When I was a kid, I don't remember people talking about a "January thaw," and I think I know why. If we were to get in the car and drive almost exactly 500 miles east, we'd arrive at the lakeshore hamlet where I was born and reared, a place no further north than we are here. But there, Lake Michigan was almost biblical in its moderation--summers were far less fierce, winters less insufferable, the cold real but not killing.
Out here on the plains, every season comes in spades. It's hot as anything short of damnation here, come July, and colder than a witch's, well, you know, in January. Thunder storms build like purple fortresses then billow in from the west in a swirling, angry mess come early summer, finally unleashing themselves like a wet plague. Our own Floyd River flood, Memorial Day last, arrived in the wake (not a cliche, by the way) of a foot or so of rain, a torrent upstream in just 48 hours. We've not been blanketed this winter--or last, for that matter--with any kind of a blizzard; but not long ago, transforming some old vhs tapes into dvds, I ran across some video I shot years ago when coming home from two days I hadn't intended to spend in Sioux Falls. Seriously, drifts were so deep they filled up the space beneath a railroad bridge and had to be blown out by a truck affixed with a snowblower so powerful that from ten cars back the gusher made Old Faithful look like an artesian well.
Right now, the wind is brutal. It's dark and it's clear outside my windows, but the wind is throwing body slams all over, and this brand new house, honestly, is not happy, moaning in places it shouldn't. It's not cold--not really, really cold--but the wind's ceaseless lambasting makes you shudder with a particularly Siouxlandish species of fear. It's that strong.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating a bit, but not much.
I'm now living in the country for the first time in my life, and I understand some of the blessings of living in town. People bunch up with good reason in the cold--even libertarians like community come January.
But for the last two days, we've been graced with a legitimate January thaw, an identifiable
winter moment that Siouxlanders tend to miss if one doesn't arrive because a January thaw is just about as sweet as that first day in March when the world turns mud-luscious. A January thaw reminds people that winter won't kill us all, that eventually the frigid temps, like weary troops, will simply withdraw and go wherever horrors go. Spring will come.
Maybe people on the lakeshore, where I was born and reared, talk about January thaws, and I just never heard. But out here on the edge of the Great Plains, where weather is a word that's always printed in upper case, a reprieve in the deep freeze of January is something warm and wonderful, something remarkable, something not to be missed.
So even though it was yesterday--temps in the 40s--I'm more than thankful, as is everyone else, for a bit of vacation and a touch of March in a real, Siouxland "January thaw."
You hear that? I'm telling you, we're going to blow away out here.