by John Holbrook

(This monthly series is dedicated to those who live elsewhere but have always wondered what it is like living at Lake Hubert during the winter)

Hubert/Clark Channel (looking south)

The Month of the Cold

January is obviously the coldest month throughout all of North America. This is especially true for central Minnesota. Here, the bitter cold is not just a meteorological fact, but the cold also severely alters the lives of everyone and everything trying to exist in this part of the country.

So, how cold can it get, anyway? In the 40 years that I have lived in this area, I canít remember any winter without a few 20 below zero days. Usually, it is quite common to experience 30 below for at least a couple of times. Last year, it got down to 38 below on one brutal night. Twice I have experienced temperatures as low as 45 below. Amazing things happen at that temperature. The snow underfoot creates a crunching noise. You can sometimes hear the lumber in your house crack as it reacts to the intense cold. Cars refuse to start unless plugged in to a block heater or kept in a warm garage. The tires on the car thump along as if they were square. Fuel oil, if stored in outside tanks, turns to jelly. And any exposed human flesh freezes within minutes.

But January is not always just a month of frigid cold. Often the days are in the teens or twenties above zero. The endless cloudy days of December give way to brilliant blue skies and sparkling nights where the stars have a special brilliance. January also seems to be the best month to view the Northern Lights. Last year, down at the Clark Lake landing, my wife and I were moved beyond words watching a northern sky that danced with showers of color that presenting different patterns of light every few minutes.

One of my favorite outdoor activities in January is tracking animals. January snows are usually light and fluffy, perfect to see fresh tracks from the many critters that live around the lake. The best spots to see these tracks seem to be where there is a bit of open water such as by the Clark Lake outlet, or by the shore in front of any house that has heat pumps creating a trickle of water that doesnít quite freeze. Over the years, I have identified and followed tracks from fox, mink, weasel, coyote, and bobcat.  Once, I even came upon the scene of an aerial attack, probably from an owl, which had left a perfect impression of its wings in the fresh snow as it surprised some unfortunate prey. Chunks of animal fur confirmed that this was a successful kill. It is amazing just what goes on along the shoreline of Lake Hubert on a cold winter night, and it is also equally amazing to think that we share the lake with such a variety of interesting animals.

It can be easy for one to hate the January cold if you live here year round. However, for me, there are plenty of activities to enjoy including cutting firewood, cross country skiing, tracking animals, or just being out on the frozen lake viewing a canopy of stars. And, remember, for all of these January diversions, you will never need any bug spray!

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