Safety experts seeking reasons why Minnesotans drive on the thinnest of ice in the warmest of winters should consider that most residents would rather plunge to an icy lake bottom than subject themselves to the continued follies of the Legislature.
Stadiums. Wolf hunts. Legacy money. Your mama in a nursing home. When the big gavel comes down at the Capitol in St. Paul, each is a sitting duck.
As are you.
It is true that weather also contributes to the malaise that settles over the state in late winter. Back-trolling for walleyes is balm for the psyche, and it among countless other shirtsleeve pastimes is unavailable in January, February or March. So forgive the guy down the street if on a dark night he locks the front wheels of his 4WD pickup and spins doughnuts on a weakly frozen pond. Sinclair Lewis had it right: Winter is less a season than an occupation. Tuesday's rush-hour downpour proves the point.
I was thinking about this the other night as I speed-dialed my way through various Texas area codes. On some nights of late-winter melancholy, I'll settle for the sweet twang of a Fort Worth information operator giving me the number of, say, any Domino's Pizza in that city. Alternatively I might phone a smoke shop in San Angelo and ask if they have King Albert in a can. The point is that for more than a year I've looked at the pastures behind our barn and those farther to the west and found them empty. Lynx, our last horse, bred and born in Texas, died opening weekend of the Wisconsin deer season, 2010, at 29 years of age. Neither I nor the pastures have been the same since.
A friend, Bill Farmer, once wrote a humor column for the rival sheet across the river. Unfortunately, his stories were funnier than the editors were tolerant, and in the end, his writings got the ax. This might have happened in January, February or March, and if so would be another reason Bill advised anyone living in Minnesota never to make a major life decision in those months. We are of no mind at this time to accomplish tasks rationally, he believed. "I once woke up in April and found myself divorced," Bill said. "I had no idea why. I guess something went wrong in winter."
For me the festering point seemed to be that, like the pastures, I needed a horse. My rationale for not buying a replacement for Lynx has been that money and time are in finite supply. The family, I figured, would be better served if I hung up my spurs and instead modeled the quiet desperation of Commuter America, two hands on the wheel, lip between clenched teeth. I'd already sold my trailer, anyway; a stake to the heart if there ever was one.
"Are you sure it's not the Legislature that's driving you nuts?'' my wife asked. "That Genius woman, or whatever her name is?"
"Wagenius? Rep. Jean Wagenius?" I said. "No, it's not her. Granted, she doesn't seem to know that conservation lands purchased by the state must be appraised by a select list of DNR-approved appraisers, that any property over $10 million must be appraised by a second appraiser, and that the DNR has those appraisals certified by a third appraiser. But she's not what's pushing me to the edge. No, she's got a good gig. It's the time of year, late winter. Also, I need a horse."
My late-night phone-tripping had produced a cowboy in north Texas who reported through an enviable drawl that he had a black 8-year-old cutting horse for sale. The gelding seemed like the right kind. Of course I had no time to throw a saddle in the truck and make a run to Texas, so I couldn't know for sure. And a more reasonable northerner would have treated his seasonal affliction and legislative fears more predictably, say by taking a late-night joy ride on the St. Croix. Not me. "This horse can run across the pen and get in the ground," the cowboy said. That settled it. I wired the cash.
The upshot of all this might be that you shouldn't be surprised the next time a TV talking head exclaims breathlessly that a truck or car or perhaps even one of them small little foreign jobs went through the ice in Minnesota in January, February or March.
It might just be a guy running from the Legislature, or perhaps attempting to flee winter.
Or maybe he simply couldn't find a good horse to buy.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org