Pine River Journal
A question most people ask when they learn I moved to Minnesota from Denver is, "How do you like it here?" The first few years I cautiously answered, "It's beautiful country." They would nod and smile. Then, usually with a smirk, "How about the winters? Getting used to them?"
"Sure," I'd reply. "I adapted." Of course I did, once I found fleece-lined boots, inch-thick gloves, hat, and a coat with enough padding a skinned polar bear could wear and last an entire Arctic winter.
Before the move, I'd only visited Minnesota with my husband to see his mother, usually in the spring when fishing opened. And only once in the winter.
We were cruising down the highway and I was gaping at the frozen expanse of the eighteen-mile-long Mille Lacs Lake. Raised in Louisiana, I thought the ice puddles in Denver were a rarity. My husband, with a twinkle in his eyes asked, "Have you ever driven on a lake?"
I stared at him. "Driven? In a car?"
"Of course not," I answered. "If I go on a lake, I want a boat like normal people."
He laughed and promptly pulled off the highway and found a plowed entrance. The blood drained to my toes. I tore open my seatbelt for a fast getaway and clutched the armrest.
A few bumps over hard-packed snow and we were on the ice. I kept listening for a sudden ear-splitting crack and braced for a death plunge into frozen waters. But like a miracle, the ice held. I forced my eyes open. We were actually driving on ice.
Out about a hundred feet, other cars and pickups stood next to strange-looking outhouses perched on the ice, some with stovepipes sticking out the roofs, plumes of smoke spirling toward a gray sky.
"Fish houses," my husband explained, as if it were the most natural thing on earth for people to fish in below-zero weather. I eyed the highway with longing and soon we were back on our way. Finally I drew a good breath.
But live here? All the time? I thought of my husband's tale of forrest trees popping in the cold.
"How cold did you say it gets?" I asked.
"Oh, forty below is usually the worst. It's been known to hit sixty."
"Don't worry, you'll get used to it. Why, I've ice-skated in weather colder than that."
I was sure that statement belonged with the others I'd filed away, such as the one about tromping to school with the snow waist-high. Nose high by the next telling.
But I was an adventurous soul. With our son settled in California after a six-year term in the navy, I couldn't see any reason to object.
Now, after a decade, I'm getting used to it. The snow and even the cold is not so bad, but the ice is something else. Especially when driving. I'm old-fashioned--I like the car to stop when applying brakes.
Do I like it here? That's a hard question to answer. Sometimes I do. The Christmases are picturesque, just like in the storybooks I read as a child. But I miss the excitement of shopping in a large mall. And my favorite restaurants. No matter what time of the day or night, something was always open. I loved the museums. Looking in wonder at colossal dinosaur skeletons or standing in awe in front of an Egyptian mummy was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
I just heard a loon. And felt a sudden wave of pleasure at its haunting call. I look out my kitchen window at the stately pines in my back yard and watch the sunlight ripple on the river flowing lazily past my house. Quite a change from my postage-stamp back yard in Denver. I slide the patio door open and breathe deeply, savoring the crisp, fresh air.
Do I like it here? I'll give that more thought. Right now I'm going to quietly slip outside and watch the squirrels chase each other through the oak branches by my deck. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll spot the white head of an eagle before it gides majestically over the river.