Going to School at Forty Below

Many folks reading this already know that our kids are homeschooled. The commute for this is only as long as the stairway--unless if they choose to study in their rooms. These days, the only student we have left is Addie, as both boys have graduated and gone on to other pursuits. Our homeschooling adventures didn't start at kindergarten, however. All three kids attended school in Grand Marais through the fifth grade, so "back in the day", the commute was much longer.

During these cold January mornings, I often remember with fondness the winter of 1995-1996. Anyone I talk to who lived up here at that time also can't forget that one. For those who love snow and cold, it was the best. The snow started to fall in early November, and went well into spring. I remember telling someone that I thought that my mukluks would see use for at least ten months that year. Our total snowfall at the end was 160 inches, while the average was 110. It was also typical for us to see the thermometer at 25 below, or lower.

Robert and Paul were both in grade school then. The morning routine was to get them up about 5:45, make breakfast and read stories, then bundle up and off to the bus by 6:40. We drove the three miles out to the Trail, where we would then wait for the bus to come. On the mornings that fresh snow had fallen, Robert would jump out of the van, and go out on the road to check out the tire tracks, aided by the headlights. He would come back to report on what he saw. One day, he said that we had missed the bus, so we may as well turn around and go back. His self-declared snow day was not to be, however, as the glow of headlights soon was visible around the curve north.

As is typical for us, we were then driving an older van, and it needed extra help if it was going to start up in those cold early hours. I adjusted my schedule so that I would get up at 4:30 to plug the engine heater into the outdoor socket. The snow had piled up so high, it was even with our porch railing. I would use a footstool to climb up on that snowbank, and then I could reach the outlet and plug in the heater. An hour later, Greg would get up, and he would fill an old kettle with red hot coals from the woodstove. He would take these out to the van, and slide them underneath in the approximate location of the oil pan. Using two methods to pre-warm the engine proved to be effective at getting the engine to start and the tires to roll smoothly.

The temperatures that year seemed to stay in the twenty to thirty below range for many weeks. These are unoffical temps, of course. But when two different thermometers are within a few degrees of each other, you know you're pretty close to the mark. I asked Greg what was the coldest number he read that winter, and he said minus 48. I remembered that morning, and also that it was a Saturday. The coldest range he could remember was 38 to 42 below, when heading out to meet the bus....So when our kids have their own children someday, they can tell them stories of how cold it was when they had to go to school.