Zero visibility on Highway 52

Why do people complain about winter, which is really quite magnificent?

Published February 20, 2008 11:45AM (EST)

Driving down Highway 52 last Monday morning at high speed so as not to be late for an MRI of my cranium, I passed a semi as it was barreling through a snowdrift and suddenly I was in a cloud of whiteness, much like the Rapture will be, but with zero visibility. I was talking on a cellphone at the time to someone walking through Central Park, which seemed, she said, on the verge of spring. I was also trying to fast-forward a CD to a cut of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" And then the whiteness swallowed me up.

As so often happens, I was OK by virtue of doing nothing. I blew through the cloud and out the other side and the person in New York said she wished I were there, walking around the Great Lawn and over to the Met to see the Manets and Monets, and then I hit another patch of snow.

It does get to you, winter. Some people quit shoveling and nest in their beds like rodents and live on water chestnuts and fruitcake and call up AM talk radio and light into the president. If it weren't for the fact that alligators can run as fast as 42 mph in short bursts and that deadly snakes can squeeze through a hole the size of a No. 2 pencil, these individuals would fly to Florida.

Myself, I would not mind a few weeks on the semitropical archipelago of Hawaii, which if compressed would just barely squeeze into North Dakota, which, if it were to happen, would upset a lot of golfers.

I remember walking along the beach on Maui and a young tan woman with dark hair tied up tight in a French braid trotted past me. I had seen her an hour before reading the great Irish newspaper columnist Myles na Gopaleen and now here she was carrying a surfboard, a creature from another part of the planet entirely. The sea lunged at her, over and over, and she waded in and paddled out to the big breakers. I was so sorry at that moment not to be a surf instructor.

Captain Cook arrived at Waimea on the island of Kauai in 1778, attracted by the warm climate, the fresh fruit, and the beautiful women and their sensuous abandon, and he died there the next year, having overstayed his welcome.

The Hawaiians had never seen anyone like him and assumed he was a god, which Captain Cook knew was not true, but he allowed them the freedom of their belief, since it was advantageous to him. But he and his men made pigs of themselves, and being foreigners, couldn't pick up the subtle cues of their hosts that it was time to shove off. So it ended badly, in a shoving match in shallow water, in which Captain Cook was killed. The Europeans got revenge by bringing syphilis, tuberculosis, influenza, typhoid and smallpox, but it took a while.

We don't have fresh fruit in Minnesota in February, nor do beautiful women behave with sensuous abandon. They sit in cafes and read novels about oppressed peoples and then they run on a treadmill for 45 minutes. We don't surf here, just toboggan, and nobody ever mistook us for gods. But we weren't hoping they would either.

We live here among skeptics and people who can irritate the hell out of us, garrulous oldsters and ditsy New Age ladies and teenagers with pants drooping down like they had a load in them and people who complain about winter, which is quite magnificent.

The sun rises yellow in the sky and the rivers and ponds are frozen smooth, the turtles asleep under the ice, and you drive south past the snowy fields, listening to rock 'n' roll, the phone rings, it's your friend in Manhattan asking if you remember the man who used to roller-skate in the park and quack at people, and then the Rapture comes, and you go sailing through it, arrive at the clinic, lie on the gurney and are retracted into the cyclotron, and an hour later you are told that you do not have a brain tumor.

You almost got tangled up with a semi and might've wound up in the ditch with 20 tons of birdseed on you, but you survived long enough to find out that probably you won't die anytime soon. Good. I have plans for March and April.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.

Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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