Respecting nature’s fury….This is the time of year when meteorologists tell us every day to have a winter survival kit in our car.
By Marvin Baker
January is usually the month we drop into the deep freeze and it’s the time we are reminded that our parents walked uphill to and from school with nothing more than a hot potato to keep them warm.
OK, all kidding aside, we all know what can happen in North Dakota in January! Those of us who have lived here for any length of time may remember temperatures as warm as 56 above zero and as low as 49 below zero.
We can have massive amounts of snow in January and when the wind blows, good luck with that. Have you ever tried to navigate from one point to another in a blizzard? You better know the road you’re on blindfolded or you might be out of luck.
There can also be years in January when we don’t have snow, or very little it isn’t even measurable.
One thing we can guarantee is that it will be cold. You can bet the farm on that one.
But here’s what a lot of people who come here from out of state don’t understand. And, there’s a few people within North Dakota who don’t understand this either.
You have to respect the cold just as you would a tornado or a lightning strike. It’s nature’s fury and destructive as it can be, there is an eerie sense of beauty to it.
Have you ever been in the Badlands in the month of January? If not, I suggest you take a drive south of Watford City. There is natural beauty out there that we can’t even imagine.
Better yet, go hiking. You’ll be amazed at what you see and snakes won’t be one of them.
Have you ever been in the Pembina Gorge in January? Typically there is much deeper snow in the gorge than the Badlands, but again, there is winter beauty that can’t be matched. We can take all the photographs we want but it doesn’t compare to what we might actually witness while there.
Have you ever hiked in the Turtle Mountains near Lake Metigoshe in January?
Again striking beauty on the countryside that goes along with abundant wildlife. It’s almost like a Christmas postcard. White snow, red berries dangling from the trees, dried up maple leaves that somehow manage to cling to the tree and flora that has adapted well enough to exist in shielded areas.
There are many other places too numerous to mention, but some of them like the Sheyenne River Valley south of Valley City, the Des Lacs River Valley northwest of Minot, the Missouri River bottom land west of Hazelton and Linton and Devils Lake, all have their own bit of winter wonderland.
But they all have one thing in common. It’s cold, but in order to enjoy that cold, you have to respect the cold.
Therefore, it’s necessary to bundle up in layers so you can enjoy it.
Some people say that when it gets colder than 10 degrees, it doesn’t matter when in fact, it does matter.
Taking a phrase from the song “Beds are Burning” by Midnight Oil and reversing the extremes, “North Dakota lives and breaths at -45 degrees.”
If you happen to be brave enough or crazy enough to be out in open country at that temperature, you’ll see that life goes on despite the cold. The animals and birds are out there scrounging for food through the frosty ground.
We might also consider astronomy to be the best it can be this time of year.
There are a lot of bitter cold January nights where there isn’t a cloud in the sky, no moonlight and not a lick of wind so a telescope will stay in the position you intended it.
We may not like to hear this, but the colder it is, the better the view of the night sky.
The colder it gets, there’s less diffusion of light, thus you get a much clearer image of what you are looking for such as Jupiter’s moons, the Martian surface or better yet the Aurora Borealis.
There are also those weird phenomena in the coldest part of winter. Car headlights take time to warm up and light, tire pressure lessens so it feels like tires are square, gasoline will begin to crystalize, throw a glass of water in the air and it will vaporize, pound a nail into a board with a banana and here’s my favorite, motor oil becomes solid at 60 below zero.
If you like science, nature or the arts, all of this can be found here in North Dakota and it doesn’t cost you a dime. But there is one caveat, you need to respect that cold and be ready for it or you’re going to pay for it dearly