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Magnetic North by Vicki Biggs-Anderson February 13, 2019

Magnetic North 2/4, 2019
Phantoms in the Mist
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the big lake is releasing her captive droplets of water in spectral tendrils of mist on these below zero days. Their eerie beauty is a reminder of the past, one in which only the First Nations’ people were witness to the spectacle on the horizon.

For, according to Minnesota Sea Grant data on the big lake, the average drop of water entered Lake Superior 191 years ago. And that’s just the average droplet. Much of the vast water we admire today is made up of rains and snows and rivulets flowing long before the first immigrants from Norway, Sweden and Finland came. 

The enchantment of the mist dancers on the lake is one of many things that more than make up for the rigors of deep winter, for this modern day resident. Like what? Well, my front storm door was snatched in the teeth of the big wind that came roaring in after New Year’s, leaving me with a leaky sieve of a wooden door covered with a quilt for over a month. Frost formed on the inside of the door as we went into double digit minus temps, a reminder that money poured out as cold poured in.

Other than that, Polar Vortex, aka the Mommy Dearest side of Mother Nature, sucked the life out of my car battery three times in four days. The last deadening rendered my shift useless and, being nose into the garage, my friend Jay Messenbring from Superior Auto Service, had to tow it out to jump start it. But first we had to consult the owner’s manual to see how to disable the shift lock when there is no power. 

Unfortunately, the manual was frozen to the floor of the back seat, having been tossed there next to a glass jar of water which burst in the cold.

It took a good four minutes on high in the microwave to thaw out the manual. Jay said he’d had many odd experiences in his line of work but this one was a first. I told him that it’s stuff like this and folks like him that make living here year ‘round so rich. Plus, it gives me stuff to write about besides goats and chickens.

Many folks have asked me how said critters faired in the week of the Polar Vortex. “Fine, thanks to me,” I usually answer, but on that one truly terrible day, when the winds whipped up swirling snow tornados across the meadow and the temps plunged into the minus 40 below NOT counting windchill, I couldn’t have been so sure.

The five goats did not come out for their hay that day, even as I bleated in my best “goatspeak,” Bunny! Bosco! Biscuit! Poppy! Bitsie” Not a sign or sound of them. And so I went to bed and woke up worried. The wind had covered up their hay ration from the day before, so I hauled a full bale out and over the fence just after first light, all the while calling to them as I walked back to the house. I dared not look around until inside and out of my coat and mittens. but there they were All Five! “Yes! Cheated death again!” I called to them through a crack in the door and  was rewarded with a full throated goat chorus - each one does have a distinctive voice - as if to say, “You got that right maaaaaaamaaaaaa.”

With all of these challenges in winter, it’s small wonder we have so many so-called “snowbirds” here, folks who stay as long as the living is easy, then take off for second homes, campers, or freebie squats down south or out west.
That’s not for me, if for no other reason than a love for my dogs, cats, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and -Lord help me- geese.

My daughter, Gretchen says there is an even larger reason why I had no wish to leave, even in the face of the worst winter throws at me. She says, “This is where your heart is, where you and Paul lived. It’s who you are, Mom.”
How lucky am I to have such a child.

As for the snowbirds, I wish them well wherever they choose to perch. And for the rest of us - often referred to in popular culture as the 98 percent - thanks for sticking around, for staying here, even when your doors blow off and you batteries die and your water pipes freeze for a time.

And yes, even when you, like me, go to bed and wake up worried about what the weather is doing to someone or something you love. You are not crazy. You are community. And I for one am in your debt.

Thoughts like these drift though my mind as I park down at the now inaccessible turnout to Paradise Beach, watching those writhing phantoms of mist forming a ghostly danceline on the horizon.

Finally, after possibly centuries of gestation within their mother, Superior, the time traveling, shape shifting droplets float upwards reentering a far different world than the one they left. 
And as they do, I look east and west on Highway 61 to see not one other driver stopped to watch and wonder. And I am both grateful to be an audience of one, and sad that so many are missing what to me, at that moment, is the greatest show on earth.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.