Winning at Winter

Snowy morning in Loring Park

It’s the time of year when my daily walk to work is a source of pride and competition. Who is going to win – me or the Minnesota winter? King Boreas or Vulcanus Rex?* There are days that I concede easily, disqualify myself without a second thought. When the National Weather Service describes the temperature as dangerously cold and any exposed skin is liable to freeze in under a minute, I’m fine with taking the bus.

But let’s face it – as much as we like to complain about the cold, most days do not include a wind chill warning. These are the days when the competition is a fair fight. I start these mornings waking up five minutes earlier than other seasons to allow for the extra preparation time. I execute the first portion of my routine in a typical fashion – shower, dry my hair, put on make-up. Getting Dressed: Act One is fairly normal. I put on a heavy-knit black and white striped dress and pull fleece-lined leggings over my legs (okay, maybe wearing fleece-lined anything to work inside isn’t entirely normal). Black ankle boots with a chunky heel are placed in my backpack to wear once I arrive.

Breakfast is next, usually eggs or oatmeal. It’s always something hearty and warm to prepare me for the approaching 40 minutes outside. Occasionally I think it will be a timesaving measure to pack a smoothie to consume at work. Then I arrive at my desk to find the smoothie too cold to drink or freezing to the point that the top of my Nalgene adheres to the bottle and I have to run it under warm water to access my breakfast.

After eating is Getting Dressed: Act Two. The order is critical. First I pull black wind pants with vertical white track stripes over the leggings and under the dress. Then I tug a gator over my head, trying not catch my earrings or destroy my hair in the process. Next I slip on short, furry black boots if the sidewalks are dry; gray Merrill hiking boots if I’ll be trudging through snow. The wind pants cascade over the tops of the boots, ensuring total protection. The next layer is the main event; often the only article of clothing that people living outside of the Midwest require to stay warm in the winter – the coat. I love my coat. It reaches to the mid-thighs and zips all the way to my chin where the velvety lining hugs the gator close to my neck. I raise the hood and snap it in place over the zipper; a third tier between my skin and the impending air. I adjust the elastic around the hood, pulling it tighter as the temperature decreases and wind increases until my peripheral vision is completely blocked and I have to swivel my entire body to check for cars as I cross the street. On the coldest days I pull the gator over my chin and mouth so that only my eyes and nose protrude from the depths of down and fleece. Many co-workers have commented on the sheer beauty of this layered look. I think it’s the wind pants under the dress that really takes it to the next level.

I swish through the back door of my condo and enter the basement. I lock the door, clip the keys in my backpack and then proceed to the final step, putting on my mittens. It is imperative to wait to put on mittens until any activities requiring small motor coordination are complete.

I open the back door and emerge into the dawn. On warmer days the sky is filled with a thick layer of gray clouds providing insulation for the city. On cold mornings the sky is crystal clear, a few stars still shining in the west while the eastern horizon brightens with a sun that will bring no warmth. My asthmatic lungs quickly reject this dramatic change in temperature and I cough, my face pressing into the tight straps of my hood with each convulsion. My nose runs immediately. I sniff and my nostrils stick together, freezing momentarily before body heat takes over and my breathing canal opens again.

I ascend the half flight of cement stairs from the building, careful to avoid the patch of ice that pools at the bottom of the stairs on the occasional day above freezing. I march through icy ruts in the alley towards the bus stop two blocks away on Hennepin Avenue. This is the test. Once I take a left on Hennepin towards downtown there is no turning back. Several elements factor into my decision. Does the coughing continue or do my lungs adjust to the 40-70 degree temperature plunge they just encountered? How quickly does the cold air seep through my wind pants and fleece leggings? Does the slightest breeze against the four square inches of skin exposed on my face inflict pain and incite cursing? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then I head towards the unheated shelter of the bus stop and hope that one will be along shortly.

If the answer is no, or if I’m feeling particularly stubborn, then I endure the walk. Many times, I even it enjoy it. I see the sun rising through glasses that are intermittently fogged by the warm breath rising from inside of my gator. The light catches the snow, creating golden waves and shadows through Loring Park. Squirrels bury their noses in the snow attempting to find a stash of acorns and chickadees flutter spastically to stay warm. I pass by people with dogs, other walking commuters, even the occasional biker. We exchange a knowing glance, eyes smiling at each other because our mouths are hidden behind fleece and wool. Today we have won. King Boreas defeats Vulcanus Rex. The Minnesotan rises above the Minnesota winter.

Spoon and Cherry in the Sculpture Garden

*King Boreas is the son of Greek gods that presides over St. Paul, Minnesota and declared it his own winter playground. Vulcanus Rex is the god of fire and against all festivities celebrating winter. To represent this dispute we hold the Winter Carnival each February, a festival complete with ice sculptures, medallion hunt, and outdoor torchlight parade. King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows preside over the Carnival along with a number of other royalty. Thousands attend the events every year, showing that many other Minnesotans have also risen above the Minnesota winter. Click here for the full story.

The Women’s March

Women's March Minnesota

Until yesterday I had never participated in a political march. Although I have always had strong opinions, the thought of protesting made me a little uncomfortable. But I was devastated by the results of the election. I tried to understand the millions of votes cast for Trump, but I just couldn’t get there. I felt like I didn’t know my own country anymore. I was powerless against the outcome of the election, but participating in the Women’s March Minnesota was something I could control. I could show up and be counted. And if enough peopled showed up to be counted, at least our new president would know that he was going to have a force to reckon with throughout his term.

I marched with my friend Alix, her mom and aunt, and a few of her friends. We started on the roof of a parking ramp overlooking thousands of people gathered at St. Paul College. The massive parking lot and lawn below us was a sea of pink hats and positive energy. Signs ranged from inspiring (I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept) to clever (Thou shalt not touch thy neighbor’s uterus. Fallopians 2:28 – one of my favorites!) to downright angry (It’s 2017. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit).

Women's March Minnesota
“Together we are powerful. Organized we are unstoppable.” Senator Patricia Torres Ray

We made our way to the crowd below and eventually starting marching slowly towards the Capitol. Occasionally someone would start a chant – “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.” A member of our group pointed out that we Minnesotans were a little passive in our ability to shout. And it was true. I felt awkward yelling out those words, even though I believed them.

The crowd walked faster as the road widened. It felt like there was a huge mass of people ahead of us, but as we marched it became clear that we were relatively close to the front. The moving sea that had started in the parking lot at St. Paul College continued to rise and overflow, with people still squeezing in from every possible corner. This was the America I thought I’d lost.

Women's March Minnesota
“We must not quit. This is the beginning.” US Representative Betty McCollum

Our group of seven separated when we arrived at the Capitol. Three people wanted to try and find a spot on the steps. I stayed with Alix and her family and we found a place next to a fence and open area where we could hear and partially see the speakers.

For the next two hours I stood, feet in the melting snow, and listened to Ilhan Omar, our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, state senator Patricia Torres Ray, CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota Sarah Stoesz, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, and explorer and activist Ann Bancroft, among many others. The speakers were both hopeful and frustrated. They inspired a call to action. I yelled with a little more volume and confidence as the afternoon wore on.

I watched a woman climb the statue of former Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson and stretch a pink knit hat over his head. She then sat back-to-back with Floyd holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Later someone poked a hole in their Stay Nasty poster and hung it on Floyd’s thumb.

Women's March Minnesota
“This is the moment to true our moral compass…Be the vision you see ahead of yourself.” Ann Bancroft

Alix and her family decided to leave and I was still enjoying the speakers, so I stayed at the rally alone. I occasionally received texts and saw Facebook posts from friends in the crowd, delayed in their arrival due to the sheer number of people overwhelming the local cell towers.

My hands were numb by the end of Ann Bancroft’s speech and I could see the lines at the light rail station beginning to form from where I stood in the snow. I decided to miss the last speakers and joined the crowds waiting for the Green Line. I made it to the platform in 15 minutes. The next train arrived a few minutes later, but marchers inside the train were already pressed into every available space. Instead of expressing irritation, when the doors opened everyone standing on the platform began to cheer. Marchers inside the train followed suit, shouting and raising their signs yet again.

Metro Transit had planned ahead for the large crowds and just five minutes later a relatively empty train pulled into the station.  We all piled in, crammed body to body for the 45-minute ride to Minneapolis.

I got off the light rail at Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis and sprinted towards the 6E bus that would take me home. I missed it by just seconds. I knew it would be another 15 minutes before my next bus appeared. A man waiting at the bus stop looked at my sign. “Revolution? What’s that about?”

“The Women’s March in St. Paul!”

“Women are taking over,” he stated in a surprisingly light-hearted tone. “Women are in all the positions of power in Minnesota.”

I racked my brain. “What women? Amy Klobuchar?” She was the only one that immediately came to mind.

But he was thinking a little more personally. “All the bosses are women. I’ve had all lady bosses. They were stressed. They were emotional. I’ve got to find myself a male boss next.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Part of me was thinking Know your audience! Clearly a woman coming from the Women’s March is not going to agree with you on this! Another part of me wanted to bite back at his comments. But I didn’t want to end my day of hope in an argument with a stranger at a bus stop. Instead, I just stopped talking.

A minute or two later he spoke again. “I kind of like Trump.” By this time a few other marchers from the light rail had also gathered at the bus stop. Their ears perked at his comment.

“What do you like about him?” I tried to remain open despite the frustration rising in my chest.

“He was great on The Apprentice!”

“But as our president?”

“He just became our president yesterday, he hasn’t made any decisions yet. You have to give him a chance!”

Another marcher jumped in, “One day was enough of a chance!”

I questioned him further. “What do you think about what he’s said in all of his tweets?”

“I don’t know about any of them.”

At that moment his bus pulled up and he disappeared. This is why I marched, I thought to myself. An hour earlier I had been surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded individuals and here I was faced with the reminder that there are just as many people who believed that overly emotional women were taking over the world and supported Trump because of his performance on The Apprentice.

My bus arrived soon thereafter. As I climbed the stairs and scanned my transit pass, the driver looked at my sign, smiled, cheerily pumped his fists, and said “Today’s the day!”

I smiled back. Yes, it was the day. But not just one day. It’s tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. It’s the day we call our legislators to tell them what we will not tolerate. It’s the day we go back to the polls in the mid-term elections and vote for change. It’s how we teach our children to respect differences and show empathy. It’s the conversations we have with those that see the world differently from us and try to understand their point of view. It was not just one day. It’s every day.

Women's March Minnesota