LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Settling In For The Winter

We are settling in here at Red Oak House for the winter, tweaking our list of indoor projects and savoring meals of turkey, pork roast and ham.

Outside my kitchen office window, the chickadees and woodpeckers on busy on the suet feeder. Specifically, ours in North Dakota are black-capped chickadees, parus atricapillus. Parus is Latin for “titmouse” and atricapillus for “black-capped, formed from ater, atris, “black,” and capillus, “hair of the head,” according to my copy of “Words for Birds.” “Titmouse is derived from the Old Icelandic titr, meaning, ‘something small,’ and mouse, a corruption of the Old English mase, ‘small bird.’ Chickadee is imitative of the bird’s call.” (page193)

Outside other windows, the newly fallen snow demonstrates how many rabbits and squirrels we have in our yard.

When we crossed the Missouri River last Sunday morning, a bald eagle flew over, this being the time of year we see more than usual.

I’m particularly anticipating the winter of 2017-18 with glee because it is a year of Winter Olympics, and I warn my husband to not schedule me for anything in February.  I’m sure when my father was in Korean for the Conflict in the 1950s that he never anticipated sitting in his warm living room decades later watching a sports competition being held in that faraway country.

Speaking for myself, I have many happy and vivid memories of past Winter Olympics, especially the one held in Norway. Watching the speed skaters from Wisconsin prevail was very inspiring, their powerful thighs pumping them over the line. Time to bone up on the current crop of athletes!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Winter Notes No. 1: And So It Begins

When we opened the blinds last Friday morning, it was to a world of whiteness. The snow shovels are staged, and all that was left to do was rummage in the garage storage box for the windshield scraper and the runner rug for the slate front patio (which gets very slippery in the cold weather). I even dug out the roof rake, just in case we get a huge dump of snow like we did last November.

The branches of the Red Oak tree are bare. We didn’t get the gutters cleaned, but next week’s forecast promises at least one day we can tackle that, providing the leaf debris hasn’t frozen solid within by then.

A winter’s worth of reading and writing ahead — that, and an hour of extra sleep Saturday night!

DAVE BRUNER: Photo Gallery — First Snow Wonderland

Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner has a knack for capturing scenic landscape images, as is demonstrated by these fantastic shots.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Warming Up To Winter

We finally turned our furnace on last Friday. It wasn’t the 32-degree high that did it; it was the 40-mile-per-hour gusts the night before that convinced us to start burning wattage in a more significant way.

Thirty-two degrees? Ha! In March, that would warrant running outside without a coat. The fully acclimated Minnesotan laughs at such measly reports after surviving many a winter. But now, after a warmer-than-average summer and an October of unearthly sweat-inducing days, the story’s a bit different.

That little boost of artificial warmth did feel — I admit it — pretty good. I’m so ashamed.

For one whose veins run with Viking blood, flipping that switch so early hints at weakness. Not for us, the sheepish donning of jackets when a random breeze blows on a run-of-the-mill day in autumn. Not for us, the breaking out wooly knitted hats when we can still see bare pavement. Though the first nippy clues to the coming season may redden our cheeks, we thrust icy fingers into our pockets and soldier on.

The first whiff of impending winter is a tonic for the Minnesota or North Dakota soul. Weird, right? Transplants who grew up where water in the bird bath doesn’t even freeze in February may gasp in shock and awe at their first taste of what’s to come. Oddly, though we North Country natives may complain, we privately revel in it. We were bred for times like these.

That’s why neither Russ nor I had touched the thermostat since August, when we wrapped up our — shall we say “heated” — summer-long battle over air conditioning, pitting subarctic comfort against common sense. We hadn’t given it another thought until that cheeky little Canadian clipper rattled the roof and shivered the siding late last week.

I was the first to cry “uncle.” I’d begun to waver the night before, when the speed-limit-exceeding breeze rattled the windows and puffed the wooden blinds out almost parallel with the floor. The next morning, when my breath fogged the bathroom mirror, I knew that it was time. Without warning my stalwart Nordic husband of my intent, I crept into the bedroom, which faces north, and … closed the window.

Does this sound like an epic surrender? Maybe not to you, if your genes encode tender memories of the tropics. For Russ and me, though, it was radical. That window, selected for energy efficiency and insulating power, hadn’t been slammed since it was first installed. Oh, it might have been angled now and then to keep out summer rains blown horizontally by a passing tsunami. But closed? Never! Until now.

We were, after all, raised in the true Nordic tradition of bracing fresh air. Especially at night, it was an article of faith in the houses where both of us grew up that the best sleeping took place igloo-style, in between flannel sheets deep under an Everest of bedding. If you’d peeked at the bunkbed where I slept away my youth, all you’d have seen was a human caterpillar wrapped within a cocoon of quilts and itchy wool blankets and, perhaps, a nose rising like a periscope from the pillow.

My grandparents brought their mystical Scandinavian faith in the curative power of fresh air when they arrived from Norway. It seemed to serve their iron constitutions well, while also providing a convenient rationale for the drafty homes of their day. Deep breaths of frigid air are good for you! Fresh! Cleansing!

Their faith in Nature didn’t quite rule out the comfort of gathering around the red-hot oil burner steaming in the central room, as it struggled mightily to heat an entire house. But it did keep you from dawdling while hopping over polar-cold linoleum to choose school clothes from the uninsulated closet … the true, original meaning of teen “cool.”

Today, those memories are (literally) frozen in time. Central heating has stripped away the “brisk” from breakfast on these dark near-winter morns. Eddie Bauer and Cabela’s have armed us to beat back the fiercest weather wrapped in uniforms of manmade fibers and goose-made down. Our cars not only start the first time we turn the key; they wrap us in computer-monitored year-round comfort as we sit on our heated seats, peer through frost-free glass and listen to hot music beamed down by satellite.

And yet, the call of that Viking blood whispers in our ears. Here in the southern reaches of Moorhead, our thermostat rarely breaks the 65-degree mark. We wear slippers and sweatshirts around the house. Now that the wind has moderated, the windows are open again. Otherwise, sound sleep is merely a dream.

The wisdom of our forebears still calls to us today: “There’s no bad weather — only bad clothes.” We keep it cool around here. Even our supersoft, comfort-craving modern social habits reflect what they understood so well. You can always put on a sweater when you’re chilly. But if the opposite is true, people look at you funny if you decide to rip off your shirt.

DAVE BRUNER: Photo Gallery — Late Winter Snowstorm

Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner went out a few hours during the late spring snowstorm Wednesday and captured some scenes from “hopefully our last snow for spring!”

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Look on the Sunny Side of Winter

Now we remember why they’re called French, not Polar, poodles.

Since vintage winter arrived last week, our little yapdoodle has once again raised serious questions about why we live in Minnesota. When it’s time to let her out, she approaches the door like a condemned innocent being marched to the gallows. We watch her try her best to do her business with no more than one paw on the ground, loose snow up to her tummy. She may have a point.

Molly never moves livelier than on her return trips, prancing so high and so quickly that those frozen paws barely touch the earth. If the temps are warm enough for snowballs, she’ll burst back into the house with snowblobs crusted in her curls, flinging canine curses as she makes a bee line for her favorite blanket on the couch.

This winter, though, the dog is the only one at our address who’s permitted to complain. Russ and I are pursuing a serious scientific inquiry into the Scandinavian way of winter, namely this: If you appreciate these January days instead of whining, can you make the season sing?

Actual serious research suggests you can. Why are the nations of Scandinavia routinely spotted at the top of lists of the happiest people on Earth? Setting aside sundry social factors like universal health care, North Sea oilfields and, of course, an endless supply of lefse, the people of Norway, Sweden and Denmark do seem to have figured out not only how to survive the short days and long, cold nights of January and February, but to thrive.

Last year, a doctoral student at Stanford University, Kari Leibowitz, invested her Fulbright scholarship in pursuit of the answer. Spending the whole winter in Tromsø, the northernmost Norwegian city just half the size of Moorhead-Fargo, she started out asking the natives the obvious question that occurs to summer-worshipping Americans: “So why is seasonal depression so rare there?”

It seemed logical enough at first. Tromsø is 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Right now, the sun never really tops the horizon. The average winter temperature is no better — no warmer, that is — than our own … and sounds even worse translated into Celsius.

When the grad student asked the natives, “Why aren’t you people more depressed,” they just looked at her and replied, “Why would we be?”

Turns out, Leibowitz concluded, “people in northern Norway view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured.” That makes all the difference.

Norwegians, she discovered, simply think differently about cold weather. Rather than bonding over their misery, they tend to celebrate what makes the season special, outside and in. Nordic skiing and vigorous hikes alongside snowy frozen fjords are fine enough … but so is their flip side, the happy life within four walls.

Norwegians and their Scandinavian cousins actually look forward to this time of year, she realized. It’s prime time for savoring the spirit they call “køselig” — loosely translated, “coziness.” Evenings by the snapping fire, comfortable fellowship with family and friends, flickering candles and good books and mugs of hot chocolate — really, the image of so much comfort we usually take for granted can dial back memories of sweaty summer days into a weak second-best.

Perhaps the sturdy Nordic blood has thinned a bit hereabouts after a century in the promised land. Maybe we of stoic Nordic stock are simply so hard up for small talk that whining about the cold has become our go-to icebreaker. Either way, too many of us waste these perfectly good months feeling sorry for ourselves, frozen in our winter misery while hallucinating sizzling, sandy beaches and lukewarm waters.

So we’re trying to fix that at our house, starting out right now. Russ and I have set up reasonable ground rules: We are permitted to make neutral factual reports about the temperature — “the thermometer on the deck says it is 20 below” — but must avoid value judgments — “Dagnabbit, it’s 20 rotten stinking degrees below stupid blankety-blank zero. Why do humans still live here?”

When grocery clerks or dental hygienists reel off remarks like “Cold enough for you?” … we are required (for the sake of science) to respond with a positive. Yes, but the sky is so clear and blue. Yes, but the crisp air is truly invigorating. Yes, and just think — spring is just 66 days away.

The jury is still out on our experiment. Two things, though, are already becoming clear. People get really annoyed when you Pollyanna up an epic rant and throw them off their rhythm. And, so far at least, our persistently positive attitude has failed to have any impact at all on our non-Norwegian poodle.

Yet early results of this experiment in attitude adjustment do seem to be encouraging. As the practical Scandinavians have been known to remark, there’s really no such thing as bad weather — just bad clothes. If every cloud has a silver lining, just remember this sensible Nordic advice. Make sure that yours is goosedown.