In the midst of a quick January thaw, the St. Paul Winter Carnival began this past week. Temperatures of 40+ degrees do not equate to an expected Minnesota winter. Both snow and ice were melting and people were shedding multiple layers. But an Alberta Clipper brought a return to temps below freezing last night. The snow sculptures at the fairgrounds were all intact today, and the blue sky and sunshine brought people out to participate in winter play. A snow slide had a long line of people, both children and adults, waiting to take a run; the snow maze was the right size for a child to get confused but the adults towered over it; and a simple large mound of snow was a wonderful temptation for kids to scramble and climb up. This snow sculpture was titled “Baby Bunyan,” with a reference to Paul Bunyan as a child. Our celebration of winter will continue for the next few months, until we are able to relish in the short season of spring and melting snow.
This week was the beginning the St. Paul Winter Carnival, a true celebration of all things having to do with winter. And this year the weather has cooperated in fine fashion (some might even say it’s been a bit too cold). In past years some of the events have had to be cancelled or shortened because of warming temperatures, but that isn’t an issue for us now. The snow sculptures were being carved yesterday as I wandered around the Minnesota Fairgrounds. This huge sculpture was especially popular for photographs, with the St. Paul Winter Carnival emblem in the center, surrounded by all sorts of cold-weather creatures and beasts. There were even some “tools of the trade” – chests of saws and chisels – that were still being used for touch up. The celebration continues through next weekend (although I truly believe winter will be lasting much longer than that!).
Our winter landscape has been blanketed in white since early December, and each week a bit more snow has been added to the ground. I headed out for a snowshoe walk early yesterday morning at the golf course on the University of Minnesota Saint Paul campus. The city was quiet for a Saturday morning — no commuter traffic, no snowplows clearing the roads yet, and most people were still in their beds. As I got into the center of the golf course I realized that it really wasn’t as quiet as I had thought. There were birds flitting from tree to tree chirping their greetings, and tracks in the snow where the squirrels had scampered from one area to another. And then I noticed that the landscape wasn’t really quite so white. Although the gray sky was reflecting in the snow cover, the oak trees still had their reddish-brown leaves clinging to the branches, some of the blonde grasses were blowing lightly in the breeze, and the pine trees were green with a coating of snow. The landscape was a study of muted contrasts and colors.
I awoke to a gray and cool morning and had plans to go to the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park to photograph the fall floral display. The gardens were filled with the usual photographers all intent on getting the best images they could of the mums and grasses that decorate the Sunken Garden. It was quiet and would probably have been considered quite boring if you were not a photographer. But then we had an unexpected guest. A fairy named Bud came into the conservatory gardens. Her temperament and demeanor was youthful and energetic. She flitted from garden to garden, amazed at the flowers and the palms, delighting in the koi that were swimming in the pools. Her voice was high and impish and I noticed she’d caught the attention of all the photographers. Someone asked Bud if she would sing a song for us. She thought for a moment, then opened her mouth with a beautiful voice and rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Her energy and enthusiasm was infectious, and my morning in fairyland was most unexpected and delightful.
As I set out on my bicycle early this morning the temperature was already in the 70’s and the air was thick and humid. I was thinking about our recent 500-mile ride across Kansas and how this morning’s 20-mile ride wasn’t much in comparison. All of the scenery across Kansas was new to me – the beauty of the plains and the rolling hills have left a mark on me, and yet today’s ride was going to be over city streets that I’ve ridden so many times before. I set a goal to pay attention to the scenery and surroundings of today’s ride to see what I might find and experience. As I headed east into the sun I knew there was a slight curve ahead where the cemetery trees would be shading the road, but I was amazed at the rays of sunlight piercing through the leaves amidst the haze of the humidity. I continued on knowing that I’d be passing many lakes I’ve ridden by countless times. I passed this scene, then turned around and went back to photograph. In the quiet of the early morning two fishermen had a glass-like lake all to themselves — it reminded me of an old tourist postcard for the lakes of Minnesota. I thought about sitting in the chair and watching them, but I suspected there might be more scenes waiting for me ahead. I rode to a small prairie restoration area and was greeted by blooming butterfly milkweed and gray-headed coneflowers. I passed a lake that we have fished on many times, yet today there wasn’t a boat in sight. Instead there was flotilla of geese gliding quietly across the lake. A mile further down the road and I spotted a shy doe grazing on the far side of a pond — close enough to the woods to be able to run inside if she felt threatened. Feeling strong as I neared home I looked down and saw I was riding at 20 mph in a high cadence on a city street, much like the riding I’d enjoyed in the western flats of Kansas. All the experiences of my ride today were ones that I could have easily passed by and not noticed, but the intention of seeing with fresh eyes had brought me an appreciation for what was here for me today, in this place, now.