Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

My Kind of Winter

by James Glaser
January 19, 2007

The National Weather Service says it should be down to 39 in Tallahassee this morning, but it is actually 43 in my yard. Yesterday we had a high in the low 60s. Back home in Northern Minnesota the numbers are +10 and -9, so the weather down here is balmy.

Having it in the 40s and 50s is what I think of as the best working weather a person can find. I worked a half dozen winters outside in International Falls, and now I don't miss that at all. Some how if you are living in the cold it doesn't seem so bad, but if you are down here in the South looking at the weather up North, you don't know how those people do it.

I bought a new truck down here and it has no plug in so that it will start on a sub-zero morning. I would have to have one installed if I were to drive up north this time of year. Every night in the winter for thirty years, I would get home from work, park the truck so I would be able to get a running start at the hump of snow at the end of the driveway if the county plowed in the night, and I would plug in the truck so the engine was warm when I cranked it over in the morning.

That said, it also meant that I had close to a full tank of gas and some alcohol in that gas tank so the fuel line wouldn't freeze shut. When I lived on the Big Fork River with no electricity, I would pull the battery every night and bring it in the house to keep it warm. A cold battery loses its charge fast.

I think back to all the hours of stoking the wood stove, shoveling off the decks, walkways, and the driveway. If your water pump was going to go out, it was going to go out in the winter, and if you lived in a trailer house, for sure you knew how to thaw your water and sewer lines.

Just thinking about all of that tells me that I am in the right place for winter now. Yes when you get older up north you have a snow blower to take the place of a shovel and you usually have the money to hire a plow or own one for the driveway, and if the pipes freeze, you hire a plumber, but there are right now thousands of young men and women with young kids up there still doing it the way I did, because they are just starting out and buying diapers is way more important than having that driveway plowed.

Yesterday I had to go to the paint store to buy some primer and the people in there were complaining about how cold it was. I guess my blood hasn't thinned as much as the locals. People all over Rail Road Square are starting fires in their wood stoves to warm up their studios. My place held enough heat from the sun yesterday that it was in the 60s in there, so I was just fine. If you are doing any kind of physical work, just being out of the wind and having it above freezing makes for a nice work environment. A tee shirt and a long sleeve shirt, and maybe a vest to start with are plenty warm enough. After twenty minutes of work you start to take off layers and having it a bit chilly, you tend to keep working so you don't start to get cold.

This week a lot of people were visiting my shop. Some said it was too cold to work and others just wanted to bullshit. I have learned over the years that I have to keep working when people stop in or I would never get anything done. Also I am not shy to ask people to help when I want to move something heavy.

We have a nice group of artists and craftsmen down at the Square and I have some interesting conversations. Usually you would think of artists as being liberal, but in the South you find many are very conservative. We go back and forth just knowing that we could solve the world's problems if only Washington would listen to us.

We also talk about what we are working on and techniques we use. You can learn a lot from people if you can get them talking about their work and that is always a safe subject. You never know how you might offend a person when you are talking politics or religion, but nobody gets upset if you finish your wood with oil and wax verses their use of varnish.

I am going to Mobile, Alabama today. My whole life, if I sold something big like a old car or truck, a piece of sculpture or a furniture piece, and made some money, I always rewarded myself with a new tool or some "toy," maybe a new gun, a dock for the lake shore, or even a few hours of hired help to do something I hated like plumbing.

Well I sold my house up North and I can tell myself that I made money, but if I add up all the hours of building it, and all the money I spent for materials over the years for maintenance, it was more like a forced savings plan. Never the less, I am going shopping in Mobile at a huge woodworking store. I am to the point in life that I don't "need" any new tools. I have everything I need, but there are always the tools you want. I can do hand dove tails if need be, but I have always wanted a dove tail jig for my router, and when my son comes down here this spring, we are going to figure out how to use it together.

Also this place sells exotic woods, and I want to buy some sand paper in bulk and a few gallons of glue if it is less expensive. There is another thing different down here. Up North I would have to keep my glue in the house or it would freeze solid. Also you can't glue frozen wood very well, so you have to heat your shop. In the mornings I would walk across the road to my shop and crank up the stove, go back and have breakfast and coffee and in about 45 minutes that shop was all the way up in the 40s. That seems pretty chilly, but many mornings that was 70 degrees warmer that it was outside. I had two huge picture windows facing south, and when the sun came up it would make the shop toasty on the coldest of days, but when that sun set in the afternoon, the shop would cool down fast.

I do miss it up North, but not enough to move back. I guess it is the people I miss. They are just wonderful. I am starting to make friends down here and people are people, but up North because of the small population, after thirty years, you get to know almost everyone for thirty, heck fifty miles in every direction. Fifty miles in any direction, and if you need help, any one of those people would help you even if they didn't like you much. That is just the way it is in Koochiching and Itasca County, Minnesota. Yeah I miss that the most.

Here I am and I have the best studio I have had in my life to work in. My mind is filled with ideas, and I am truly enjoying every day I go to work. I have found a wonderful women to share my life with, and as we would say back home, "you can't beat that with a stick." And they think they have weird sayings down here.

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