A recent blizzard that howled across the prairie reminded us that winter in this neck of the woods is something that has to be taken seriously, similar to counting your toes at the end of the day and discovering that one is missing.
You know it’s wintertime in the Northland when you bundle up and step outside and take a deep breath and the end of your nose instantly goes numb and your nasal hairs crystallize and you turn to your wife and say, “This ain’t too bad. At least the wind isn’t blowing.”     
Tough winters are the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of our seasons. A tough winter will work you over and leave you shivering with the words, “I’ll be back,” echoing in your head.     
Not that this winter compares with those we endured when I was a kid, mind you. Those were epic winters, biblical winters, the kind of winters one might associate with the word “smote” as in, “And the Lord looked down upon the pale Northerners and he was sore displeased with their wintertime driving habits, so he smote them. The Lord smote the Northerners with a winter such as they hath never seen; verily, he smote them really good, you betcha.”     
During one of the winters of my childhood, a road grader snowplow got stuck on the township road that runs east and west near my parents’ dairy farm and remained stuck until April. Now that was a real winter.  
Given the harsh winters we often experience, it’s unsurprising that we Northerners have learned to cope by using colorful expressions to describe wintry weather. It has been said that Eskimos have dozens of words that all refer to snow. In a similar fashion, our Northern culture employs time-tested maxims to convey the message that baby, it’s cold outside.     
These aphorisms run the gamut from, “It’s colder than a well digger’s heinie,” to “It’s cold enough to freeze the metal spheroid components off a brass monkey,” to my favorite, “It was so cold out this morning that I saw a couple of cottontails trying to jumpstart a jackrabbit.”    
But the main method we use to cope with these long, cold winters is hunkering. In essence, hunkering means pulling in your horns and drastically lowering your expectations. Seemingly minor things such as getting a car or a tractor started on a subzero morning come to be looked upon as major triumphs. Keeping the driveway clear and the house warm are worthy of a Medal of Honor.     
A big part of hunkering involves eating. My uncle Ray told me of enduring truly Arctic conditions while he worked on the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. He recalled how one morning he went to the mess hall’s kitchen and drank – with great relish, he said – approximately a quart of bacon drippings from that morning’s breakfast.     
This highlights how important it is for we Northerners to consume our recommended daily allowance of nutrients from the bacon food group. Other essential food groups include the cheeseburger, pork chop, T-bone steak and pork sausage groups. There aren’t many vegetarians living up here, but for those who want to try, there are always the jelly donut or the chocolate chip cookie food groups.     
It should go without saying that the proper beverage with which to wash down all these yummies is a large mug of steaming, black coffee. Coffee that’s so strong, you could stand a steel fence post in it.     
Once upon a time during my teenaged youth, we were struck with an honest to goodness three-day blizzard. When the maelstrom had at last subsided and a path had been hacked through the mountainous drifts that had buried the roads, I drove to my Nelson grandparents’ farm to see how they had weathered the storm. I should have known better than to worry.     
Grandpa and Grandma were hunkerers from way back. They had closed off all but two of the rooms in their farmhouse to save on heat, and Grandpa had a cheery wood-and-corn-cob fire crackling in his basement woodstove. They were glad to have a visitor and bade me to sit at their kitchen table. Grandma immediately served us mugs of ultra-strong coffee along with a delectable, calorie-rich snack.     
Which reminds me: Another important component for we Northerners is the cream and bread topped with brown sugar food group.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.