SMITH COLUMN: Winter weather and the South

Published 10:30 am Saturday, January 29, 2022

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A chilly winter day for most Georgians would be like summer for those living in International Falls, Minnesota.  Last weekend, temperatures in the town known as the “Icebox of the nation,” hovered around 1 and 2 degrees.

Get this, there are 199 days during the year when the temperature in International Falls drops below freezing. This brings about recall of my intellectual beer drinking days with my favorite down home philosopher, the late Daniel Hamilton Magill, Georgia Bulldog icon who would often raise a toast to Canada: “Here’s to Canada, queen of the snows. But cold, God knows.”

The further south one goes in most places on earth, the warmer it gets. 

Right across the border from International Falls is Ft. Frances, Ontario about as far south as you can go in Canada which, on most days, is as chilly as it is in International Falls where heating bills in the area are only 8.1 per cent higher than the national average.

Based on my knowledge of Canadian lore and trends, I don’t recall ever hearing that anybody has ever retired and moved to Canada. This time of the year when you take to the Interstate and drive to Miami  —and down into the Keys — you note that a lot of license tags indicate that the occupants are Canadian residents. Snowbirds and there are plenty of them.

If you go “down under” to Australia in June and July, the natives will be snowmobiling and singing Christmas carols in those months. Last week, if you watched Australian Open tennis, you noted that the weather was akin to what you might find in Miami.

In Sydney and Melbourne, during our winter months, it is summertime down under and the living is easy. Once at St. Andrews in the month of July, I had an occasion to visit Peter Thomson, the Australian golfer who won the British Open five times, three of them consecutively.   

Thomson, in addition to being an annual competitor in the Open championship, was a sports columnist for “The Age,” the leading newspaper in Melbourne. 

As we talked about the weather in Scotland, which can sometimes be less than balmy, even in summer, he noted that it was “far better” than the weather in Melbourne. “It gets bloody cold down there this time of the year,” he said.

Having grown up in the Deep South, I, nonetheless often enjoy winter weather.  I am not a fan of hot weather and consider one of my greatest achievements in life came when I was able to afford central air conditioning.

I like the fall most of all, and when the weather segues into the chill of December, I prefer winter weather over what we get in July, August and September.

There is nothing quite like skiing the Rockies, but the best thing about such an excursion is that when the day ends and you can take off those heavy boots, and sit by a comforting fire with a cold beer. Unless you are good at it, skiing is work.

Ice fishing? Got invited to do that one winter while on a trip to Minneapolis.   We went out on Lake Minnetonka, found a spot to our liking and got underway. First, the host took out a big auger, cranked up the motor attached and soon had a nice hole in the lake. He baited a hook attached to a line, anchored to two small pieces of plank. 

Soon a northern pike sucked down a shiner with abandon. While the thrill of casting and setting a hook and reeling in a trout on the Chattahoochee offers greater thrill, it was such a unique experience to ice fish that I couldn’t wait to try it again — once my toes and hands thawed out. 

It was more fun, however, when I got back to the North Star Inn, took a shower and joined the guests at the greatest piano bar I have ever patronized.   

When the wind chill, wherever, makes a polar bear’s day, then I pine for Georgia’s summertime high thermometer days. When the weather has that biting edge, I’m ready to return to my summer roots.