Most of us Minnesotans welcome the first layer of snow, unless it comes early. Skiers have been praying for it, or so they say, even if they’re not religious. The rest of us look forward to the change in scenery. When the leaves fall and all dormant plant life turns a depressing brownish-gray, the coat of sparkling white paints the landscape new, and keeps the sky bright a bit longer when the sun sets too soon in the city.
No matter how soon the first snow does come, the old-timers remember a year when it came earlier. When it was heavier. When it blew sideways. When you had to shovel a path out your door. You had to walk. How many miles? They debate over that. It’s a special tradition, without too much of a moral to the storytelling; except the important reminder that it could always be worse. The Old Man Patrol will continue to walk the streets on the snowy days, to ask the young ones, “where’s your hat?”
One thing we can say about this winter, we will remember it when we’re old. I can tell my nephew I had to walk a mile to work when the windchill was over 30 below. In fact, I didn’t have to, I was just dumb and didn’t want to wait for the train, and I didn’t think it was a big deal because a lot of people went out in all conditions. I had all these crazy runner friends who were training for the spring marathons in all conditions, bundled up in layers of activewear, with only parts of their faces peeking out. After ten plus miles of that nonsense, the tradition was to take a selfie with snow crusted on their eyelashes and write a post about how great they felt. Only the treadmill, the dread mill, the dead mill, could break a marathoner’s spirit.
We’re not broken, but we’re tired. Those who were praying for it in December can stop now, really. I think they have stopped. Even the most cheerful snow-lovers are worried. We simply don’t have room for any more of the stuff.
Just when you think you can’t bear another day of cold seeping into your tired bones, snow upon snow, banks over your head, icicles growing into prison bars, a thaw comes. spreading relief oddly like a fever breaking. You go out into puddles. your boots will get wet. You’ll live with the mess; at least you’re alive again. Teams of silly college boys come out to dodge puddles in basketball shorts. Flocks of finches turn shrubs into clouds of noise that pause at once as you walk by, then rouse again after you pass. They have their plan if the thaw continues another day. The litter of a season resurfaces from the melting snowbanks; wrappers of all colors race in the gutters.
And the runners come out to race. I’m not registered for anything, since I always wait until the forecast is clear to decide. So far, it looks okay for next weekend’s 8k, the first in the 2019 USATF MN team circuit races.
At the Irish 8K in St. Paul, the start area is always a grumbling chorus of “I’m so out of shape.” In no time, we’ll find the “out of shape” is all relative, and that most of the team circuit racers never let themselves get all that out of shape, though we all imagine ourselves the only exception. We really ought to knock it off, this business of complaining about how woefully undertrained we are while leaving plenty of runners in the slush, but it’s tradition. And what we’re really saying is that it’s just the beginning.
March is my month, unpredictable and messy. In a week the clocks turn an hour forward, we start looking to spring, and I turn 40-what years old. That’s just the beginning too.