Long, cold winter offers several challenges

Welcome back to spring semester 2002. How was your winter break? What’d you do? Surely these are questions we’re all going to have to repeatedly answer. Maybe you don’t mind, but when you’ve done nothing over break, like me, it becomes a little irritating.

I was in California, thanks for asking, where it’s sunny and warm all the time. I returned back to these arctic climes and subzero weather and realized how much winter here sucks. Minnesota isn’t exactly the sunny grain-filled fields depicted in “Little House on the Prairie,” with that lusty vixen, Laura Ingalls. Most of the year it’s painfully cold, leading my loved ones to caringly ask: “Why’d you move to Minnesota; what, are you nuts!?” Their concern leads me to ponder the historical question: Just who were the settlers who decided to move here? What were they thinking? Were they masochistic or just lazy? Personally, I think they should have either kept moving westward or returned east.

But don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy living in Minnesota. I like living in a place that actually has seasons – you know, the leaves turning color and all that crap. I even like winter, to some extent. It’s just that Minnesota, as it’s been remarked, only has two seasons: winter and road-construction. A season isn’t supposed to be five to six months long. In fact, “spring” semester is a misnomer; it should rightly be called winter semester, since it’s snowy and cold for the majority of it.

I try to remain positive about the winter, but the negative aspects of winter far outweigh the positive. First of all, there’s the sheer elemental cold of winter that seeps into your bones, not to mention the arctic winds bitch-slapping you whenever you go outside. As Einstein proved, time is relative, and winter shows it: Waiting five minutes for the campus connector in sub-zero weather feels like 50 minutes.

But maybe you’re one of those plucky optimists and actually enjoy the long dreary months of a Minnesota winter. When people try to sell Minnesota to a non-Minnesotan, they try to spin the winters as a plus. I mean, you can build snowmen (or “snow people,” to be politically correct); have snowball fights; make snow cones for virtually nothing (you just need the fruity flavoring); and can experience the way your tongue sticks to cold metal objects. What else could you want?

Then there are all the entertaining winter sports. You can go snow-shoeing (i.e. tromping around in the snow), ice fishing (i.e. getting drunk in a small hut), and cross-country skiing. You can’t go downhill skiing of course, since most of Minnesota is completely flat. Ice-skating is a good sport, I guess, as long as your sister or girlfriend doesn’t make you watch it on TV. You can also snowmobile and possibly become one of the people who tragically, yet idiotically, falls through a not-so-frozen lake.

If you’re not a regular participant in these sports, winter pretty much limits you to getting your aerobic exercise at a gym. And while those protein shakes can be tasty, the gym can be a drag. I mean, running on a treadmill makes me feel like a hamster in gym shorts; I’d much rather run around the lakes.

It’s not only a challenge to stay in shape during winter, but it’s also difficult to keep a healthy High-Pro glow. Unless you have access to a greenhouse, you have to resort to either roasting yourself in a tanning bed – which results in a nice, even, green-tinted tan – or slathering your skin with that tanning shoe polish stuff. If you forgo these artificial means, you’ll lose any color you’ve gotten over the summer months. My complexion is already fading from pallid to ghastly.

The crappiness of the Minnesota winter goes beyond this, though, and pervades all of daily life. Most frustrating is simply navigating through the snow. To just walk down the sidewalk is a treacherous affair, at times requiring more concentration than a soldier navigating a minefield. Too many times, I’ve started off for school in the morning, and, walking down the steps of my building, slipped on the ice, falling square on my ass (like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football).

Then there are the really miserable parts of winter. Waking up early to de-ice your car and praying it will start. Snow emergencies where, if you have a car, it’s probably been towed already. Shoveling the sidewalk, only to have more of the white crap fall the next morning.

But Minnesota winter isn’t just miserable, it’s dangerous. As soon as you wake up in the morning, you have to check the weather report, or you could go out unprepared and die. There are days on which, if you step outside your lungs could freeze. A guy I know walked home in subzero weather and ended up permanently losing all feeling in his left earlobe. Though that might not be the most serious case of hypothermia (and would certainly be a bonus if he ever wants to pierce that ear), it’s pretty disturbing.

With all of the negative aspects of winter, it only takes a couple of months for me to get fed up to the point I start praying for an increase in the greenhouse effect. That’s when I go outside and discharge all the aerosol canisters I can find in my house – just to do my part.

But I don’t want to start the winter semester off with so much negativity. Though winter is known to have depressive psychological effects, this doesn’t have to be the winter of our discontent. It can afford us various opportunities. For instance, I’m going to catch up on some reading and rent some of the Pauly Shore movies I missed on cable over break.

Actually, I’ve decided to ignore winter this year and try to spend the entire season inside. For instance, the underground tunnels throughout West Bank are pretty cool and make it wholly unnecessary to see the light of day – I think that’s why our mascot is the gopher.
So I hope all of you have a great spring semester. Make sure to keep bundled up and eat your Malt-O-Meal. If anyone asks, I’ll be skulking around the cavernous sub-basements until spring, when I’ll finally peak my head out of the ground and hopefully not see my shadow.


Matthew Brophy’s column appears alternate weeks. He welcomes
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