When we moved to Minnesota, my husband had to leave for a conference just a few days later. There I was in an empty rented house–our furniture and belongings were slated to arrive a few weeks later–starting a new job, knowing no one. Before he left, my husband and I ran errands and set up house as best we could. At the grocery store, he grabbed the latest issue of one of the city magazines. While he was away, I pored over this magazine, trying to get a sense of the personality of our new home.
Almost every page burst with images of summer and a chirpy tone that implied: of course everyone in Minnesota keeps a blanket and picnic basket in the trunk of their car! Impromptu picnics, patios, outdoor movies and concerts–all of these were must-dos, all of these were things every Minnesotan spent summer months chasing.
I sat cramped on the folding camping chair in the living room or sprawled on the deflating air mattress reading these words, drinking in the pictures. I was too timid to venture out much on my own, except for my new job. (I was also sad, as my grandfather’s Pacemaker was slated to give out around this time, ending his years-long experience with Alzheimer’s.)
What I’ve learned in the three years since those sad, quiet days is this: I don’t know anyone who keeps a picnic basket in their trunk, but I do know people who keep collapsible snow shovels in their cars. Minnesotans love walking around their lakes. They love restaurant patios, no matter how small and preposterous. They will find any reason for going outside for an extra hit of vitamin D. They will go to all the outdoor festivals and clog the farmers’ markets and swarm the Stone Arch Bridge and the sculpture garden and the bike paths. Because winters are grueling and long, you look for any opportunity to be outside when you can.
I’ve had to adjust to belated springs. Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, it wasn’t unusual to see snowdrops in our backyard in late February, and I charted the progression of spring from the crocuses outside the front door to the forsythia bordering the woods to the grape hyacinths dotting the grass beyond the porch door to the lilacs near our neighbor’s house.
The lilacs are a constant, I’m glad to say. Here in Minnesota, they bloom and purple the Cities for about a week. Whenever I pass one, I have to stop and bury my face in its tiny flowers. Lilacs love the cold. They’re all over Rochester, New York, too, where my older sister went to college. There, they held a festival celebrating the flowering bushes. As a kid, I loved that idea because I loved lilacs. I loved lilacs because my sister did. Lilacs were a way of connecting with her across our 11-year age difference.
The treasure of lilacs after months of winter and gray and slush and wiping out on patches of ice hidden under fresh snow is like getting a hug from your mother when you need it most.
The blizzard from last weekend is behind us. Most of its snow is gone, and the temperatures this week hover in the upper 60s. It’s a quick about-face. The bare ground looks stricken, all layers of dead leaves and crushed brown grass. Hardly anything is budding, and I haven’t put away my snow boots yet. Fall is only four months away.
You can’t escape talking about and musing on the weather when you live in Minnesota. It shapes and dictates your life and your movement. This is true all around the world, of course, but when we moved here that summer three years ago, I hadn’t known winters like this, winters that come early and overstay their welcome. Winters with air that slaps you in the face and freezes your nose hairs. But I’ve also never known summers like this. Sunny days that rarely hit 90 degrees. Cool nights. Blue skies so brilliant they don’t seem real.
So though I miss the budding and blooming of flowers to mark the progress of spring–bleeding heart and dogwoods and cherry blossoms, I didn’t forget you–the promise of summer is sweet. And the lilacs will be in bloom soon. And when the nights grow chillier in mid-August, I’ll be ready. Boots at the door. Folding snow shovel in the car’s trunk.