I laced up my boots and threw on my grandpa’s old-smelling army green jacket before I went out the door yesterday morning. Stepping into the cold, humid air, I was optimistic: I knew I’d made a great decision. Despite my humble North Dakota origins – or more probably because of them – I’ve learned well how to cope with the climate of the concrete jungle.
Despite what knocks may be laid on North Dakotans for talking about the weather a lot (see bullet 1 here…and number 8, and 14, 20, 25, 28, etc.), weather is a important factor to consider in every day life. When it comes to North Dakota, you better know what to expect from the weather because it could literally kill you. An unexpected blizzard, white out conditions, far below freezing wind chill…these remain significant concerns for modern day existence. It was only freezing rain in Brooklyn yesterday, not uncommon or anything; although, to be fair, I did nearly lose an eye when I stepped out the door into the ice-laden boughs of the tree hanging just outside my apartment door. (Hey, that’s no joke; I caught a branch in the mouth when I was 15. Don’t ask me how it got past my teeth. Trees are just sneaky like that.)
It was just after a long holiday weekend, with a 4-day week ahead, but not a soul was rushing to get back to work. A lady named Ella once told me that the A train is the fastest way to get to Harlem – but she was not talking about days like this. It was loping slowly along somewhere behind a long line of Cs on the way into Manhattan. The conductor seemed to be drawing out all his syllables
And even the riders looked sluggish, tired and wet like sad old dogs. We are all stuck here under the hohum of empty flourescent lights which cast pale shadows over everything, sitting in silence listening to the slow squeak of cold wheels on cold steel. If weather rarely makes the news in New York, it’s probably because people would rather not talk about it. They’d prefer to be up on Broadway preparing for their first performance or hitting the back streets in search of new threads or reading Pynchon at NYPL. But we all knew what was waiting for us out there…and no one was very excited about it.
Perhaps the greatest danger present to the inhabitant of the concrete jungle on a winter day like this (other than falling icicles) is the sudden appearance of perplexingly large puddles. From the “muddy, refuse-filled puddles that have inexplicably not dried in three years,” to those of indiscernible depth, the inhabitant must develop a unique technique for navigating each of these treacherous obstacles. Contrary to their typical behavior, these city dwellers will actually wait at the intersection, staring at one another interestedly, attempting to perfect their best techniques for the next puddle-jump.
Each intersection poses the same existential conundrum: now, do I try to get around this one or just give up and go home? I’ve become quite proud of my high ankle, water-proof hiking boots – since I rediscovered these boots, I’ve begun trouncing right through these obstructions with a haughty sort of air, leaving the other pedestrians behind to contemplate the path of least dampness. I get to chuckle when I hear stories like this from NPR in December:
But if growing up in ND, and now living in NYC, has taught me the importance of daily preparation for the weather, I’ve really begun to really wonder how we will prepare for that multiple-week journey we’re calling the Walk Across North Dakota. North Dakota may very well be the apex of extreme weather conditions in North America, perfectly oriented to receive the worst of all possible worlds. If it’s impossible to depend on weather from day to day, especially in North Dakota (where the temperature can go from freezing to 50 in the same 24-hour period), then how will we prepare for a 2+ week hiking trip? We’re going to need to be prepared for some extremities. At least North Dakota doesn’t have to worry about hurricanes (or do we…expect the unexpected, I guess). We pride ourselves on surviving this extremity every day, but let’s be honest, one thing it doesn’t make for is nice hiking.
When I got off the train and headed toward the library for work, I appreciated again the fact that my mind was occupied with these thoughts rather than avoiding all those puddles. I pulled my collar up against the sleet chunks falling from the sky, thinking to myself, at least I’ve learned to appreciate how mild a day like this was – I could laugh at these mundane dangers! What matter that the snow plows didn’t get our street in Bedford-Styvesant until Dec. 29th, long after the Snowmageddon blizzard of 2010. While I may not be Finnish and only partially Norwegian, I can sense a strain of sisu running through the North Dakota people and their ability to weather not only the bitter Nordic winters but extreme weather of all sorts. I stopped momentarily to watch as a similarly dressed pedestrian, in his own pair of tall thick boots, approached the upcoming intersection from the opposite direction. I gave him a nod of confidence that he didn’t seem to notice. Then, I watched him stride purposefully toward a large puddle, step one foot in and plunge the second foot deep beneath the opaque surface, far above his ankle.
Maybe the City was trying to tell me something. If there is one thing I am constantly reminded of, it is that too much pride is a recipe for disaster or at least some sopping wet socks. Neither of which you want on a long walk, no matter whether its through the streets of New York or the North Dakota wilderness. But don’t worry, we won’t be piggybacking our way across this state: we’re going to do it on our own.