Ford column:South Dakota winters can make you squirrely

  • Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, July 17, 2009 12:06 a.m.

While my family and friends in the Upper Midwest endure temperatures well below zero, I'm grateful to live someplace where exposed skin does not freeze in 10 minutes.
But their e-mails and stories and Facebook posts about the incredible cold and snow do make me nostalgic for a good, old-fashioned South Dakota winter.
The last time I was in South Dakota in December, I don't think the temperature fell below zero once, and we had a brown Christmas.
It did snow eventually, but just a few inches.
Today, my dad can't even get to the boathouse to fill his bird feeders without shoveling through new snowdrifts deposited each morning by the unceasing wind.
They have 30 inches of snow on the ground, with more on the way.
I've encountered no scene more stunning than a vast, white landscape surrounded by a cloudless blue sky and illuminated by sunshine so brilliant it temporarily blinds you when you step outside.
Of course, then you hurry back in before your nose falls off.
My sisters and I have left South Dakota, so Dad keeps us updated with the latest meteorological news:
"Currently (Wed morning) it's -12, wind chill -35. High today -5 with severe wind chill, high tomorrow -5 with lesser wind chill, high Friday (heat wave!) +15," he wrote last week.
His weather reports begin in the fall when Lake Kampeska freezes and the first truck drives out onto the ice. Eventually, hundreds of ice fishing shacks will dot the lake, outfitted with everything from televisions to refrigerators.
Our last transmission from the Ford Climatology Office usually comes in April, when Dad wakes up to find that miles of lake ice miraculously disappeared overnight.
"Ice out!" he will write.
Winter weather forms the basis for many of our favorite memories.
Often, the weather itself would have been long forgotten but for its coincidental ability to heighten whatever crisis we were facing at the time.
There was the blizzard that blew when my sister needed stitches after cracking her head open, falling between her bed and the wall.
There was the deep freeze that surrounded Mom and Dad when they came upon an accident on a deserted highway, a car overturned and three men hurt.
Too cold to wait for an ambulance.
Dad loaded two guys into the back of the Subaru station wagon, put the third on Mom's lap and raced to the hospital. We never found out their names, but for years I pointed proudly at the bloodstain on the headrest.
And there was the notorious wind that whipped down our chimney, bringing with it a large squirrel.
With a fire blazing, no one could identify the sudden commotion in the fireplace except our boxer Cappy, who immediately lunged at the squirrel, dangerously close to becoming a crispy critter.
Dad yelled at us to hold the dog while he pulled on his long leather gloves and reached into the flames, grabbing the rodent and tossing it outside into the snow.
It ran off to die, we were sure. Oh, the tears and the wailing that ensued.
But that spring, we looked out and saw a fat squirrel perched on the birdbath, eating seeds. It had a large, bald spot on its back.
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.

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