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This past week, as the gales of November came early, news reports alerted citizens to the kickoff of "cold-weather rules." Those familiar with the rules understood that people who have trouble paying utility bills will now be protected from service disconnection for the next several months. It reminded me, however, of the less familiar cold-weather rules, the unwritten directives that come with each returning frigid season in Minnesota. In case you're a newcomer to the Twin Cities, unfamiliar with what's expected between now and next April, perhaps an overview is in order, a lesson on what citizens must do to successfully navigate the next half-year. Here are the top 10 cold-weather rules as I learned them.
1) Acknowledge the cold but don't complain about it.
Acknowledging it means you're in tune with the weather, that it matters to you, it makes a difference in your life. Incessant complaining, however, leaves your friends wondering why you remain a resident of what is arguably the coldest state in the contiguous 48. Masochists are lousy company.
2) As the mercury drops, warm up your car before driving away.
Start it up and return to your house until the vehicle's interior becomes civilized. If you're worried the car might be stolen, keep it locked while it's idling. If you've heard it's against the law, just call it civil disobedience—it worked for Ghandi and King. If you're concerned about your carbon footprint, you're too vain. If you were that swell of a global citizen, you wouldn't allow yourself to live better than 90 percent of the world's population.
3) Give up looking hip.
Fashion is for other seasons. The sleek spring jacket, the colorful fall sweater, and summer's Panama hats have been jettisoned in favor of thick, bulky fabric whose beauty is irrelevant. You look absurd. Accept it.
4) Shelve the road rage for a season.
Instead, stay on the lookout for people who have spun out in the ditch, whose car battery needs a jump, whose tires are stuck in the snow. You no longer should care about who cut in front of you on the freeway. Thank your lucky stars that your heater works and there's a hot mug in your cup holder. Joys beyond that are gravy.
5) Fix your place up.
Whether it's a rented one-room efficiency in East St. Paul or a mansion on Lake of the Isles, take the time to make it look inviting, because it now must be. It's no longer simple shelter, it's a womb, a mother's embrace, an electric blanket, a place to recline on a frosty night, knowing you're safe inside and the real world—the raw, biting, bitter world—is somewhere out there, where people go to die.
The lake cabin is closed, there's no yard work to be done, spring cleanings and fall closings are memories from another world. Your weekends are for doing nothing. Don't even think of turning them into projects. Winter is the greatest excuse we have for loafing. Loaf like your life depended on it. For inspiration, look to the black bear.
7) Find at least one hot drink you can fall in love with.
If you can't stand coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, if a hot toddy doesn't jibe with your AA meetings, throw a can of Pepsi in the microwave, but heat something.
8) Accept with serenity the added pounds you'll put on.
Nature is trying to keep you warm and keep you alive. Our ancestors were grateful—why are you at the gym?
9) Find at least one outdoor activity to pursue.
If not skating, sliding, or skiing, be the grand snow shoveler on your block. There's always one guy setting the standard. It's not that he gets to it earlier, though he always does, it's the way he finishes every job by edging. It's no longer a cleared path at this point, it's a monument to OCD.
10) On at least one morning before the whole gray season is erased by the March thaw, give the weather its due.
Stand at a window on a day when the white stuff is coming down all lazy-like, and the tree branches are catching half of it. When there's no sound in all that movement, just a holy silence that makes you believe the earth is on bended knee, head bowed, receiving a blessing from above. Stand there, eyes glowing, and ask yourself if any July afternoon has ever matched this magnificence.
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