wonders of winter.
There’s a whole library of winter folklore up here on what we only half-jokingly call Minnesota's frozen tundra. Most of the tales involve some combination of extreme cold, a creative imagination and utter stupidity.
LESSONS COOL AND CRUELLots of interesting stuff happens when the temperature outside drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit; for one thing, stuff freezes. But take it down another 50 degrees or so, and things really get weird.
For example, the air gets really thick. You can't really see it, but you can hear it: an airplane sounds like it's on approach for landing, but you look up and see that it's still at 20,000 feet. Ever noticed how well some sounds travel through water? It's kind of like that.
If you take a pan of boiling water outside and throw the water up into the air, something amazing happens. Instead of dropping to the ground, the stuff explodes into frozen vapor, hissing as if you'd poured it on a white hot grill.
|PHOTO: Sparky Stensaas - The Photo Naturalist|
One night a few years ago, the temperature in Tower MN reached minus 60 . (That’s the thermometer temperature, not the wind-chill index.) When the forecast came out, people flocked up there from all over the state to camp out that night. As far as we know, everyone survived with most of their digits intact.
I shuddered when, on closer inspection, I dis-
covered the unmistakeable pattern of taste buds.
When I was in grade school, I was walking home one January afternoon. When I came to a chain-link fence I passed nearly every day I noticed something different on one of the metal posts. I shuddered when, on closer inspection, I discovered the unmistakeable pattern of taste buds.
It was a quarter-inch-square piece of some poor kid’s tongue. Everyone around here knows the story, but you never believe it really happens; you think it’s just part of the mythology. But I know—and, more poignantly, that gullible kid knows—it’s true.
We'd fail to notice the exact moment when
the moderate discomfort of cold toes faded to numbness.
In a lesson more in physiology than physics, we Minnesotans learn at a young age about the price of exposure to minus-50 wind-chills. Most of us have, at one time or another, laced our ice skates a little too tightly when playing outdoors. Then we'd get so involved in learning to skate, stick-handling a puck or showing off to girls that we'd fail to notice the exact moment when the moderate discomfort of cold toes faded to numbness.
|PHOTO: T. Jacobs / Science Photo Library|
Ah, yes, the tales—and the wonders—of a Minnesota winter. I'm sure some of you have your own. If you're sitting under a palm tree somewhere, bathed in luscious ocean breezes, with nothing more to worry about than which SPF to slather on, c'mon, you know you're envious.