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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

This Kansas kid misses Minnesota winter

David Colburn
Posted 12/27/23

As a kid growing up in Kansas, snow and ice were happy aberrations in the otherwise brown and dreary winter months. It was a true marvel when we would get enough snow to cancel school, dust off the …

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This Kansas kid misses Minnesota winter


As a kid growing up in Kansas, snow and ice were happy aberrations in the otherwise brown and dreary winter months. It was a true marvel when we would get enough snow to cancel school, dust off the sled, and build a snowman. On rare occasions we’d get enough for one of our neighbors to break out an unsteady iron-railed toboggan that he would tow behind his truck on the snow-covered brick streets, a treat always accompanied by hot apple cider sipped in front of his massive stone fireplace.
Some years we’d get enough extended cold for the creek behind my house to freeze thick enough to support a hockey game played by a dozen bundled-up neighborhood kids using fallen tree branches for sticks and a hedge apple for a puck. I recall that Bob Robinson had a distinct advantage because he wore speed skates, and those flashing long blades looked too dangerous to me as a youngster to get near. And I happily recall the year when someone showed up with an actual official hockey puck – everyone felt like Bobby Hull or Gordie Howe that day.
A limestone quarry south of town was another skating option when the weather was right. That attracted kids from all over town and the surrounding countryside, too.
We had a small CCC-era county lake to the east and a big 1960s-vintage federal reservoir to the west, hence the town’s marketing slogan of “Marion, the town between two lakes.” That was a big selling point in Kansas. Here, darned near every town seems to be between two, three, or more lakes, so not so much.
The ice on those lakes rarely got thick enough for regular recreation – I only recall one ice-skating trip to the county lake, and none at all to the reservoir. The closest thing Marion had to ice fishing was a covered heating fishing dock at the county lake that would get surrounded by ice in the winter, and it was enough to keep the crappie anglers happy.
When I was back as news editor of the Marion County Record in January 2018, we had an unusually long cold spell, long enough and cold enough that for the first time in my experience a small ice fishing village formed for two days on the east end of the reservoir. Everyone walked out to their spots from the parking area near the swimming beach, most pulling sleds behind them with their equipment. I walked out there, too, with my camera equipment, and got a dandy story out of the deal. But it had warmed up greatly the second day, and on the third only a handful of anglers were willing to slog through the growing puddles of slush and water to give it a try. On the fourth day, ice fishing season was over. Given all the adult years I spent away from Marion, this surely wasn’t the first time for ice fishing there, but it was the first time seeing it for me, and I found it both utterly fascinating and totally underwhelming.
Accustomed to those experiences and many others with winters spent in the warmer climates of Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and California, in February 2020 I somewhat shocked family and friends by moving to a place where winter is a lifestyle, not an aberration, little Tower, Minnesota. I’d done my research and knew all about Tower’s -60-degree state record, the Halloween blizzard of ’91, and the area’s reputation as a winter playground, and I came anyway. Always up for new experiences, this was definitely new, and oddly appealing.
I’d also done enough research to know that in my first few days here a trip to Ely for a nice warm Wintergreen coat and a pair of Steger mukluks would be wise, and I still count that as one of my best apparel choices ever. During the first two weeks in my hew home there was probably a foot and a half of snow on the ground and nighttime lows hovered around -30 degrees, and I found it all quite invigorating.
In the months and years since I think I’ve acclimated well to northern Minnesota winters, enough so that the current one, much like the middle of winter in Kansas in some ways, feels abnormal. I’ve not been one to jump into all of the recreational pursuits – ice fishing holds no appeal for this one-time bass fisherman accustomed to constant casting and movement, cross country skiing is far too labor intensive for one more inclined to let gravity do the work on downhill slopes, I don’t own a snowmobile, and I can only imagine the crashes that would await me if I were so unwise as to try my hand at fat-tire bike riding. But still, I love winter’s unique grandeur and beauty here, and find myself terribly impatient for it to fully arrive this year. I’m so well acclimated that I even miss shoveling the snow from my driveway, not because I like doing it, but because it’s part of my routine. It’s completely bizarre to me that I haven’t had to do it yet, and surely won’t have to until next year.
And I sighed with a sense of loss this week when I read the notice that the Straight Line Speed Association has canceled its Battle at the Bay high-speed snowmobile race in January – not enough ice. According to the announcement, the sheriff and the DNR require 18 inches of ice, not for the speeding sleds but for the temporary city that grows up around the track on race day, and it just doesn’t look like we’ll get there in time. Oddly, I’m also missing the sound of snowmobiles traveling the trail near my house well into the night.
Folks keep assuring me that I’ll still get my fill of winter, but I’m already wondering how much earlier ice-out might be next year if we really do have a mild few months ahead of us.
All of this to say that we humans can be very adaptable creatures when we choose to embrace change. For six decades, winter was mostly an afterthought for me. In my seventh, it’s become a welcome friend. Hurry, real Minnesota winter, come on in. I’ll be happy to see you, but won’t say that I’ll greet you warmly, as that might turn you away, and you don’t need any excuse from me to remain scarce.