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Four seasons give Minnesota an ancient rhythm that persists into the modern era. Though a blizzard may now only mean a slower commute,
we still pay attention to weather — some might say obsessively.
Essay by Dennis Anderson

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Minnehaha Falls: "What is the use of attempting to describe the Minnehaha Falls? We can’t do it,” raves a visitor to Minneapolis in 1867, when the falls had become a tourist destination thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem.

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Blizzards: "Blizzard” is first used in this decade to describe winter storms. The 1873 storm kills 70 people, and “The Trail of Grief and Sorrow Left by the Great Blizzard” of 1888, which kills 200 people, is chronicled in many column inches of victims and losses.

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Ice palace: St. Paul builds its first ice palace, but not before taunting the “presumptuous” city of Duluth for wanting to build one, “which serves to show that the Duluth mind stops at nothing.”

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Tornadoes: In St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids, Minnesota’s deadliest tornado kills 72, including a groom and 10 other members of the wedding party. “In Ruins!” says the headline, with the next days’ papers calling on the generosity of the populace.

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Syruping: In spring, since long before Minnesota was an idea, maple syruping begins. The ads of this era for land sales tout “good sugar bush.”

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Minneapolis parks: Theodore Wirth becomes chief of parks, immediately commenting that “the most serious defect of the system is the lack of playgrounds.”

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Hunting: Minnesotan John Breen bags a huge buck, which holds a whitetail world record for decades. In this era, game laws are established, with limits and seasons for deer, foul and moose, so that “this sort of game is forever to remain unexhausted in the state of Minnesota.”

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Hibbing wolf “menace”: Son of a game warden brings in 21 hides in November 1925. Wolf bounties are netting hunters $750.

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Cabins: About half the column inches of the Society pages in the summer are filled with “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So are heading to the lake.” The Naniboujou Club opens on the North Shore in 1928.

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State parks: In 1937, an ancient quarry becomes Pipestone National Monument, and Rep. Paul Kvale presents two peace pipes to the speaker of the House. That same year, 10 new state parks come into existence.

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Weatherball: To great fanfare, the Weatherball blinks atop Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis. “When the Weatherball is glowing red, warmer weather’s just ahead. ...”

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Governor’s Fishing Opener: The gateway to summer angling gets its start with Gov. Luther Youngdahl, though a May 15 report declares “Fish Win First Round.”

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BWCA: “Johnson Signs Bill to Save Wilderness,” setting aside 9 million acres of forest and lakes for preservation.

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Edmund Fitzgerald: The shipwreck immortalized in song happens in November, a deadly month for vessels on Lake Superior.

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Bike trails: The grueling legislative work of creating state trails like the Root River Trail appears in the papers of the early 1980s, with intense local opposition.

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Twin Cities MarathonA Dane wins the first Twin Cities Marathon, and an Edina runner declares, “It was a beautiful course, a beautiful day, a beautiful crowd.”

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Snow days: Legislators in 2017 consider a bill that could spell the end of snow days. A 1951 headline declares what we all know to be true: “Cold and Snow Bring Joy to School Kids.”

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Star Tribune and Associated Press file photos

Ancient rhythm still beats beneath

The four seasons spring, summer, fall and winter have influenced the movements and moods of Minnesotans since long before statehood.

The Dakota Indians, some of Minnesotas first inhabitants, knew that spring, or what they called wetu, was near when days lengthened and crows returned to their roosts, while, overhead, nearly continual flights of waterfowl arrowed north. Abandoning their winter camps then to move to the sugar bush, Dakota women, children and elder men fashioned troughs from basswood and birch bark to collect maple sap to boil for syrup, sugar and candy. Seasonal light and temperature variations also dictate when walleyes move from deep water to shallow to spawn, and younger Dakota men in spring netted these and other fish, while also snaring beavers, otters and minks, whose furs were as thick as they would be all year.

When the sap stopped flowing, the Dakota moved to their summer planting villages, where women tended fields of corn, beans and squash, while men combed the prairies for buffalo.

In fall, they built ricing camps alongside shallow lakes, before, with winter approaching, beneath the moon when the deer rut, the Dakota moved to sheltered areas, where they survived eating and their buried caches of dried meat, corn and fish.

Season by season, so it went.

Fast forward. Today, most Minnesotans depend not a whit for their survival on their ability to parse the seasons vagaries. A commute to or from work on two- or four-lane blacktop remains a commute to or from work whether beneath cloudy skies or sunny, on hot days or cold. The pay is the same, regardless.

Yet whether due to lineage or generations of climatological inculcation, most who live here nevertheless sense keenly the inexorable tug and pull of natures cycles, which in Minnesota can be extreme, hot to cold, deep snow to bare ground, flood to drought. Perhaps this, then, as much than as anything, binds us: knowledge of, and appreciation for, the shifting seasons.

Spring, summer, fall and winter wash over Minnesotans today in much the same way they did the states regions first inhabitants:

Spring: Stepping across rivulets that gather into creeks, then streams, dividing steep bluffs in southeast Minnesota, where the angler hears a grouse drumming among hardwood coulees, while eaglets peek from towering nests and trout sulk beneath overhanging riverbanks.

Summer: Passing a warm evening atop a quiet lake, its surfaces as smooth as glass, the paddler hears a loon, and sees a fish jump. Overhead, darkness gathers, and a cavalcade of stars unfolds, the day ending in warm breezes, with a beaver slapping its tail on the lake top.

Fall: Standing among a firestorm of colorful birches, aspens, ashes and oaks, the hiker is mesmerized by the foamy rollers that detonate against Lake Superiors shoreline, while offshore, gulls fly, wings tipped, and fish swim invisibly, their sides glistening through clear water.

Winter: Watching from afar, a hunter tracks a coyote near the South Dakota border as the animal trots on a cold winters morning across the frozen Minnesota River, its snowy banks, windblown and crusted, bracketing the marauding canine, while a rabbit cowers motionlessly in willow scrub, wanting to live another day.

A joke around Minnesota office coolers goes like this: The state has two seasons: winter and road repair. But, in fact, there are four seasons, each of which comes and goes because of the tilt of the Earths rotational axis, which is about 23 degrees meaning the Earth revolves around the sun at an angle.

On the summer solstice, about June 21, the northern hemisphere, including Minnesota, is tilted toward the sun. Summer begins and the years longest day is recorded. On the winter solstice, about Dec. 21, the northern hemisphere is angled away from the sun, yielding for Minnesotans the beginning of winter and the years shortest day. All the while, the moon circles the Earth, once every 29.5 days.

These movements, to varying degrees, influence most, and perhaps all, life. Moose and deer breed at the onset of autumns shorter days. Birds migrate great distances on moonlit nights. And woodcock perform aerial mating dances, rooster pheasants crow, and cardinals and other birds pair up in spring. People also are seasonally affected also feel the seasons, and always have been, including the ancient inhabitants of Minnesotas boundary waters. Their paintings etched forever on rock bear likenesses of the sun and moon, animals and birds connoting their essential connections the importance of each to their lives . Such seasonally-inspired paintings, including those of waterfowl and other wildlife, remain a uniquely celebrated form of Minnesota expression, as do other art forms, among them writing,

The late Ely ecologist and author Sigurd Olson also, in his art of writing, reflected on the mystery of the turning, tilting Earth. Is it any wonder, the late Ely ecologist and author Sigurd Olson wrote, that we still marvel at the coming of each full moon, that it makes us restless, uncertain, and adventuresome? Is it any wonder, even though we no longer depend on it for good or evil omens, no longer govern our lives by its appearance, that it continues to arouse strange and indefinable feelings in us?

As moderns we may have forgotten its ancient meaning, but inherently our responses to moonlight are no different from those of our ancestors or, for that matter, from the responses of all other living things on the planet.

Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. In Minnesota, ever changing, ever the same.