Steven Simpson’s Blog

Please check every Monday for my most recent blog posting.  Most entries will be about nature or other environmental topics, but occasionally I will write about writing, family, travel, or the Driftless Region.

Dead of Winter

If one aspect of a long winter doesn’t get to me, another will. That’s just the way it is. Right now my problem is the eighth, ninth, maybe the tenth consecutive day without blue sky.* For those who don’t experience real winter year after year, there is an assumption that it is the cold that wears people out. Cold may actually be the least of our problems. It is the one aspect of winter that can be countered. Most winter inhabitants, after years of trial and error, have found the right combination of coat, boots, hat, and mittens to make all but the coldest days tolerable.

There are two elements of winter more draining than subzero temperatures. The first is darkness by 5pm. The second is slate gray skies during the few hours of daylight we do have. I would not use the word ‘cloudy’ to describe these dreary days, because cloudiness suggests clouds, clouds with billows and wisps and variations in color. As I look out the window of a coffee shop right now, all is see is a monochromatic off-white ceiling. This has been the condition for more than a week. Most days a little snow falls out of this grayness. At first everyone shoveled their walks and driveways after every dusting, but lately half of the neighborhood doesn’t bother until there’s two or three inches of fresh snow on the ground. These doldrums remind me of a lament that I sometimes heard when I lived in San Francisco during its celebrated winters: “If the sun would only come out for one day. It’s not for me; I’ve seen the sun. It’s for my children.” That is the way it feels – like we might never see clear skies again.

Still the Upper Midwest has turned the corner on winter.  There will be a couple more cold snaps, but the average daily temperature is creeping up. The days are noticeably longer than they were just a month ago. They remain too short, but everyone sees that the worst is over. Even if people are not motivated to shovel small accumulations of snow, they are rousting themselves out of hibernation and making plans for warmer days. My fishing buddies feel the itch and are talking about a Canada trip right after ice out. Manyu is booking our plane tickets to join Clare in New Zealand after she finishes her semester studying abroad. That trip will be in mid-June, which means I will be on the opposite side of the equator for what ought to be my first day of summer. Instead I will get to experience winter twice.

* I wrote the first draft of this blog on January 30 and posted it February 10.  Looking back at the weather for January, there was blue sky on January 21 and again January 31. When I wrote the first draft of this blog, I was in the midst of nine consecutive days of gray sky.

What If She Left and Never Came Back?

The most upset my dad ever got with me was when I dropped out of college after my sophomore year. I knew that I would return to school in a semester or two, but he was sure that I was destined for a lousy job and a life of could-have-beens. The second most mad my dad got with me was nine years later when I told him, with a master’s degree already in hand, that I was returning to school for a Ph.D. In his opinion, I was wasting three or four good earning years and educating myself out of most entry-level jobs.

My dad died at the age of 51. The spring he died I was a 30-year old graduate student going through a divorce. I hitchhiked from Minneapolis to Green Bay to visit him in the hospital. Other than worrying about my dad’s health, I was fairly happy – but from his perspective, I was a perpetual student in a failed marriage who couldn’t afford a car. He never lived to see me with a normal job after years of blissful meandering. 

I thought about my dad as I saw my daughter off for a semester studying abroad. Mostly I thought about how differently we saw our children and their futures. My dad was of a generation when most parents wanted to see their children with normal, even if mundane, middle class lives. I am of a generation, or at least a segment of a generation, who hopes our kids put off that life for as long as they can, possibly forever. 

Also (and this is the key to everything) I am among a huge number of older adults who do not worry about the talents and the personal drive of their children, but about the messed up world their baby boomer parents are leaving for them. My dad believed that the United States was the best place in the world to live. He was neither an isolationist nor a nationalist, but America was on the upswing, and his kids had a chance to thrive here. I, on the other hand, am relieved that my half American/half Taiwanese daughter is already a world traveler. Maybe she will find her better life somewhere else. Other than the United States, Clare is most comfortable in Taiwan and China, but those places have their own serious problems. She, however, is studying abroad in New Zealand. How would I feel if she left and never came back?