“Now is the winter of our discontent,” began Richard III in Shakespeare’s soliloquy. I might say the same. In our four years in Minnesota we have experienced the light winter, the normal winter, the winter of enormous snowdrifts, and now – the winter of extreme frigidity and minimal snowfall.
It’s not only disconcerting to see brown fields in January, it’s getting pretty close to a deal breaker to be forced to scurry, head down and gasping, incredulous and possibly frost-bitten, from automobile to shelter, day after dreary day. I just realized that only “in my head” do I scurry. In reality I slowly plant my feet, flat-footed with great care and caution, praying all the while that I not hit a patch of black ice which might send me flying upside down. How in the name of Odin did my great-grandfather, Jorgan Jacob Johannesen, ever manage to survive his first winter in this country by digging out a shelter along the bank of the Red River of the North? And ski the one hundred and one miles to Alexandria to purchase supplies with his last five dollars, tying the provisions to the skis and walking all the way back? Some days I can barely make it from the garage to the kitchen door.
And my diatribe doesn’t begin to cover the worst of this blasted, current winter. It turns out that snow is our friend. It is god’s ecologically perfect insulator and undoubtedly the very reason that Jorgan could even think of living below its depths. Who knew that the sewer pipes might freeze without a cozy blanket of snow? Not once, but twice so far here on Mt. Faith and everyday since, I live in fear and trepidation. The first time the noxious seepage flooded our basement, I was lucky to retrieve the boxes of Christmas ornaments which had been previously marred by a fuel oil spill last year. Two plumbers and a pumping company later (with weekend overtime fees), we were finally able to turn on the water and “use” the facilities.
Then once again this past weekend I heard the horrific sounds, not unlike multiple monsters burping and rumbling from deep within the toilets and drains. Another call to the pumpers and now a new resolve, with more below zero temperatures looming ahead and spring nowhere in sight, to trace and mulch the sewer line. But where? And how to know the trajectory? The pump company said they didn’t encounter ice until after 75 feet and it likely took a few twists and turns on it’s way to the street. The city said the line was “clear from their end.”
I’ve since learned that the “freeze line” in Minnesota is typically five feet down. Oh dear! What will this mean for the lilies – Casa Blanca and Anna Marie’s Pride and all the other precious Orientals and Asians? And for the penstemon and salvias, the delphinium and black eyed Susan, the new red twig dogwood, the crab applies, the bee balm and milkweed in the new pollinator garden and all my others darlings? Now I’m scared. Last year I bought straw bales from my friend Dave and spread them out among the perennial beds. This past fall I was lazy, remembering all the raking and messiness in the spring and decided to trust Mother Nature to do the job. Who would have suspected that Minnesota in February would be waffling from day to day between one inch and nothing of snow? And somewhere between zero degrees and 40 below?
I suspect this means that on some distant day in May there will be weeping and wailing across the breadth of Otter Tail County as gardeners everywhere look in vain for their prize rugosa rose, their grandmother’s peony (Yikes!), their beloved tiger lilies.
And no, we’re not giving up on Minnesota in spite of my diatribe (and thank you for letting me rant) because the benefits still outweigh the minuses. But as spring eventually appears, I know I will be out in the garden each and every day, watching and worrying, checking for fresh green shoots, standing guard above the beds like a worried mother pacing the floor until her children arrive safely home. Blessed be.