Sweet Smiles of Hope

Lonyearbyen, a small Arctic village in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, was said to be 33 degrees warmer than we were this weekend. In other words, we are enjoying their typical weather while they’ve doused their seaside saunas!

Artist musician friend, Lee Kanten, sends a photograph of ice frozen in a lawn chair from South Padre Island. Another friend writes that they may as well head home from their winter hideaway since the temperatures are about the same as at home. Someone else posted a picture of the Riverwalk in San Antonio covered with snow. Every single county in the state of Texas is below freezing! Actually the entire central part of the nation, from mountain range to mountain range is below 32 degrees, which seems warm for us right now in the heart of this polar vortex.

Our little dog, Cocoa, steps through the door onto the deck and instantly raises her paws signaling that our weather here isn’t fit for neither man nor beast. These outside temperatures range from between -24 to -18 degrees, and this isn’t with factoring in the wind chills. We’re also warmer at these temperatures than much of the country is to the north and east of us. This morning Mary lamented, “This is the longest stretch of sub-zero weather we’ve here had in years.” In retort I suggested that we usually have a week or so of such temperatures, to which she responded, “But this is now more than two weeks. This isn’t normal.”

Beauty in the vortex of a sundog on a frigid prairie morning …

I’ve given up trying to make wooden frames for my show in March, for it’s too cold to run my saws in my unheated wood shop, and even if they did it’s too chilly to attempt to do the sanding. Indeed, the garage with in-floor heating is struggling to keep enough heat to even paint the frames. Adding to that, I have a spinning rod I’ve made that I can’t spread the epoxy on due to the low temperatures out there. 

Mary is keeping our hearts warm, however, hunched over her computer. I’ve never known anyone more immersed in doing computer research, for between her quilting she is finding her warmth in planning our summer camping trip to the coasts of Oregon and Washington. This began as a caravan outing that germinated last September among her “tribe” of “Murdock girls” who all grew up together in her small railroad town here in the prairie and have remained extremely close even now as they near their 70s. 

Last September her tribe met in a state park in western Montana and remained socially distanced and masked in close proximity throughout the trip out and among ourselves in the campground around the campfires. We sat as twos, as couples, distanced from one another into the nights. Since there were three RNs among the women, Covid consciousness was at the extreme as it surely will be again come this July.

A frosty hillside across from Big Stone Lake State Park brings shivers.

She is mixing in a couple of cabin nights she’s found in her research to interstice with our road time. So far the longest time we’ll be on the road is a stretch between Pendleton and Corvallis, Oregon. This appears to be about ten hours in the pickup. Most of the other days are in the six to eight hour range. Within the plans are visiting with some old friends of mine in Oregon and southern Washington en route to Larrabee State Park outside of Bellingham. Mary’s college roommate, who now lives in the Bellingham area, arranged the Larrabee portion that anchors the venture there and back.

Initially we had considered returning through the Tetons on the way out since Mary figured I missed the late afternoon shots with my favored light when we were there on the way home from Montana. It was either the Tetons or traversing the Columbia River valley, and like many of my desires of late, doing the Columbia again in my lifetime seems almost a dream. We’ll add a couple of more states to our history, for in our fourth year as a couple we have now been through 30!  Had the pandemic not happened it would have surely been more for we had our sights set on a trip to the Southwest over this winter and spring. Like her sisters and the Murdock girls, just give her time. 

The Listening Stores prairie and a distant tree in the snowy “mist.”

So it’s a fine reprieve for her from the temperatures outside. So is planning for the exhibit, which took a turn since we’ve now placed an order for pre-made frames rather than fight the elements. Now I can work on the fly rod I’ve been intending to make for the past several months. Like the spinning rod, it will be a gift. It will have a burl reel seat for soul and beauty, and offer some fine 5 wt. action for bluegill and bass around here, and for trout out west. I guess these are things you do when it’s too cold to do much else. Mary alternates between our trip planning by creating some incredible beautiful quilts while I make prints for the upcoming show and wrap line guides to fishing rod blanks. All while keeping the bird feeders stocked with black sunflower seeds!

Seems the most I can do outside is fill those bird feeders, for I find it too cold to ski. Warnings are to not spend more than a few minutes outside because of frostbite, and little Cocoa’s paws offer a fine reminder of such dangers. This provides a few breaths of fresh air while we busy ourselves indoors with creativity and dreams of a warmer and hopefully safer summer. Sometimes the cold of winter is like that, so you feed those feelings with hope and dreams of different times. Or as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier’.”

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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