We are about to partake in some events that lie at the heart of our heartland. Up here in the frigid North, where Mother Nature seems determined to prove that we are as tough as we claim, we could just hunker down inside, turn up the furnace, and curl up with our favorite comfort food to watch a good movie… and who could dare criticize? Certainly not those folks with snow phobia who duck out before winter descends or who live with palm trees swaying all year round. But, no, we put on our layers and head outdoors to make sculptures and ice candles, go ice fishing, skiing or snowshoeing. During the Ely Winter Festival (Feb. 1-11), you can enjoy the expanded Beardfest contest where even the shy Finns will show off their facial shrubbery, take in the Art Walk with over 200 pieces displayed in store windows, pour admiration on those sculptors creating a winter wonderland out of frozen water, and play games in the park, including Kubb, which moves so slowly the players are in danger of freezing in place. The large wooden cube packed with snow in front of the Front Porch, destined to be a giant, cold replica of this year’s Winter Festival pin, carved by Nancy Scheibe, is the forerunner of many more oversized packing crates of snow in Whiteside Park waiting for their sculptors to give them definition. You can come in out of the cold and choose from 25 classes offered at the Ely Folk School. Learn to make zlikrofi, spaghetti sauce or potica; sew beaver hides into clothing to keep the frostbite at bay; brew root beer; design intricate eggs with pisanki or scratched egg techniques; or find out more about living sustainably. On Feb. 2, the Twins of Franklin will double your pleasure with their debut Ely concert and their upbeat original songs.
Ely is not the only community to dive into this creative craziness in the depth of winter. On Leech Lake in Walker thousands of anglers compete for prizes for the most lavish ice house or the eelpout catch at the International Eelpout Festival, set for Feb. 23-26. Icebox Days, which runs Jan. 19-23 in International Falls features fireworks and moonlit skiing along with competitions in frozen turkey bowling, can crushing and toilet seat tossing. Breezy Point hosts Ice Fest Jan. 6-9, with horse-drawn trolley rides, a pond hockey tournament, sled dog rides, and snow golf. Rochester’s Winter Fest offers a polar plunge, figure skating and plenty of food to raise aware and funds for community activities. At Sandstone’s Ice Festival, held Jan. 6-8, climbers gather each year to climb the sheet of ice covering the tall sandstone cliffs in Robinson Park. You can take a lesson in ice climbing or winter camping or just enjoy the chili cook-off.
Wabasha offers the unique Grumpy Old Men Festival on Feb. 25, with a poker tournament, hot dish luncheon and an ice fishing contest, topped by the Grumpy Plunge where participants dress up as the movie characters before jumping into the icy water.
New Ulm throws the Bock Fest at the Schell’s Brewery with beer, brats, bonfires, live music and dancing.
The Twin Cities does it up in grand style with the Minneapolis Holidazzle parade (Nov. 25-Dec. 23) and the St. Paul Winter Carnival (Jan. 26-Feb. 6) with the ice castle, Torchlight Parade, snowplow races, a cat show, ice cross downhill skating, the Vulcan Victory Dance, and a $10,000 reward for whoever finds the medallion. Some Eastern newspaper correspondents actually sparked the initiative for the first Winter Carnival when they visited St. Paul in 1885 and reported that Minnesota was another Siberia, unfit for human consumption. A group of business owners retaliated by creating a festival that would showcase all the beauty of Minnesota winters, engaging the services of Montreal winter festival planner Alexander Hutchinson to design the first ice castle, which cost $5,210 at a height of 106 feet. There are no records to show the Easterners were convinced, but the ice castle tradition took hold. In 1992, the Pepsi Palace cost $1,500,000, rising to 165 feet, a Guinness record. With financial constraints, more recent ice castles have been less ostentatious.
None of these events would happen without the whimsical imaginations and hard work of hundreds of people who love their communities and want to show residents and visitors alike a good time. During this merry-making, another type of community action will be happening when people gather for their political caucuses on Tuesday, Feb. 6. All who are eligible to vote in November’s elections may attend the caucus of their choice, where they can vote for the candidates they support, propose resolutions about issues they want carried forward for incorporation in their party’s platform, and run to be a delegate to upcoming conventions at the county, state and national level. The caucuses are grassroots activities, run by citizens and paid for by the political parties, not by the government. They are an opportunity to gather with neighbors, voice points of view and get involved with important issues on a very local level. Only twelve other states (Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and Washington) and two U.S. territories (American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands) use caucuses. All the other states use primaries to choose the candidates who will run in the general election, as Minnesota will be doing in 2020. There was quite a bit of frustration with the caucus system in 2016, especially from voters who were experiencing it for the first time. Large turnouts in the hotly-contested presidential race resulted in overflow crowds in parking areas and meeting rooms. Legislators in both parties agreed a primary system will be more accessible to serve the public better: the polls will be open all day and people can vote absentee, as in regular elections. It is projected that more people will participate. Political parties can still choose to caucus before the primary elections to drum up support for their candidates, formulate resolutions and elect delegates.
From the Revolu-tionary War on, hundreds of thousands of people have fought for the rights of government of the people, by the people and for the people. I encourage you to foray out into the cold and take the plunge to experience your politics up close and personal. The actions of the Trump administration, trouncing willy-nilly on long-established policies and values with a president tweeting like an irresponsible teenager, claiming to be a very smart and stable genius (as compared to those dumb geniuses out there) have motivated many people to get involved. The passion, long missing, may be returning to politics, and you might just enjoy the heat.