While cleaning our four-season porch recently, I moved the flower pots I’d brought in for winter. The mums had dried and withered, but fresh greenery sprouted in their place. Coleus plants that had sported multi-colored leaves as big as my hand last summer were now tree-like stems with new growth.
On the floor between the plants, I found a little summer visitor who had apparently hitched a ride on one of the plants last fall. It was a tree frog – about the size of my thumb – gray as the tile beneath him, with the hint of a camouflage pattern on his back.
I had first seen “Froggy” in November and had put him in a pot, hoping he would burrow in for the winter. I couldn’t bring myself to toss him outside onto the frozen ground. My husband Gary had come across him just a week or two ago. Now, on this mild January day, Froggy appeared again, a welcome glimpse of summer in the midst of winter.
Seasonal anachronisms can be welcome or unsettling. One Christmas several years ago, our family spent the holiday in Florida, leaving behind minus-20 temps. Floridians were bundled in parkas in 40-plus degrees, while we piled out of the van, peeling off clothing as we carted our luggage into the condo.
It was in the low 50’s the next day when we arrived as the Epcot Center gates opened. In spite of the Christmas season, the crowds were surprisingly small that morning. Whenever we saw other tourists in T-shirts and shorts, we smiled, assuming they must be from Minnesota or Wisconsin.
By noon, the crowds had swelled as the sun coaxed the thermometer into the 70’s. It didn’t feel like December. I stared at huge displays of poinsettias – outdoors! In December! My Minnesota blood yearned to pull them all indoors before the sun set.
Without snow, it didn’t seem like Christmas. Nicely landscaped tropical plants bloomed in the middle of winter near the open water in the man-made pools outside our condo. I felt like a fish out of frozen water.
We made the most of Christmas in Florida, even boasting to friends back home, “Yeah, it’s 78 degrees here today. What’s it up there? Twenty-four below? Bummer.”
Secretly I yearned for a warm house just a solid door away from the killing cold. I wanted to curl up on my own sofa, wearing layers of mismatched clothing, wrapped tightly in a fleece throw beneath my full spectrum lamp, and read a good book. Sitting on a plastic lounger by the condo pool was nice, but not for Christmas. I vowed never to do Christmas in Florida again.
Trips to warmer climes in the “-ember” months only make winter in northern Minnesota seem longer. You return from Arizona after Thanksgiving, and the lake that was open when you left is now frozen. You have all of winter ahead of you.
By mid-January or February, though, a trip to someplace warm for a week or two can feel pretty good. You can escape the bitter cold of Minnesota for a few days on a beach or in a desert, knowing that you’ll return to a few short weeks of winter: still enough time to ski the trails, build a snowman, or sled the big hill; but spring is within grasp.
This January started off fairly mild. I could sweep light snow off the patio in my sweat pants, tennis shoes and long-sleeved T-shirt. When the cold snap came, I avoided leaving the house, curled up with a good book by the fire in my mismatched clothes, and let the dog sleep at my feet; but after a few sub-zero days, thoughts of Cozumel crowded in.
On moderate winter days, I ski the Fern Lake Trail and think about hot summer days when we walked this same path with Deet-soaked feet to ward off ticks. By February, I grow tired of the bare gray trees and wait for budding birch, early blooms, and open lakes.
It works the other way, too. In the summer, when I’m kayaking around the lake, I remember skating the same route on fresh, smooth ice a few winters back. When I’m biking a trail on a hot, humid day, I think about how good it would feel to slip into my ski boots and fall into the rhythm of a cross-country tour.
The view from my kitchen window through the bare trees at the frozen lake won’t change much until late April, but on the porch my summer pots sprout fresh greenery. And Froggy sleeps. He burrows under a coleus plant. I wonder if his little frog brain dreams of summer.
SUE BRUNS retired in 2010 as assistant principal at Bemidji High School after 35 years in education. She now supervises student teachers for Bemidji State University.