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It is a well-known but poorly documented fact that snow changes terrain. This is the true reason that bears hibernate, because bears are cartographers, and snow makes mapping a vain pursuit, placing mountain ranges on street corners and frozen lakes in parking lots. Some bears try to stick it out a few weeks, pacing off the measure of these new features of the landscape, but eventually they put in a call to the central office and say, "Fuck this. Wake me when it's over."

Birds are the primary readers of Ursine Geographic (a monthly publication with a December-to-March hiatus), and for the most part they also give up on the northern climes during this time, except for some of the more poverty-stricken species, who cannot afford a subscription. Sparrows, for example, usually have no choice but to winter where they are at, due to the high cost of rental space in southern trees. By default, they have become the primary cartographers of winter; however, unlike the bears, they have established no central office, so the same feature may have as many as 12,000 names, depending upon the creativity of the local sparrow population.

Humans, who because of their failing educational system generally do not read or speak either Bear or Sparrow, are often unprepared for the vicissitudes of winter travel. They have been known to complain about the sudden increase in travel times which snow causes. (See our previous publication, Winter Survival Tips, A PAMPHLET, for some reasons why talking about the weather is a bad idea.) Humans are apparently unaware that snow actually increases the physical distance between two points. If it takes you twice as long to get to work, that is because your work is now twice as far away. Don't talk to us about the laws of physics. Snow and physics are mortal enemies, and Red snow marks the spot where the two have recently had a knife fight.

Some of the important snow-based geographical features that you should be aware of are:

SNOW MOUNTAINS: Usually named for a local landmark, or for the plow responsible for their creation, snow mountains are really just hills to anyone but a sparrow. Still, they have been known to hold secrets, such as plateaus upon which open-air teahouses operate, secret treasures of an ambiguous nature, and the occasional sleeping Yeti. Watch out for confused goats.

SNOW CAVES: Mostly built by children, or occurring naturally under picnic tables, once abandoned these become hostels for itinerant raccoons and interior designers (the guild requires apprentices to practice in found spaces before allowing them to graduate to journeyman). Cozy, but structurally unsound, and with poor cell reception. Those with a sensitivity to taupe should tunnel on by.

SNOW VALLEYS: Usually discovered in the course of taking a "shortcut" (the word has no meaning in a winter context), these are considered mythical by some, and little wonder. Reports of secret squirrel councils (as opposed to Secret Squirrel councils, in which the world nut trade is manipulated) and hidden camps of domestic terrorist lifeguards are among the wilder stories told by those who have stumbled upon them. It is believed that in one of these valleys the real George Lucas lives, plotting the eventual overthrow of the android who usurped his place so many years ago.

SNOW MEGAPLEXES: For reasons which are unclear, movie theaters created by the snow never have fewer than eight screens. Admission can usually be had for the price of glove lint, but since the only movie ever shown is The Chronicles of Riddick they are sparsely attended and always go out of business well before the thaw.

SNOW SALOONS: Populated by outlaw snowmen and -women, these locations are notable for their gunplay, cheap whiskey, and soggy playing cards. Tip: if the piano player isn't too drunk, you may be able to get a seasonal sing-along going, but only if you don't disturb the poker game.

As always, when lost in the snow your best bet is to follow a sparrow home. If you are unable to fly, we advise you to carry flares, and chocolate for distracting the wolves.
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This may not be Spring, but it's definitely Thaw.


Feb. 8th, 2009 05:20 pm
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Originally uploaded by Snurri
Today the sun made a cameo appearance in our little northern epic. The people of the Twin Cities left their homes with their dogs and their children and their dog's children's robot servants and walked hand in hand. Then they promptly slipped on a sheet of ice and slid into a slush puddle.

I met my parents for brunch and then we all went to the Book Sale at the Animal Humane Society where my brother works. I restrained myself to spending less than ten dollars and then we went to look at the dogs, which was painful because I wanted to take them all home, especially the 7-year-old Beagle with the housesoiling problem. I JUST FEEL SO BAD FOR HER. Dogs without homes make me so very sad. My brother is a saint.
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First, and most importantly: every part of your foot should hit the pavement simultaneously. Do not attempt a rolling gait on unfamiliar snow. (All snow which you have never walked in is unfamiliar snow.) Plant your foot as though you were a giant whose tendons would snap under your weight if you were to walk unevenly. Also, please note that moonwalking is not recommended.

When walking into the snow, lower your head. If you are a product of northern climes this is instinctive, as is the occasional back pain which results. (See also our upcoming publication: "How To Shovel Snow, A PAMPHLET.") If you are a transplant to northern climes, your ancestors may have been unable to develop a knack for watching where they were walking with their heads held at a forty-five degree angle. During the mammoth migrations they slid onto their bottoms that final time and lay there thinking, in their proto-language, "Fuck this." When they rose they turned from the course of the mammoth herds and traveled south to live on mangoes and shellfish. Either that, or they were trampled by a mammoth, in which case you are descended from ghosts. This probably explains the melancholy you can't seem to shake as well as the fact that financial stability always seems to slip through your fingers.

There is a myth that the Eskimos have a ridiculously high number of words for snow. The truth is that every language has as many types of snow as it has adjectives. A few of the more common types in English are:

* Wet snow: snow which is ideal for making snowballs, snowmen, snowforts, and snow cannons.
* Dry snow: snow which is used for martinis
* Crusty snow: snow which has a funny smell and habitually complains about kids these days
* Christmas snow: snow which starts hanging out in the malls around Halloween, making fun of turkeys
* Black snow: snow which suffers from emphysema
* Blue snow: snow which is particularly sensitive to the cold
* Yellow snow: snow which is cowardly and also not recommended for eating
* Green snow: snow which has just arrived at the front and is likely to get the rest of the unit killed if it doesn't wise up
* Clingy snow: snow which sticks to one's coat and melts when one moves indoors, only to send text messages every hour asking "where r u?" If ignored it will call your mother.
* Slutty snow: snow which hangs out on cars or buses for a while, then drops off onto the street, and ends up dripping into the cuffs of your trousers, which will then have to be washed.

Where there is snow there is ice. Snow is known for sprawling out across concrete and asphalt, looking innocent, but in fact hiding wide expanses of sheet ice. (This is colloquially known as "Fuck you" snow, not to be mistaken for the abovementioned "Fuck this" snow.) Sheet ice is what snow becomes when it has given up all hope. Sheet ice is bitter and doesn't care who it hurts; its only concern is that it not be hurt again itself. Mound ice is sometimes safer but can also be more injurious because of the protrusions. Gravel ice, in absence of clear asphalt or thick snow, is a sometimes viable alternative. As you stomp on it, crushing out its last forlorn hopes for the future, the friction should be enough to allow you to pass. But as always where ice is involved, be wary.

A word about footwear: snow has no appreciation for your kicky new shoes, and it cackles gleefully at high heels. Some say that this is misdirected envy, and that in truth snow would like nothing better than to pull on a nice pair of nylons (it just likes the way they feel against its skin) and slip into some Jimmy Choos. (This is sometimes referred to as "Carrie" snow or "High maintenance" snow.) These people are the same people who stop dead in the skyway to sing "Jesus Loves the Little Children" while everyone steers around them avoiding eye contact. The truth about snow is that it is always barefoot, and its feet are tiny.

All snow is enraged by corduroy pants, because they destroy the silence.

(See also Winter Survival Tips, A PAMPHLET.)
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I've just finished typing in the first draft of a story I've been working on steadily for months. It's 12,000 words long, and I'm thinking about calling it "Escape to Bird Island" (never underestimate the inspirational power of a road trip). Hopefully I can knock out 2-3k of thinking-on-paper without putting back the same amount of making-it-make-sense.

It occurs to me that the reason writers all wish they were rock stars is that rock stars can get pretty much instant feedback. No one in my favorite cafe stood up and applauded when I finished typing. WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE.

I gotta say, while it's less terrifying to have a road map--or at least a destination--for a story before I ever start it, it's damned satisfying to just stumble into the jungle that is my brain and see what's there. Having to ask myself at every turn, "Wait, what's this story about?", and having to change my answer every time, is maddening and confusing and rewarding and a helluva lot of fun. Hopefully the end product doesn't suck.

Tonight: Twins home opener. Despite the blizzard outside right now, baseball reassures me that it is spring.
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Branch Maze
Originally uploaded by Snurri
The other morning we woke up to snow, which quickly melted into a soggy, shoe-destroying mess. But if you were out early enough, it was beautiful. I took some pics in case you missed it.

Snow covers many sins.
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For those who are not aware, here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter. I say this because it seems that many of you are NOT aware. Here in Minnesota it is a daily discovery for many, like sheep who are startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by all the green stuff in the fields.* "It's COLD out there!" people like to say, and I will grant you those four words upon entering heated confines, although I myself prefer to go with a simple "Brr." In extreme cold it may be necessary to verbally acknowledge the temperature in order to shake it off. Neither of the two above variations requires a response from the hearer; a nod or a sympathetic smile is courteous, but not mandatory. This is how we roll. Meteorologists are permitted to talk about the weather at greater length, but considering that meteorologists are witches who manipulate the weather and feed false information to the public, there is little point in listening to them. THE SENSIBLE THING TO DO is to say very little about the weather, lest you be mistaken for a meteorologist.

IF YOU ARE NOT a meteorologist, and you feel an urge to expound upon the cold, to detail how cold your ears are, how you thought the windchill was going to kill you, or how the snow stuck to your shoes, YOU MUST LEARN. Winter is cold. Ice is slippery. Also, water is wet, speed kills, and Godzilla is angry. If you are a recent immigrant from warmer climes, you have a grace period of two winters; after that, you are no longer allowed to remark with wonder about the heaps of snow lining the sidewalk or the fact that, gosh, driving on snow and ice is sorta tricky. THE SENSIBLE THING TO DO is to swallow your rage against the weather until such time as a meteorologist crosses your path, at which time you may "slip" on a patch of ice and decapitate them with a snow shovel. The authorities generally look the other way in such cases. Be sure, however, that it is a silver snow shovel, or you will be haunted by the meteorologist's disembodied head, which will hover outside your bedroom window at night, singing "Summer Breeze" and vomiting needles.

FURTHER, if your vanity does not permit you to dress for the weather, you have already forfeited any right to complain about it. This is Protestant country, after all, and Protestants are hard people. (Look up the Salem Witch trials if you don't believe me.) If you will not wear the many layers of shapeless-but-practical winter garb of our culture, swaddling yourself in long underwear, boots, scarves, hats, hoods, and coats that give supermodels the appearance of being well-fed, then the merest shiver from you will become an invitation to rebuke. "You shoulda dressed warmer," we will say, in sober, disapproving tones, as if preemptively mourning your death by exposure. And you will deserve it. (The disapproving tones, not the death by exposure. Protestants are hard people, but--witches and meteorologists aside--not bloodthirsty.) Particularly if you will not sensibly accessorize for fear of "messing up" your hair. UM. Today, with the windchill, it is 15 degrees below zero by our quaint American temperature scale. Be a glam guy or a tough girl if you like, but if that is your choice then your suffering is your own business and no one else's. THE SENSIBLE THING TO DO is to shave your head, wear a hat, and install a personal generator to store all the static electricity you generate against the day when the meteorologists take out all the power plants with tornadoes and try to seize the government.

FINALLY, do not watch the local TV weather-persons. They are, in most cases, meteorologists, and therefore the enemy. Their subliminal messages will convince you to buy SUVs and crash them in the ditch for their highlight reels. Buy your own thermometer, ride the bus, and do not trust people who talk to you about the weather.

*Yes, this is an allusion to Douglas Adams. If you didn't catch it DON'T BLAME ME.
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Right, because there must be hundreds of screenwriters in Hollywood who'd come up with a better take on Wonder Woman.

Three hours of cable news as background noise has led me to believe that people are stupid. I'm not sure this qualifies as news.

It's too cold.


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