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Magnetic North by Vicki Biggs-Anderson January 30, 2019

Photo credit Vicki Biggs Anderson
Photo credit Vicki Biggs Anderson

Magnetic North 1/24/19

A Message from Inside the Great White…
Welcome back to Magnetic North, which makes me think of how the view from inside the mouth of a Great White Shark must look, all those long, sharp icicles lining my roofline and practically touching the deck railing. Ugh!
Icicles are good examples of what poet Thomas Gray meant when he wrote, ”Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”
When I was a kid, I loved icicles. Hey, free popsicles! Tasteless, true, but free and also useful for poking friends in the back. 
Now that I am grown, icicles represent only a poke in my budget; Heat loss through the ceiling and extra expense when my electric bill comes. Not to mention creating ice dams and the resultant leaks and stains on my beautiful cathedral ceilings.
But, with luck and additional outlay of cash for insulation, I will get that problem solved....someday.
The arrival of The Great White, as I call this winter of 2018-19, has already wreaked havoc on one of the many structures on this 116-year-old farmstead. The chicken run is now missing its wire cover and crossbeams. Viewed from the driveway, it does appear as if some giant creature had just touched down long enough to bring a 10 by 10-foot section down. That first load of cement-like snow we got right before the first of the year.
When first I saw the mess, I just stared at the damage, resenting the ruined work of my Paul and his friend, the late Jack Halvorson back in 1991. Together they made a gorgeous run of stout cedar posts and well stitched together wire, with barbed wire dug in all around so those burrowing predators would be stymied. 
It’s rotten to lose something made by those you love and have also lost. But then I realized that perhaps The Great White had done me a good turn. I let the hens out to free range in good weather anyway, so why not just turn the run into a big veggie and flower garden? The sides are already there. I know Paul would agree. As for old Jack, well, he’d probably give me one of his dubious stares and say, “It’s your time and sweat.” 
So far no damage has been done to my body by The Great White....but then there are still a few more months to go before I can be sure of that. The first time out of the shed with my little red electric snowblower was a near miss, though. Pushing and pushing that contraption through that wet, heavy snow was nigh impossible. I grunted, I strained, I panted like a dog, and I swore like a sailor. Frankly, I used muscles not engaged since I gave birth to my darling daughter.
And so I did the wise thing. I retired the blower and called for help. Now my paths are smooth and chiseled things of beauty that are just wide enough for me to ride around on my Norwegian kicksled with buckets of grain on the seat.  Happiness in chore doing restored.
I will admit that I take doing chores in double-digit below zero weather quite seriously. I always have my phone and when the weather report is particularly alarming, the critters get double rations just in case going out the next day proves to be foolhardy. But who is to say what and when is foolhardy?
That thought occurred to me while kick sledding to the chicken coop last week in below zero weather. I was remembering an old colleague of mine at the News-Herald, back when Steve Fernlund owned the newspaper. Duane Honsowetz was his name and he was an old-school journalist AND woodsman...Crusty, principled and feigning a fed-up with life attitude - mostly a cover I think.  We got along just fine. I thought of Duane last week because he died in weather such as this on his trap line, somewhere off in the woods - certainly not a foolhardy thing to do, as he had done it hundreds of times before.
The story was that Duane had suffered a stroke while checking his traps in the deep winter woods.  And although I wished he had not been alone out there, I couldn’t help but be grateful that my old comrade didn’t breathe his last covering a county board or city council meeting, I hoped he was at peace, under the sky lit with stars, instead of the glare of fluorescent lights.
Morbid? Not a bit. For a kid whose favorite book of poetry was Robert Service’s Spell of the Yukon, the white landscape of the far north was a brilliant backdrop where the shadow of death danced and teased those prospectors and vagabonds wanderers who dared to venture inside her lair… Here’s a stanza I committed to memory long, long ago, I find it quite appropriate as we once again face below zero temps in the coming days.
From Service’s poem The Spell of the Yukon, from the book of the same name,
“The winter! The brightness that blinds you!
The white land locked tight as a drum/
The cold fear that follows and finds you/
The silence that bludgeons you dumb/
The snows that are older than history/
The woods where the weird shadow slant/
The stillness, the moonlight/the mystery/
I’ve bade ‘em goodbye......but I can’t.”
I whispered this stanza on my way back from the chickens that night last week, breathing each word in frosty vapors into the night. And while there was no prospectors gold ore in my basket, there were riches. My hens gave me seven big brown eggs and one greenish blue, beauty. 

Mercury and Venus blazed in the clear Eastern sky over the old White Pine and Duane’s spirit and Service’s poetry rode the sled with me, good companions that night and throughout this winter of The Great White. She is a ferocious, yet mysteriously seductive mistress known well by both men.  And by me as well; blissfully ignorant, but ever so grateful.
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North