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James Ferragut, Published January 25 2009

Winter: our little secret

You heard it for an entire week: “It’s cold outside, brother,” or whatever characterization you heard or uttered about the recent inescapable, hideously cold weather that descended on us this winter. It was the talk of the town.

OK, so we had a slight dip in temperature. The science of surviving outside amid conditions of 30 below and “winter breezes” of 35 to 40 mph is enough to make even the most rational of us look mad for living here.

Our new pastor and his wife moved into their new home on a day that welcomed them with wind chills of 70 below. This sophisticated, Southern couple from Arlington, Va., waved off jibes and reports from their congregation and friends about Fargo’s weather for weeks before they moved here. Their tongue-in-cheek response was a wry, “Well, they have heat now.” But the “heat” our new pastor was referring to is “our little secret” and was something he intuited upon his first trip here long before the weather turned angry.

Another true story, again about a new pastor and his family who had just moved here from Texas: As a blizzard intensified, the pastor was trying to talk to his father on his cell phone while driving from Moorhead to Fargo on what long-time Fargoans call the “Convent Road,” or the 52nd Avenue bridge for you newbies. The pastor pulled his car over to the side of the road because he didn’t want to drive in bad weather while talking on his cell.

Seconds after he pulled onto the shoulder of the road, a minivan pulled up behind him and a mom with three kids in tow defied the wind chill, knocked on his car window and asked what kind of help he needed. He didn’t need any help, but he learned what it meant to be a resident of the Northern Plains. People care for each other and watch out for each other when the weather turns ruthless. We don’t think about it, it’s not a choice. It’s the price of admission for living here. That’s another element of “our little secret.”

After a blizzard, Mother Nature always settles down to a bitterly cold but calm and clear blue-sky day: a day when the steam plume from the American Crystal Sugar plant rises straight up. A day when, even though it’s 25 below, life goes on as if it were mid-summer. People eat fast food in cars, sing along with the radio, laugh and tell stories, talk on the cells and commute as if it were just another day.

And that’s the beauty. It is just another day. How else could you explain 1,100 people showing up for a FM Chamber event at the Fargodome, on time and ready to rock at 7 in the morning when it’s 28 below? Or what else could explain the tens of thousands of people showing up for work on time, smiling as if it were nothing? Is it because our modesty demands this reality check, that in living here in these conditions, there really is nothing to it?

But look behind the curtain. We know that’s not entirely true; sometimes we can see we are exceptional. On blizzard day 2, I was driving to work on 25th Street South and coming toward me were five big city trucks, each with their monster V-blades engaged. They were in formation, the lead truck on the double yellow line in the middle of the street with each truck one-half length behind the other in a staggered line toward the curb. They appeared to be doing 90 miles an hour, plowing the crap out of the snowdrifts – the anti-winter gods taking on the worst Mother Nature could throw at us.

It was awesome. It made me so proud that I thought to myself: “Man, are we good up here or what? Let’s see them try to pull that one off in Arlington.”

We really are good at living up here. And that’s the best part of “our little secret.”

Ferragut is vice president of marketing for a North Dakota-based bank.