Winter in Cornwall, Winter in Minnesota

It’s winter here, and it’s behaving the way winter does in Cornwall. I can’t bring myself to say it’s cold.

I lived through forty Minnesota winters, but through all that I never really was a Minnesotan, I was a transplanted New Yorker, but there’s nothing like transplanting myself again to let me know exactly how much of a Minnesotan I became. Because this isn’t cold. It’s chilly, yes, but that’s as far as I can go.

A quick break here for anyone who’s not sure where Minnesota is: Fold the US in half from north to south and it’s right there on the fold, up by the Canadian border. Okay, more or less on the fold. I haven’t actually tried this, but you get the idea. It’s inland, it’s north, and it’s cold beyond anything I ever imagined as a kid in New York City.

Minneapolis after a 15-inch storm in 2010. The Metrodome roof collapsed under the weight of the snow. Again.

Not Cornwall. This is Minneapolis after a 15-inch storm in 2010. The Metrodome roof collapsed under the weight of the snow. Again. Photo by Kevin Jack

Minnesotans talk about Minnesota macho, and that doesn’t have anything to do with bullfights or bar fights or street fights, it has to do with the cold. The high school kids who wait bare headed for the bus at twenty below, their ears daring the frost to bite them? They’re an emblem of Minnesota macho. The auto mechanic I used to know who refused to own gloves (or a hat, while we’re at it), even when he had to work on a car outside in January? You got it. We all had our own version of it, even those of us who went out in so many layers of clothes that we couldn’t lower our arms to our sides. We might look like giant fire hydrants, but we all found some small way to defy the cold—or to tell ourselves we had. Some days, just getting to work qualifies you: You dig out the car; you start the car; you drive the car over ice or snow without having a wreck. Or you wait for the bus. It’s heroic, all of it. There are days when you’d be forty degrees warmer (that’s Fahrenheit) it you sat in your refrigerator. And you could have a snack while you were at it.

Minnesota winters drive people to all sorts of extremes. If you talk about getting cabin fever, everyone knows what you mean: You’ve been stuck inside too long and you’re getting a little strange. When I worked for a writers organization, we gave the winters credit for the number of writers the state produced. This year’s winter has driven P. to working literary jigsaw puzzles. He writes, “As Ezra Pound wrote, ‘Winter is icumen in. Lhude sing goddamn.  Stoppeth bus and sloppeth us. Sing goddamn,’ etc.

“If April with his shoures soote pierces the drought of March, it’ll be a fooken miracle.”

Umm, yes. I guess that’s true. But I’m in Cornwall, and last night we had (gasp, wheeze) a frost. Yes, folks, the temperature dipped one or two horrifying degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. Not only that, some white stuff fell out of the sky in the late afternoon, and since it didn’t stick I’m willing to admit that it looked very pretty while it did it. And the weather folk on radio and TV were all cranked up about it: Cold! Snow!

Well, okay, north of here the weather may be doing something vaguely serious. I’m not there and I can’t say. Cornwall’s the southern bit of the UK, where Britain sticks its toe into the Atlantic, so it’s warmer than the rest of the country. But I listen to the weather forecasts and I swear, even after eight—almost nine—years, I fall for it. I’m ready to wrap myself in a quilt before I go out, since I gave away my winter coat when I left Minnesota and my current one would barely stand up to a Minnesota spring. Then I look at the numbers and realize I’ll be fine. Last night we slept with the window open (that’s for one of the cats; he campaigns all night if he’s locked in), and no heat, thanks. It was fine.

So when someone says, “It’s cold,” as surely they will at some point during the day, I’ll manage to say, “It is chilly.” And I’ll make it sound agreeable, almost as if I’m agreeing, but I’m not exactly.

52 thoughts on “Winter in Cornwall, Winter in Minnesota

  1. I’m from New England, where it gets cold, but I agree, there is no cold like Midwest cold. I was on a flight to Chicago once where the pilot announced there was a “windchill warning” (-20°F or some ridiculous temperature like that) in effect and warned passengers that being out of doors for any time at all would be life threatening.

    Of course, Siberians are probably running around in cutoffs and bikini tops in -20° below weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve already said that I’m not exactly a Minnesotan, so I’m expecting to be challenged on this, but I wouldn’t guess any Minnesotan would consider -20 life-threatening–not if you’re dressed for it and not sleeping in the snowbanks. It’s cold, but the air doesn’t freeze and drop out of the sky or anything.

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  2. I grew up in Texas, was transplanted to several places including North Dakota where winters were long and brutal–think Minnesota without trees. I live in Florida now, the panhandle, not the peninsula, so occasionally the temps fall into the 30’s. People gasp, they’re freezing! I smile and bask.

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  3. I never thought of moving into the refrigerator. Ours is crowded & a bit dirty but when I opened the door this morning to fetch the paper, I got a blast of cold down my throat that hurt. The current controversy here is school closings. School closed five days last year, three because of cold, not snow and one day this year so far because of cold. Some of us believe that this is prudent as children do get frostbite (if teenagers decide to expose their ears, that’s their lookout) but others think we have become Midwestern Sissies and “nobody every closed school when I was a kid and I had to walk 12 miles through 20 foot snow drifts and it was so cold that . . . (fill in your favorite exaggerated memory).

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  4. “…it was so cold that the birds needed deicing before they could take off.” <– love this!!

    Great writing, this reminds me of how people here in Las Vegas think the winters here are cold. Yes, it hits the 20's at night – for about a week, then it's back up again. 53 just now, 72 today. Being from Michigan, I have to snicker at this. These folks don't know what real cold is!

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  5. It’s not the cold that gets you in the frozen northwest (waving energetically from Minnesota’s neighbor – Wisconsin) its the windchill.

    I’m perfectly happy in single-digit temperatures, as long as the air is still. When the wind picks up, that cold knifes straight through you, your long johns, your undershirt, your sweater, AND your heavy jacket.

    We laugh, sometimes, when news comes in from the south – they get a few flakes on the ground, they immediately freak out and close the entire city. We get flakes, we go out into the parking lot and do donuts with our cars. On purpose.

    We got a good foot of snow here last weekend, it ended around 3am Monday morning. Nobody missed work that morning, the kids were in school, and we finally broke out the winter boots.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I totally agree. Altough in my home country it is definitely as cold as in the US, I, too, grew up with very cold winters. One thing to consider, though, is the humidity here, which makes the weather feel worse than it is. First time my mother-in-law visited, she thought it was freezing here, and it really wasn’t. But continental cold (and heat) are a bit easier to cope with. 30 degrees Celcius here is living hell, while over there it just feels like a nice summer temperature.

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    • I totally agree about the heat mixed with humidity. But my ex–a Minnesotan–used to swear her felt colder in a New York winter than in Minnesota because of the damp. Maybe–it’s hard to argue with his experience of his own feelings–but I’m telling you, I never knew what cold was till I moved to Minnesota. All that damp that wasn’t there? The cold squeezed it out of the air.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. London had a dusting of what a Canadian would call frost today. I’m a housing officer and 2 years ago when it snowed I was heading out for visits. I had people cancel on me even though I was going to their houses, ridiculous!

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  8. Every season change I’m amazed at how completely I adapt. When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest from South Africa I thought the cold would kill me … My nose hairs froze and my eyeballs ached! Now? I get a little tetchy when the weather can’t make up its mind whether to be in the high 20s or low 40s (that’s fahrenheit, and it’s been happening a lot lately), but mostly I can take the year-by-year shift between low teens and low 100s quite comfortably. And I love the bragging rights I get for it!

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  9. Ha, I’m the same now when people say it’s ‘cold’ in Ireland. When you’ve suffered through 5 Eastern European winters, 0 and a bit of frost or sleet doesn’t quite gain my sympathy! And the whole country comes to a standstill if there’s a couple of inches of snow! Emergency warnings on the radio/TV, school closures, public transport sliding to a halt… definitely no Minnesota macho there ;)

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  10. Ha! I’m so happy right now:) I’m moving to Cornwall in June, and I was wondering a) what an American used to REAL winters had to say about the “cold” my significant other keeps harping on about, and b) whether I’d be the only American in the whole county. Glad to have found your blog!

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    • In our village, we have 4 Americans. That’s not common, but still, here we are.
      The winters do tend to be gray, and it does get dark early, but we still feel like we’ve moved to the tropics. What part of Cornwall are you moving to?

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  11. Oh Ellen, this is brilliant. I am from the south of Germany and when I was young in the 70’s I remember I had to go to school no matter how much snow lay on the street. You just had to be careful and if you fell you stood up and went on. Both my husband (who is British actually) and I laugh every winter when they start panic shopping in Norfolk because they predicted snow in Scotland (or in New York as it has been lately) lol. I really worry about today’s kids because they have no chance whatsoever to learn how to deal with difficult weather conditions. No wonder those youngsters drive in snow and ice like they are playing a computer game (Just reset and try again) and wonder why they actually do get hurt when they have an accident…. oh please don’t get me started….. :-)

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    • I never thought about the impact of computer games (reset and start again) on winter driving. Brilliant insight. I’m locking myself in the house next time it snows, and I’m staying there until I find the Reset button.
      I grew up in New York City, which rarely gets a serious snow and therefore attaches snowplows to the garbage trucks when it does. (Or that’s how it worked when I was a kid, which is in the neighborhood of 100 years ago.) When I moved to Minnesota, I was impressed by its massive, dedicated fleet of snowplows and its system of parking regulations that apply only to heavy snow, so they can clear the streets. Here in the U.K., when we get more than two flakes of snow and everything shuts down, inevitably someone brings up a snowy country and talks about how well they handle snow and why can’t we do that? Because it’s not worth it, that’s why. Because you don’t buy a fleet of snowplows and then park them for ten years, waiting for snow. What you do is wait two days, until it melts, then go about your business.
      Although, I admit, maybe it takes longer than that in Scotland. I understand the snow’s made of sterner stuff up there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I bet though they still have snow ploughs in Scotland :-) and I doubt those 100 years as well :-). Have a great week. It looks like spring is around the corner in Norfolk. Maybe its the same in Cornwall and you do not need to worry ;-)

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  12. Ellen,
    I learn a lot from your writing.
    When I was little I used to read stories by a children’s author Enid Blyton, who in many of her books used Cornwall as a setting for her stories. That is the only time I have read about Cornish life and now from your own writing. Oh yes, I have heard about Cornish pastry too.
    About its winters I know nothing, so thank you for illuminating me with something new.

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    • The rhyme around here is, “By Tre, Pol and Pen you shall know Cornishmen.” Although (as the writer I first heard that from wrote) “most of us don’t go around yelling tre, pol and pen all the time,” so he recommended a backup system–which as far as I can remember he didn’t go on to suggest. Lots of house names–and in the countryside lots of houses have names–start with one of those.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The Minnesota winter, you mean? When I first moved there, I hadn’t either and had no idea how to even dress for it. Once someone helps you figure that out, it gets better. But never good.

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