Al Batt: The snows of November came earlier this year

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

“When does winter start in Minnesota?”

I was a guest on a radio show whose host posed that question. The station was located where winters are different from here in the frozen foods section of the country. I won’t say kinder or gentler, but the temperatures are higher and snow is lacking.

Al Batt

My lame answer was,  “When last winter’s snow has finally melted.” This assured me there would be no zombies pursuing me. They eat brains.

It’d been a glorious fall on the home front. It hadn’t been all gentle sunshine and Rice Krispies bars — it was more of a garbage casserole, but what did I expect? Wanting perfection in weather is a pipe dream.

A little birdie told me when it would snow. Each year, I write about my father and the juncos that visited our farm. My father marked the sighting of that first fall junco. He declared we’d have trackable snow in six weeks. A junco resembles winter with its white belly the color of snow and its back the color of gray clouds. The first junco in my yard this year told me it would snow on Nov. 16. The first snow fell on Nov. 12. That’s when winter began in my yard and my yard only. That’s when the summer people would have left had there been any summer people in my yard. I’m not being optimistic or pessimistic. I’m being realistic. It can’t be snow in dribs and drabs; it has to cover the ground in white (be trackable). A few flakes don’t a winter make. The method determining winter varies. The winter solstice isn’t until Dec. 21 and the meteorological winter starts Dec. 1. Astronomical spring begins March 20 and meteorological spring starts March 1. Does any Minnesotan believe even the kindest of our winters lasts only three months? We spend more time than that preparing for it, enduring it and recovering from it. I like winter despite the blizzards and ice.

I try to stay ahead of the snow, but it surprises me every year. It’s like the line from a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” I don’t have chionophobia, a fear of snow. I’ve been an avid snowshoer and a snowball flinger of some repute. Snow can be beautiful, but I’m never ready for it. J.B. Priestley wrote, “The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”

A friend who isn’t Priestly says winter starts when she sees the first snowman built of snow, not  of plastic. Another says it begins when we have lasting snow. A relative claims winter is here when the average temperature falls below 32°. When keeping company with a whiny wind, people gather around a video of a fireplace for warmth.

We need an extra season just to figure out the other four. Why couldn’t the four seasons be spring, summer, fall and cheesecake? By the time I get all my winter clothing on, it’s summer. I don’t remove lint from pockets because it provides insulation.

I might think it, but it can’t be winter on Nov. 12. That would move Thanksgiving to winter and that would be wrong. Thanksgiving is fall. I’m thankful for that.

It snowed on Nov. 12, but I shall do as the poet Pádraig Ó Tuama wrote, “So let us pick up the stones over which we stumble.”

Snow brings memories. When living in Minneapolis, my neighbors used a discarded sofa as a snow gauge while I posted a “Beware of winter” sign and threatened to put mashed potatoes in my socks for warmth. I claimed it was  my birthright.

Fallen snow meant I needed to find my mittens and snow shovel. I might need to eat chili while I’m wearing mittens. Last winter’s hard wind blew one mitten off my hand. I found a pair of mismatched mittens and the snow shovel. I need to hide the shovel better.

I’m thankful for each moment and I’ll find joy in winter, but I’m not leaving a tip.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.