Celebrate the Polar Vortex

The Polar Vortex hit the north woods along with the rest of the Midwest in January.   The thing is, people in Cook County are accustomed to occasionally hitting 40 below zero.  20 below is so regular….and often sunny and still–that this is not typically when school is closed, this is when we felt safe sending our  kids out to play.   You know, as long as they were smart about it, and bundled.   I have really good memories of dark December shuttles to the mailbox/bus stop.   As we drove away from the Round Lake the car temperatures would drop through the -30s, and  the kids would chant  FOUR–ty, FOUR….ty, FOUR….ty…and then cheer when the car thermometer would get there.   (I don’t have to say Fahrenheit or Celsius because the graphs meet at -40.  I love that, by the way.  It is just plain cold).

But now, we spend  good chunks of our winter lives with the rest of the city population, so we often are dressed improperly, and we tend to rush from the car to the house on busy days.  We immediately lose our heartiness and 20 above can have us shivering and grumbling with everybody else.  We do appreciate the privilege of savoring the northwoods in the same way our guests do–and spend as much time as we can in the off season–at home where the hearty people live.

Kneeling moose

photo by Shelby

Shelby passed a couple moose on the Gunflint Trail a few weeks ago.  Note how healthy they are, showing off the calisthenics involved to get at the tasty salt.   It’s always a treat to see these guys, because everything we read these days makes us feel like we might be witnessing their extinction.

Nace Hagemann moose

Photo by Nace Hagemann (see nacehagemann.com)


Sightings aren’t so rare on the Gunflint Trail, but apparently on the decline–due to a complex formula involving several different variables.   I do know that the moose are happiest with these cold temperatures.  Well, the  scientists haven’t actually attempted to measure the moose happiness, but they have measured how much the mortality rate goes up when moose are stressed—which tends to be whenever the temperature rises above 23 degrees in January.

Have you heard that the emerald ash borer larvae start dying off at -20 degrees?   Increased Lake Superior ice cover this time of year means less evaporation in July. Who can complain about a Polar Vortex with those kinds of side effects?   The kudzu down south cannot creep up into the cold north.  Let’s face it, the moose are native, the non-native species haven’t had thousands of years to evolve to the polar heartiness.    That’s enough to celebrate the glacial temperatures when we can get them.

Double Moose

photo by Shelby (note  8 legs)

So we put on our layers of down—and when I’m all bundled up I add one last detail over my top jacket…my parka that happens to be the exact same model that Chevy Chase wore to cut down the Christmas tree and ride his speedy sled in Christmas Vacation.  The cold is so sunny and still,  I swear it scrubs my lungs clean, and must be killing any sort of invasive species in there—because—obviously Clark Griswold and I have evolved for this.  So, let’s just celebrate the freezing, Let’s celebrate the temperatures where the snow falls (20 above) and the temperatures where the snow squeaks (20 below).  Let’s snowshoe at dusk, and breathe the snow that scrubs the air, and cherish the hearty remaining wooly moose.



11 Responses

  1. Jim Fry says:

    Very wonderful news. It’s also great to have the education of reading your story. I can only imagine how wonderful it is to see those wonderful animals up close. I can’t wait for my summer trip.

    • Sue Ahrendt says:

      Jim Fry how are you?! Do you ever think of coming up in the winter? You guys are always so hearty about your summer trips–I’ll bet you might like it. Daniel is considering applying at Madison–we visited this fall. Thought about you and your brothers and crew. Look forward to seeing you this summer. xo Sue

      • Jim Fry says:

        Over the years I have done some snow camping with the Boy Scouts. It was fun but I have to say I enjoy liquid water better than solid water. I’m sure it’s beautiful up north this time of year too. I will have to give it a try sometime. See you soon.

  2. Bill G. says:

    I have a dumb question. Do they still just use Calcium Chloride (salt) to de-ice the roads? Are they switching to Calcium Chloride or Magnesium Chloride? Are these substitutes as safe for the moose?

  3. Brant Larson says:

    We were up there for the trout opener..not the best conditions but was still fun to get out in the woods. We got one brookie , but had a long white knuckle drive back to Two Harbors. Hope to be up there again soon.

  4. Nita Wolf says:

    Hello and Happy New Year! Larry and I just returned to Northfield from tropical Costa Rica, in it’s mildest, summer season, in time for the big winter blast last week. It’s a shock! I enjoy reading your Northern perspective on the cold. Actually, I enjoy reading all of your blogs! Thank you.

    • Sue Ahrendt says:

      Hi Nita–Costa Rica sounds fabulous…always good to hear from you! Shelby is haunting Northfield this year–did I tell you that?

  5. Phil Frost says:

    Hi Sue! Good to see some moose thriving in a good old Minnesota winter. Let us know if you need some tips about Madison. We are not far. Daniel come come down and wrestle cows with me.

    • Sue Ahrendt says:

      Phil Frost….always you make me grateful for good Wisconsin cheese. Thanks for the offer! I’ll pass it on to Dan..although he still has to make it through another year of high school first. Actually–you can stop by and tell him yourself this summer….he’ll be back in the outfitting yard….24-7, June to Labor day….his favorite place, no kiddin’.