Stories to Tell: Sleeping Outside in Duluth’s Second-Coldest Winter on Record


"Yessir, kids, that wind howled like a pack of wolves and chased the snow into curves and slopes like I never seen before or since!"

“Yessir, kids, that wind howled like a pack of wolves and chased the snow into curves and slopes like I never seen before or since!”

Duluth, MN, 3/1/2014: 2013-2014 is Duluth’s second-coldest winter on record (Duluth News Tribune).  Second coldest winter on record; 57 days with temperatures below zero, the most by over two weeks.  Average temperature of 3.8 ° F.

          Tucson, Arizona, February 2, 2064: “C’mon Grampa, tell us about when you slept outside!  You know, back when winter was cooooold!”  The kids shivered at the thought, gathering eagerly around his suspensor chair.

That’s from Rudy’s grandchildren, 50 years from now.  Ya know, Rudy has never been terribly fond of the cold.  Like his uncle Kent, he may move to warmer climes when he settles down.  Or maybe he won’t have to, with climate change advanced another five decades.

But oh what a story he’ll have to tell about the winter of 2013/14, and sleeping outdoors through the coldest winter in Duluth’s history.  Or second-coldest, depending on how you measure, stretching aback 100+ years to the winter of 1878/79.

Of course he had no idea when he started sleeping outside in his tree platform last June.  The plan was to sleep out every night until school started in the fall.  But why stop when you’re on a roll?

By late in December it started getting really cold out.  Twenty to 30 below zero (F) for nights on end.  The media found out, delighted to have a more-interesting cold-weather story than dead car batteries and frozen plumbing.

I can hear him now, using the same language that amuses him so when he hears it from his parents at age 17.

          “Kids, let me tell you, when I was your age the winters were truly cold, not like this whimpering polar-ice-cap melting weather we have now.”

           “How cold was it, Grampa?”

           “It was so cold the mercury couldn’t get up in the morning.  By golly, it was so cold my boots started crying when I put them on and headed for the door!”

           “Yessir, that coldest winter just happened to be the one I slept outside all winter – the whole year in fact, 365 days, through mosquitoes and squirrels, owls and robins, heat, humidity, rain, and thunderstorms, and howling snow storms that pretty near blew the bark off the trees!

           “How cold was it, Gramps?”  The kids look at each other and giggle.  The supply of “cold” quips seems to be endless and they compete to be the one to ask the time-honored question.

           “Well see here, it was so cold folks took the polar bear plunge to warm up for a few minutes!  It was so cold the fish came out of the lakes already filleted, frozen, and freezer wrapped!  The ice on our ponds was over four feet thick!”  The kids stare at each other.  They cannot comprehend.


Stories to tell, indeed.  Way to be, Rudy.

Your Dad


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