Monday, December 23, 2013

A weather-induced rant

In the last five days, the National Weather Service has issued four separate watches, warnings and advisories for the area where I live: a freezing rain advisory, a winter storm watch, a winter storm warning and a windchill advisory.

Some were issued concurrently and the winter storm watch came out last Friday, before winter even officially started. So special. The irony of that was not lost on anyone who calls the Midwest home.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am descended from freaking crazy people. That’s the only explanation for why my ancestors chose to settle here. Or maybe I am descended from perfectly normal people who arrived in this part of the world on a day that was cloaked in deceptively mild weather.

When my Cameron, Mills, Andersen and Hanson ancestors immigrated from Scotland, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark, respectively, they must have arrived in the Midwest on a lovely day when the sun was shining and the rolling hills were ripe with the promise of fertile farm land and soft breezes. It looked like the ideal place to start a new life.

If they’d arrived in the dead of winter they would have taken one look at the glacial wasteland that is Iowa in December, gotten right back on the train and kept going. Then I could be living somewhere sensible like southern California, where Mother Nature only occasionally tries to kill people with earthquakes. But no. They liked what they saw, built farmsteads and planted crops and raised livestock and managed not to freeze to death long enough to produce the next generation of crazy people, who chose to continue living here.

The Swedes and the Danes, after all, came from lands that spent a good part of the year locked in ice and snow. They probably felt right at home. Crazy Vikings. I would like to think my Celtic ancestors had better sense, although Scotland has been called “the land that invented weather,” so maybe not.

Depending on which account of history you choose to believe, Clan Cameron was at the forefront of the Highland charge against British troops in the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1745. That didn’t end well for the Scottish Highlanders in general and Charles Stewart in particular. I have no idea if I can claim a direct ancestry to Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel but if I could, it would be great to blame some of my questionable decision-making skills on genetics.

But I digress. The Farmer is a German whose ancestors apparently didn’t have any better sense than mine so here we are - lifelong residents of Iowa for better or worse.

Winter in Iowa generally qualifies as worse. During the summer when it’s so hatefully hot, I swear I won’t complain about winter. Then when it gets here, I’m the first one to complain. It’s a God-given Midwestern right. If you live through it, you get to bitch about it. We recently had a string of days here in Iowa when it was warmer in Anchorage, Alaska. That. Is. Just. Wrong.

The problem with winter here is that it rarely presents itself as the Currier and Ives print of happy people skating happily on frozen ponds and riding happily in sleighs pulled by happy horses. In Iowa, we don’t get happy ski resort winter. We get freezing rain that turns highways to greased skating rinks. Then we get snow on top of it and spend the next four months falling on our butts and crashing our cars into ditches, deer and each other. The ice is happily insulated by the snow, ensuring that it lasts until March. We get winds that scream straight down out of Canada until the mercury drains out of the thermometer. There’s nothing between Iowa and Canada to stop them. Minnesota is clearly not up to the task.

Snow and bitter cold are only fun (translation - "tolerable") during the holidays. I can pretend to enjoy ridiculous amounts of crappy weather by telling myself it adds atmosphere. Santa is coming and everything is a cocoa and pine trees and roaring fires and cookie-baking winter wonderland. How fun. If you needed proof that I can be delusional, this is probably it.

Once Christmas passes, the novelty wears off and shit gets real in a hurry. Or in the case of this year, it got real before Christmas. When the holidays pass, there are still three more months of snow and cold to endure before spring comes and I can start complaining about mud. Mud sounds deliciously attractive right now. No one ever cut their paws open on mud. The jagged ice razors lurking outside our back door guarantee at least one incident of bloody pawprints coming back into the house before spring arrives.

Living in the Midwest provides a skill set that people who live on the West coast or in the South will never experience. Over the years, I’ve become a pro at gauging how much speed I need to bust through the drift at the end of the lane without spinning out of control and doing a Wile E. Coyote on the back of the neighbor’s machine shed with my van. I know exactly where to put the space heater to thaw frozen pipes and am capable of doing it at 1 a.m. in my pajamas without actually waking up. Shoveling sidewalks is a cardio workout and I can maneuver across an ice-glazed parking lot while carrying grocery bags with the delicate balance of an Olympic gymnast.

I could happily spend the winter months ensconced in a sweatshirt and flannel pajamas, stuffing myself with carbs and binge-watching "Game of Thrones," seasons one and two, which were thoughtfully loaned to me by a friend. In fact, I plan to do just that once I am released from the familial obligations of this coming week.

On the bright side, from December through March, all it takes for me to have a perfectly wonderful day is to get up in the morning and A) the furnace is working B) the pipes aren’t frozen C) my van starts D) I can get the garage door open E) there’s no snowdrift in front of my garage door (or if there is, I can blast through it) and F) I can get to the highway without yelling "Yeeeee-haw!" as R2 goes sideways or airborne more than twice and G) I can see at least 50 percent of the pavement markings on the highway on my way to work. That qualifies as a damn fine day, no matter what else might happen.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I've enjoyed this last year of sharing my life, my dogs, the Farmer, the Adorables and Phoenix's and my on-going training and trialing journey with you. I hope you all have warm, safe, wonderful holidays and I wish you all the best in the new year.


  1. As a former Iowan, I feel your pain. When I was a student at Iowa State, I used to call home to see if we had running water in the house -- hated pumping and hauling from the cistern.
    Lisa from Seattle

  2. It really is so much better living someplace that doesn't get weather. My insane Irish ancestors thought that settling in WA was a good idea, meaning I ended up spending too much of my life dealing with snow, ice and cold. I thank god every day that I escaped to S Cal.

  3. SOOOOO shared with our friends from The Mid-West - and the reasons Khyra and I made our 2503 mile Trek to The Tundra in Nov 2010 (with stays in MN and IA) - where we got to meet our very first BELGIANS in furson - I'm sure Eva and Brice are sorry MN isn't up to the task!

    Love it!

  4. Great read, Melinda! I grew up in Duluth, MN, and have generally felt that Iowa winters were pretty mild. Somehow this year even I am already sick of this winter! Merry Christmas!

  5. I expect no sympathy at all for the fact that my windows are open and I had to run the AC in the car on the way back to the SF Bay Area from Monterey, but we are in a record drought, and wildlife, farms and cities are going to be in deep trouble if we don't get a whole lot of rain soon. Which is not likely to happen. Even ridiculously gorgeous weather has its price.

  6. just love all your posts and thanks for taking the time to share with all of us. My Brother-In- Law lives in Iowa and they moved around a bit as he is a Minister when he retired where did he move back to ? Iowa :) Because of health reasons they do spend a couple of the Winter months now in Texas but I think his heart always remains in Iowa:) Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!