Worth Its Weight in Cold

this winter still has a lesson or two to teach

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

I took my kids to a playground near our house on a Saturday towards the end of February. In most seasons, the playground is a little dead on Saturday afternoons, and we’ve usually got everything all to ourselves. And this was February. So you’d expect the swings and slides to be as desolate as the icy tundra. However, this was not the case.

The place was teeming with kids. Because, just like a chubby little fifth-grade version of myself doing pull-ups in gym class, the temperature had just barely wrenched itself up over the 60-degree bar. It was weird. And fantastic. An odd triumph.

There were tweens on the blacktop playing basketball in shorts and bare feet. Behind them, other kids wore snow pants and boots, stomping across stubborn, crusty snowbanks sprawled like grumpy winter whales along the edge of the asphalt.

Yet the asphalt itself was warm to the skin.

This happens from time to time, of course. Warm, blue skies punch through the heart of winter, reminding us how it feels to live here when the very air isn’t busy stabbing your face with arctic daggers.

This happens from time to time, of course. Warm, blue skies punch through the heart of winter, reminding us how it feels to live here when the very air isn’t busy stabbing your face with arctic daggers.

This battle between the warm and the cold – I like to imagine Ice Giants rising up in a massive circle around the Upper Midwest and into Canada each winter, standing guard against the Springtime. Their bodies tower 100 feet high, thick as a subzero forest. But a few times a year, the barefoot Flower Elves attack these monsters, sneaking their green vines into the frozen fissures, growing and growing and cracking the ice. If things go their way, one of the giants will shatter, falling into rubble as sunshine blazes through, flooding our Valley with warm air and a single 60-degree day until a new Ice Giant can heave up to close the gap. Until next time.

That’s what I like to imagine. Especially when we’ve been re-watching the entire Extended Cut Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, complete with 500 hours of DVD extras. And the entire Hobbit movie trilogy as a chaser. While reading some Game of Thrones books.

At any rate, the Ice Giants fell on that last Saturday in February of the year 2016, and the playground was swarming with giddy children. It was glorious and brief.

Like I said, this happens. But those warm, blue skies are soon swallowed back up by the frigid Wisconsin winds. After that day on the playground, the temperature toppled back down into the low 20s. Not too bad. Could be worse.

I’m quick to remind myself that we usually get a big wet snowstorm (or three) in March. That’s why, even on those sunny, late winter days, my shovel stays out, leaving against the house right by the backdoor. Dented metal standing in a puddle of dirty melt.

Mark my words – we’re not done with our shovels, not yet. Until then, try to celebrate the snow for just a little longer. It reminds us to never ignore a sunny afternoon when laughter bounces off the basketball backboards and out across the monkey bars. Let’s thank winter for doing that.

The cold will be gone soon enough.

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