Temperatures have plummeted to near-record lows in the Twin Cities during the past couple of weeks. Wind chills have reached the fifties below zero, with actual temps well into the negative twenties. No wonder students from further south are a bit apprehensive when looking at Central Seminary.
That’s actually a shame. Not only are they missing a pretty good seminary, but Minnesota winter isn’t what they think it might be. In fact, I’m only now discovering for myself just what a delight winter can be—and that’s not something I planned to learn.
This is my seventeenth winter in greater Minneapolis, but this is the first one that I’ve really experienced. During previous years, I’ve done what most people do: either fight winter or flee from it. I’ve fought it by pre-heating my car, going through gallons of windshield antifreeze and gas tank additives, shoveling tons of newly fallen snow, and dumping truckloads of chemicals to melt the ice from my walks and driveways. I’ve fled from it by staying indoors or, when necessary, dashing from heated house to heated car to heated office or store, limiting my exposure to the realities of winter.
The result was that I had no actual idea what a Minnesota winter was like. True, I was dimly aware that many Minnesotans were completely unbothered by the season. In fact, Minnesotans seem to celebrate winter. They have ice fishing contests (like the eelpout contest on Leech Lake). They buzz around on dangerously fast snowmobiles. They ski downhill and across country. They build ice palaces and throw outdoor festivals in the middle of the cold and snow. I thought all of that was just nuts, or maybe denial, or possibly a false bravado—like whistling in the dark to show you’re not afraid.
But I was wrong.
For a combination of reasons, I determined not to let this winter keep me indoors. If nothing else, I decided that I was going to walk several miles at least five days each week—and I’ve managed to keep that schedule all the way along. In the process I have begun to learn some lessons about Minnesota winters.
The first and most obvious is that you have to dress for the weather. You need to layer your clothing, and you have to buy things like long underwear and a good coat. A ski mask and some kind of hood are really welcome on the coldest and windiest days. Amazingly, once you’ve dressed for the weather, you can actually be comfortable. In fact, my only problem has been that I tend to wear too much, with the result that I get a bit too warm while I’m out in the weather (even on days when the wind chill is in the thirties below zero). Honestly, the cold is no big deal. And that astonishes me.
Years ago, one of my friends spent a decade working with the Chipweyan tribe in northern Saskatchewan. He would go out with the Dene for hundreds of miles, riding snowmobiles when they hunted caribou. Sometimes the weather was sixty below. He used to tell me that the temperatures didn’t matter as long as you dressed right. His claims have never made sense to me until now.
About two miles from my home is a public access to a chain of lakes, and this winter I’ve discovered the joy of walking on water. That has led to a couple more discoveries. One is that frozen lakes make noise—crackles and pops, and sometimes even extended tones. Another is that homes sometimes look very different when viewed from the lake: from the street they may appear to be pretty pedestrian, yet from the water look like mansions. Who’da thunk it?
After my initial experience of slipping and sliding across a frozen lake, I decided to buy a pair of ice creepers to fit over my boots. They are inexpensive, they are easy to use, and they let you tread over ice or glacier-like streets like Aragorn striding across the plains of Rohan. It’s fun. I feel like I’ve wasted sixteen winters behind closed doors.
Of course, other people are on the lakes, too. Many are ice fishing. They seem to enjoy a kind of camaraderie, and they are usually eager to share insights into their sport. Ice fishing has its own culture, and, like most cultures, it makes much better sense from inside. With some embarrassment, I confess that I always thought ice fishing was a bit idiotic—but now I can’t wait to give it a try. And that goes for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and all those other winter activities that Minnesotans are so crazy about.
Winter has a special quality. It is clear and crystalline and fresh and rejuvenating. It nips at you like a big puppy trying to get your attention so you can go for a friendly romp together. It whacks you like a teammate slaps your helmet after you score a touchdown. It spanks you, but only with a birthday spanking, and the presents are really nice. If you’re ready for it, the initial shock when you plunge into winter is the best part of the experience.
Don’t get me wrong—I still use washer on my windshield and ice melt on my driveway. Certainly winter won’t take the place of springtime flowers, summer hammocks, or autumn forests. I have learned, however, that in this amazing Minnesota theater of seasons, winter can be applauded as a star performer.
Minnesota winter has not changed, but my perspective has. Furthermore, with my change of perspective, I’m actually enjoying myself a lot more. My greater happiness did not come from external changes, but from internal ones.
How much of the Christian life is just like that? When we stop fighting our circumstances or running from them, we can actually find joy in them. When we embrace the situation to which God has led us, the result is always good. We never need to be afraid of God’s will in our lives.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
The Book of Psalms for Singing, 1998
Like ashes scatters He the frost,
Like wool spreads snow on land.
Like morsels cast He forth His ice.
Who in His cold can stand?
Then He sends forth His mighty word;
He makes His wind to blow;
The snow and ice are melted then;
Again the waters flow.