This week’s exercise in A Year in the Life asked me to think of a place I had lived, and then to think of a feature that place was famous for, using “The Bridges of Madison County” as a title style guide. Although I was supposed to imagine that I was going on an excursion to study this phenomenon, I ended up writing mine as though I were giving advice to someone coming TO the area on an excursion.
I wrote about snow in Southwest Minnesota, where I grew up and then lived again for a couple years before I got married.
The Snowdrifts of Lyon County
The challenge is that they are both pervasive and elusive. To see them being born is a thing to behold, if, in fact, you can behold anything at all. If you’re in your car when it happens, you will be lost in paralysis in moments, nausea or sobs rising in your throat, your hands trembling against your grip on the steering wheel. Your legs will tremble, too, till you’re afraid they’ll simply spill all over your brakes and gas pedals. The whole world is white, and you must pray to stay alive, to make it into visibility again or to crash into the ditch rather than an oncoming semi.
It is one of the most terrifying experiences in the world.
Not so if it happens while you’re safely tucked away inside, inside anywhere. From there, it’s magical if everyone you love is safe, to look out and see a white landscape constantly rearranging itself like dunes in the desert, like something from Alice in Wonderland–you look away and suddenly nothing is what it was just moments before.
So here’s how to plan your trip–make sure to arrive a good six hours before he blizzard does. You run the risk that nothing will come of it after all, but this is a minor risk, far less risky than waiting for a sure thing and getting trapped in it. Then, stay someplace safe with a mug of hot chocolate, and watch the magic unfold.
If you can’t take the time off beforehand and don’t want to risk getting caught–and trust me, you don’t–venture down as soon as SafetravelUSA downgrades the road conditions to “fair” from “difficult” or “hazardous.” Don’t delay! These snowdrifts will be gone as soon as they’ve appeared.
Make sure to bring your camera and drive the Hwy 23 corridor between Granite Falls and Pipestone, paying special attention to the area between Pipestone and Marshall, Buffalo Ridge. This is one of the whitest, scariest places to get trapped.
You may be disappointed, knowing this, as you look to the left and right, at white mounds glistening and already starting to melt, dingy from children’s dirty boots tramping up and down them. If you are really lucky, you may encounter a wall of snow along both sides of the road that a plow literally had to slice right through, like blowing a mountain up with dynamite to carve out a road.
See if you can find snowdrifts that allow children to climb onto the roofs of their houses, or children sledding down snowdrifts instead of hills (when I was a child, I didn’t even know that most people used hills for sledding.) Find snow drifts that are carved into forts, tiny faces poking out of tunnels. For the full effect, pull onto a backroad or two where the plow hasn’t been through recently, and enjoy the fear and exhilaration of letting your car burst through as many snowdrifts as you can. But get the number of a friendly local farmer who will hook his truck or tractor up to your car and pull you out if you need to be rescued.
Try not to be disappointed by how quickly it will all disappear– use it as a reminder of how the world always has the capacity to change overnight.