were howling winds on the farm. during the years my dad and uncle squire sold fish, it wasn’t uncommon for my dad to keep some in the old van during the winter months. one afternoon when school was closed because of snow, my dad asked me to go to the van for a box of shrimp. i don’t remember putting up a fight or not putting up a fight; all i remember is heading into the small, weightless dry snow that was falling horizontally because the wind was so strong. it was hard to see and the snowflakes bit at my skin.
when enough snow fell to warrant a plow, my cousin or uncle a mile up the road would come with the bucket tractor. our driveway wasn’t horrendously long, but it was longer than the average driveway. whoever came with the tractor would take the snow and pile it into a large hill next to the pumphouse. it was a great sledding hill.
a few times during the winter, my siblings and i would trek down to the creek to try ice skating. we had some old pairs of skates that our aunt colette procured for us, and while they weren’t in great shape, they did the trick. there was a small pool that the creek gathered in underneath a large oak tree before it meandered on its way to slide into dobbins creek and eventually dam up into east side lake before tributarying into the cedar river. (i just checked google maps to see how that all worked out, and our creek is nameless.) if we were lucky, the creek would be free of snow, and the ice would be fairly smooth, with the occasional bump or tree root sticking out. if it wasn’t prime skating conditions, we would walk along the frozen water, maybe stand under the bridge of old highway 16 and pretend we were trolls.
during the halloween blizzard of 1991, austin mn got 3″ of ice. our house had no electricity for four days. of course, time of distress always mean my dad has to take a drive into town (this happened again during the school closings for 1994 and 1995 – instead of staying inside, we drove into willmar to go shopping). the day after the blizzard, i woke up to see the cedar trees in the yard split down the middle due to the weight of the ice. after breakfast, my dad said he was driving into town to see what was up. i went with him. there were tree branches down all over the place, and i bet we didn’t drive above 30 mph. (could’ve been the most cautious he’s ever driven.)
during my entire time at st. ben’s, we didn’t have one snow day. generally, if the busses can’t run between csb and sju, they close for the day. from 1997-2001, we didn’t have severe enough snow to warrant a closure. the next year, of course, there was a snow day.
there was a small pine tree that my dad planted next to our back door (which led into the back back room. it made sense if you lived there). every christmas, he would wind a set of big christmas lights, the c9s, around the little tree. the snow would rest on the tree just the right way and the lights would glow under the snow.