Between the Lines

We like to talk about the weather here in South Dakota.

But as the old joke goes, nobody ever does anything about it.

Comments about the weather aren�t limited to ladies or men conversing over cups of coffee during their morning ritual at the local caf� � after clearing their driveways of the latest snowfall and de-icing their cars.

This phenomenon of constantly commenting about the climate has crept into our latest forms of communication. We twitter about it. We post comments on Facebook about the temperature, or should I say, lack thereof. My wife�s cousin, in a demonstration of how technology-savvy we�ve become, took a photo, using the camera in her cell phone, of the digital outdoor temperature reading displayed on the thermometer in her vehicle.

She then electronically beamed the image from her phone to her Facebook account so that we could all see that she commuted to work in minus-10 degree weather.

There�s some innate satisfaction, you have to admit, in holding these conversations about the one experience we are sure to share � the weather. There�s something to gain, too, about the instant feedback one gets from others when you talk about it face to face, or tweet about or update your Facebook status with two simple words: �I�m cold.�

It�s sure to get a response from your tech-savvy snowbird grandpa in Arizona who replies, via his smart phone: �Just teed off at the golf course. It�s 68 degrees here.�

It wasn�t all that long ago that someone suffering through a typical, long, cold, snow-filled winter on the Great Plains did so practically alone. Farm families, for the most part, could be snowbound for days or weeks after a blizzard in an era of no television, no phones, no 4-wheel drive vehicles and no climate-controlled, fully insulated homes.

A letter I received in the mail from an acquaintance here in Vermillion reminded me of this. It arrived last week, shortly after we experienced what best can be described as a near miss following a storm that socked in parts of the state.

Accompanying the brief letter was an Argus Leader newspaper clipping of a feature story about a diary found by a Sioux Falls couple while they decided to visit, for some reason, a ramshackle, abandoned farmhouse.

Inside a pile of rubble, they found a pocket diary kept by a farm wife who, during the winter of 1936, lived with her family on the shores of Lake Shetek near Slayton, MN. She describes a winter in which it snowed almost constantly from December to April. Her accounts are verified by National Weather Service records that show that 63 inches of snow fell in that area that year.

Long before Twitter came along, this woman began tweeting in her diary.

On Jan. 3, she wrote: �real stormy and cold. We went to Walnut Grove (MN) and real blizzard. We got stuck, all roads blocked for many days. 19 degrees above.�

On Feb. 2, she wrote: Ground hog day. He saw his shadow. Daddy and Edna (her daughter) walked to church. The cat is sick.�

Another blizzard struck the next day. She wrote: �Bad blizzard, four below zero. No mail. Peeled pumpkins all afternoon.� The blizzard continued the next day. �A blizzard, and 16 below at 11:26,� she wrote. I baked 12 loaves of bread. The cat is better.�

Maybe this woman kept track of the days that winter as a way to cling to her sanity, as her family and farm were pummeled by one storm after the other. After all, isn�t that one of the reasons for keeping a diary in the first place? To pause, to reflect on the day, to remember what just happened while it is still fresh?

Now, in this day and age of social media, if we tweet or update our Facebook status with news that our cat is now better, we feel a bit disappointed if at least a half dozen friends don�t joyously comment, or at least indicate that they �like� this latest development.

There�s something to be said about keeping a record of one�s life and also keeping that record to yourself. I must admit not having the patience to keep a journal. And I tend to blab incessantly in e-mails to friends.

Perhaps that needs to change. I think about my wife�s grandmother, who wrote a few sentences every day in a spiral notebook. The writing wasn�t for anyone else but her.

Her simple journal and the blizzard lady�s daily jottings helped these two women get to better know themselves. They lived in a time when nearly all work was physical and demanding, and keeping a family fed was a daily adventure. Writing no doubt helped them clarify their thoughts, emotions, and reactions to certain people or situations.

In mid-April, spring finally began to slowly arrive at the blizzard lady�s home. �I washed a big wash today, and hung the clothes out for the first time since last November,� she wrote.

The next day was a first, too. The mailman delivered the mail for the first time since December.

Today, we panic if we leave home and can�t find a coffee shop with free internet service. When faced with such a dire situation, maybe we should pause and write about it. Even if we can�t post it electronically for the world to see.

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