Two South Dakota cities just made the “Top-50 Coldest Cities” list according to Niche Company News, and numerous schools in the area have been calling off school or shortening their hours. I grew up in northern South Dakota so this cold weather is nothing new to me at all, and I’m a bit surprised that it’s making the news. I’m a little envious because I don’t remember school ever being called off because of low temperatures when I was a youngster. I walked a couple of blocks every morning and afternoon to and from school regardless of the weather, unless there was a raging blizzard in which case school was dismissed. I have great memories of one storm that lasted about five days (no school!) and also knocked out our electricity. I remember my dad making toast in the coal-fired furnace in the basement. The snow had drifted so high that after the storm we could walk right up onto the roof of the garage. My brother, sisters, and I dug down into the drift to make an awesome snow fort.
I must admit that I actually enjoy all of the seasons, even winter. I take the dog for a walk almost every day of the year including wintertime, and he whimpers impatiently at the door when I start putting on my insulated coveralls, boots, hooded insulated jacket, parka, mittens, and scarf. The only skin exposed to the cold may be a little bit around my eyes.
After one of these walks a few nights ago, I was approaching the driveway and I started to get an idea for a poem. I was afraid that if I went inside to write it down I may get distracted and lose the poem — that has happened to me before! I went inside briefly to get a small notebook and pencil (pens won’t work when it’s this cold), and went back outside. I was wearing gloves inside my mittens, so I took off the mitten on my right hand, held a flashlight with my knees and started to write, but the pencil point broke partway. I turned the pencil and was able to keep writing for a little while, but the flashlight had a bad switch and kept turning off. It would work for a little while when I shook it, but then turn off again. The tip of the pencil broke off completely when I was about half done so I took off my glove and began breaking away the wood at the point to get to the graphite. Finally I was able to get the words down on paper. That was one of the hardest-fought battles for a poem that I’ve ever had! Did I mention that the windchill was -22 that night?
Before going back inside, I decided to walk down the road a bit so I could get a better look at the night sky. The moon was waning and just a couple of days past its full phase. The strong north wind blew the snow across the road, creating a hazy snow cloud that started at the horizon and went up into the sky about ten degrees or so. I noticed a couple of small clouds to the right and left of the moon, and while I was studying them I realized that they weren’t clouds, they were a similar phenomenon to sun dogs. I could see a hint of the colors of the light spectrum reflected in the ice crystals. I had never seen them around the moon before. When I got back home I asked my husband if he’d ever seen “moon dogs” (not the correct name, but the best I could do at the time!) I was delighted to get a small reward for my trials and tribulations, even if they were self-inflicted!
On the way to work a couple of days later I snapped some pictures of the sunrise just before the sun popped up over the horizon. I watched two sun dogs develop, and the colors grow more intense as the sun neared the skyline. In the space between the sun dogs, the glow of the sun below the horizon was reflected in the ice crystals above and grew brighter until it looked like a flame burning on the edge of the frigid landscape.
When I got home that night I researched sun dogs, and learned that they are a type of ice crystal halo. The illustration of halos on this page reminded me of a poem by Hafiz that I recently read, called “Something About Circles.” Here is an excerpt:
The moon is most happy
When it is full
And the sun always looks
Like a perfectly minted gold coin
That was just polished
And placed in flight …