Every morning the sun comes in a little earlier, a little brighter. It’s the time of year when hope of spring washes over all of us at high latitudes just a bit more every day. But the sun is still a bit brittle on these clear days, shining over a planet that is naked to the vastness of the universe. Cloudless days are cold days as the heat of the previous day radiates back out into space while we sleep under a pile of blankets, waiting.
A few weeks ago we woke up to –15F, but 36 hours later the temperature was 45F as a warm patch drifted over us. That’s life in the middle of a vast continent, and it wears on people. When you don’t even know how to get dressed in the morning it’s hard to feel confident about anything, even on a glorious warm day. Our world is cranky, sullen, and a bit detached. That’s life in the middle of a vast continent like North America waiting for Spring.
I have what I call “The General Theory of Climate and Culture”. The idea is that, given time, a people will develop a culture that reflects their climate more than anything else. Minnesotans are a bit more introspective and prone to depression than people who live in warmer places. We tend to be polite because the alternative is more stress in our lives than anyone needs, given what we already deal with.
Jimmy Buffet put it more eloquently in “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”.
It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane
I take this as a theme song for my own life.
The beauty of the General Theory is that it tells us that we’re not as in control of our lives as everyone wants to believe. The over-simplification can be forgiven because it has a lesson deep within it – no mater how intense we get, we’re just kidding ourselves if we think we’re as sophisticated as our fancy toys tell us we are.
Long before Europeans arrived, the natives who lived here had a tendency to wander the vast reaches of this rich continent, hunting when they could and hunkering down for the Winter when they had to. North Americans today are not much different, moving on to follow careers when the old town dries up and the work gets slim. When the going gets tough, we pack up and leave. It doesn’t matter if you speak English, Spanish, French, or Algonquin – all of the people of North America respond about the same way to adversity. We tend move on and make a new opportunities.
Some mysterious force gave us this inclination regardless of where we came from long ago. As the sun and the temperature careens up and down at the start of March, it’s pretty easy to see where it came from.
People in Minnesota stay here as long as the opportunities seem to outweigh the pressure of a long dark Winter that ends so haphazardly. We have a settled, civilized life to the extent that we make it happen. It’s a fiction, a story that doesn’t have a lot of action or adventure but meanders along with the sometimes pointless ring of truth. But we get to write it for ourselves, together. In the end the guts it takes to get up and face another cold day that is daring and bright is all the adventure we need.
Someday soon it will be Spring. We’ll get through the Tournament Season here in Saint Paul and have a lot of fun with the people who come to visit us once a year for wrestling or hockey. For now we just get through it and see what comes. As nasty as this big continent is, it tends to provide us with everything we need. That’s the hope that propels us to the other side. We are a people defined by our climate, even when it’s not especially kind to us first thing in the morning.