Winds of Winter

Seven days into the new year and I stare at a long blank white page in my journal. My water colorist friends would likely call this a blank canvas. I sit at a small, oblong table in a room few have seemingly wanted or felt comfortable in although it once housed a well respected political blogger roommate and then the woman I was hoping to marry before she took foot. Here, though, she crafted dozens of masks to help others face the Covid pandemic and some warming and colorful quilts along with some beautiful water color paintings. 

So there is a bit of semblance.

For now it is a “study.” Perhaps if I’m fortunate, I won’t have use of the room for long. For the time being, though, I’m claiming it as a place to think and write since winter has made my studio office so cold the space heaters can’t even keep my fingers from feeling numb.

As the afternoon waned, the rainbow-ish arc of the parhelion colored the sky above the haze of blowing snow.

This is a nice perch overlooking the south meadow of my prairie where the stately Big Bluestem and the poetic Sideoat Gamma, along with numerous other forbs and grasses, have knelt in huddled defeat to both the winterish prairie winds and the choke of snow. The smashed and bashed prairie grasses make a heavenly retreat for a rabbit I spied earlier this morning, though they lack offering good hiding for the pheasants. Unless the colorful birds have burrowed into the depths. The spindly stout stems of thistle and milkweed will eventually yield as well.

Barely visible through the whitened snow blown haze are the rainbow-ish outer arcs of an icy halo commonly called a Sun Dog, or parhelion. Seeing one typically reminds me of a photographer friend who had flown in from the Netherlands, who as we drove across the frozen prairie on a day not unlike this one, though minus the wind blown haze, became mesmerized by a Sun Dog. I pulled over and she climbed out of the warm car into the frigid air to take photographs. Indeed, she still has a print on her apartment refrigerator outside of Amsterdam. She wasn’t out long, and later claimed to have never been so cold.

I was thinking the same these past few days with temperatures in the negative teens in the “heat” of the day, before lumbering deeper into the minuses … the twenty and thirty below temperatures come nightfall. As I look through the window at the haze over the prairie and across the tilled fields more distant, though warm I still since a shiver. The horses in the small paddock on the other side of the house crowd together as they munch their hay.

A moment in mid-afternoon shows the level of the ground blizzard in my grove.

Tonight my musical artist friends are gathering in town for a burger before heading over to Lee Kanten’s studio to sing and play. Moments ago I offered my regrets. My near mishap earlier in the week has made me extra cautious. I was on the way home from Willmar about 90 minutes east of here, where I had gone to drop off my son’s stuffed animal sleeping buddy and the Christmas gifts he had left behind. According to warnings from the National Weather Service, a blizzard warning had been issued and was expected to hit after dark. Snow along with high winds.

Although I had left early in the afternoon, I figured if I made it home before dark (around five-ish) my trip would be uneventful.There was ample time. Then a long tar sand train with too many cars to count caught me on the outskirts of Willmar. My car was basically trapped between two others as we sat there for a long and grueling 20 minutes. I was looking more at the gray sky than the train itself, which was moving as an old man walks before it stopped to block the crossing. Cars behind me began shifting, and eventually I was able to back up and turn around to head east toward another possible exit. 

Ice crystals formed on the window of my solarium door …

About 40 minutes later as I was going through the small prairie town of Appleton when another freighter coming through brought the arms down across the tracks before lumbering through, Another 15 minutes or so was lost as darkness settled in. The highway between Appleton and Ortonville, though clear, varied between decent visibility and clouded vision from the winds of a ground blizzard. By the time I reached the gravel road leading to Listening Stones Farm the visibility was next to zero, and I veered my car off the road into a ditch. 

I was fortunate to reach my renters, the Thorsons, on my cell phone, and they soon arrived in their large pickup to pull me out before escorting me the rest of the way home … more than two miles away. Modern technology and a kind and compassionate family had made perhaps a life saving rescue. So, yes, I’m now being extremely cautious.

A Sun Dog image at the Big Stone NWR back in 2018 shows the icy circle.

Much like the stately Bluestem, I now kneel cowardly to these winds of winter. Instead of braving the elements I’ll cuddle on the couch with Joe Pye with a book in front of a fire listening to the wind roar with a potentially deadly gusto. As the “blue hour” eases in I can barely see the line of trees across the road. Wind blown snow once again creates a haze now more bluish than white. Temperatures are once again forecast in the minus twenties.

And, I’ll be laying on the couch with a book with the fireplace ablaze. Safe and warm, just a wall away from the winds of winter.

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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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