Minnesotans are a hearty stock of people. The determined Viking grit combined with the strong Midwest American work ethic produces a breed of individual that can yield a formidable culture. Thankfully, a sizable portion of the population also has a hearty dose of Norwegian and/or Lutheran ancestry in their lineage, which provides a tempering effect to all the Viking/Midwestern testosterone. The net result is a group of humans that simultaneously smile and grit teeth in the face of discomfort or adversity. True, this seemingly contradictory duo is not always desired; but when it comes to factors beyond one’s control (like brutally cold winter temperatures, for example), the combination can be a powerful asset. Indeed, only people with a Minnesotan DNA could be bold enough to create an outdoor carnival in the deepest, coldest part of winter. When Ma Nature delivers feet of snow and double-digit negative temperatures, the good people of Minnesota reply by creating a festival designed to embrace all she cares to hurl their way.
The St. Paul Winter Carnival is the nation’s oldest and largest winter festival – a fact many residents of the cities are very proud of. While large groups of people have an annual ritual of attending various events occurring throughout the carnival, I head in the opposite direction and actually avoid the numerous festivities. It’s not that I’m averse to having fun or engaging in celebration; rather, it’s because I loathe the cold. I’m a small person with poor circulation; in weather below 20 degrees (F), my fingers and toes go numb within minutes. At zero degrees, my nose follows suit. Below zero degrees, my whole body shakes involuntarily, and I pretty much hate life. So why would I choose to subject myself to such physical discomfort and mental distress in the name of “having a good time”? No thank you.
Yet as I compiled my 101 list, I knew I couldn’t claim myself to be a proper Minnesotan if I had never attended at least part of the Winter Carnival – and my heart knew that I couldn’t take the ‘easy’ route with this task and participate in exclusively indoor activities. No, I knew if I was going to assert that I had been to the event, I was going to have to go to something with a cold-weather, outdoor focus – and a person is hard-pressed to find something colder than ice.
I had seen various pictures and TV footage of massive, intricate ice sculptures created in past years; the images I viewed were very impressive, and I could only imagine what they might look like in person. So of all the Winter Carnival events to choose from (art shows, music performances, dance parties, pony rides, hot air balloon races, treasure hunts, bouncing team tryouts, etc.), I decided that seeing the ice sculptures would probably the most ‘authentic’ activity to do.
Last year when I engaged in some of the other cold-weather tasks on the list, the weather was very pleasant (relatively speaking). Not so this year. As my sweetie and I got in the car to drive across town to see the sculptures, I peeked at the thermometer: 4 degrees. Holy crap. Hold on Stef, this experience might be a doozy.
Upon arriving in downtown St. Paul, my husband found a parking spot just two blocks away from the park where all of the ice sculptures were displayed. As we approached the entrance and I spied the first sculptures, I realized a few things:
- The creations look a lot smaller in person than they do on TV.
- Time is not a friend to the ice-sculpture process. All of the pieces were created last weekend, but my sweetie was out of town during those days; so I delayed completing this activity until he returned and we could do it together. I could tell that the creations were likely very intricately designed when they were ‘fresh’; but seven days of fluctuating temperatures, snow, and human ‘admiration’ (i.e., touch) had polished some of the crisp details to dull remnants.
Still, I was excited to walk around the park and observe what was available to be seen.
Yet by the time my husband and I had viewed all of the cold creations, I was quite ready to be done with this task. Despite wearing knee-high wool socks, long underwear, heavy sweatpants, a long-sleeved microfiber shirt, a thick fleece sweater, snow boots, a heavy stocking cap, construction-grade mittens, and an ankle-length coat rated with a “comfort range” of 0 to -50 degrees (F), my fingers no longer functioned, my cheeks stung, my nose had ice crystals forming on it… I was plenty cold, quickly approaching miserable. All I wanted to do was get into a warm location, drink a hot cup of anything, allow my core temperature to return to 98.6, and end the pain. Please. Now.
But I did it. I participated in a classic St. Paul Winter Carnival event. (And I have the pictures, the memories, and the near-frostbite to prove it.) I am one step closer to being a ‘true’ Minnesotan.
Skol, um ya ya!
(Or something like that.)