For the second year in a row, I am riding my bicycle into the winter season. Part of the reason is COVID. When the pandemic hit I dropped my membership at the university’s recreation center, so I have no indoor place to exercise. As soon as I stop working out outdoors, I am pretty much done working out. Even though my face, ankles, and toes get cold when I ride, I continue to go out because I have no other exercise option. I wear a mask on my rides, not because I worry about COVID, but because breathing through the mask warms the air going in.

I also am riding bike into December because of the comparatively warm weather. I will put my bike away as soon as there is snow or ice on the pavement, but so far there hasn’t been any of either. I woke up Wednesday morning to discover it had rained during the night. Nighttime precipitation at this time of year should not come in the form of rain.  

A big part of my daily bike ride follows rivers, marshes, and backwaters, so I can watch for first ice. The Mississippi and La Crosse Rivers continue to run free and clear. The quieter waters are at that point where they might be frozen one day and open the next. The shallow and stagnant marsh is always the first to freeze. Two weeks ago there looked to be about an inch of ice on the marsh. It had frozen on a single chilly and still night, and the ice looked like glass. Had a cold spell followed and put a few more inches of ice beneath the thin top layer, there would have been excellent skating until the first big snowfall. I assumed the ice was here to stay. Instead a sunny day in the forties melted all but the shadowy edges, and ever since the marsh has gone back and forth between open water and ice. On the days when the water is open, the muskrats have been unusually active. Like me, they see the warmer temperatures as one more chance to get out.

I used to think only old men and farmers bothered to waste time discussing the weather. I am not a farmer. 

Steven Simpson