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TD Mischke’s New Book Will Gas You Up for Minnesota Winter

‘Winter in the North is one of the more extraordinary things to happen on planet earth,’ says the longtime Twin Cities writer/radio host/podcaster/musician.

Skywater Publishing Cooperative

Let’s fucking gooooooooooooooo!!!

That might be how you feel about the coming winter after reading TD Mischke’s new book Winter’s Song: A Hymn to the North (Skywater Publishing Cooperative, 186 pages). That’s what happened to me. I usually come into winter with at least 60% of that energy anyway; I feel like cold air gives me access to emotional registers unavailable during any other time of year, most things look better covered in snow, and bugs are on some bullshit. But I’m walking with my chest particularly out after reading the longtime local writer and radio personality’s new “book” extolling the virtues and alienness of the cold, snowy, dark, and barren months.   

I only put “book” in quotes because, while it’s undeniably a book, it’s hard to categorize beyond that. Love letter? Essay collection? Manifesto? Through essays, short stories, poems, profiles, and interviews, Mischke puts words to all the ways that winter in the American North—which he defines as northern Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, and eastern Montana—produces flavors of experience that no other season or climate can replicate. 

“Winter in the North is one of the more extraordinary things to happen on planet earth,” Mischke tells us during a break from recording episodes of his excellent, long-running podcast, The Mischke Roadshow. “There are just so many experiences that are wholly unique to that season, and are quasi-otherworldly. And when something is that powerful and that dominant, it affects you in ways you may not even know or understand, especially if you've been immersed in it all your life. I just thought that was real and wild and wonderful and bizarre and interesting and I wanted to write about all of it.”

The 22 staccato chapters range in genre but are uniformly tight in scope. One focuses on the culture of pushing cars out of the snow. Another is a poem about how staring out the window hits different in the winter. A short story about an ominous crime while enjoying an outdoor skating rink. A profile of a guy obsessed with dialing in the perfect winterwear for every type of day. A meditation on fire. And so on.  

Mischke does so with more or less full earnestness and a spiritual inflection. Words like “wonder,” “awe,” “reflection,” and “amazement” abound, and the prose style could be described as gobsmacked. But my fellow cynical pricks can rest assured he manages to do so without tipping into the realm of the saccharine or cornball. It also doesn’t—unlike, even the most patriotic winter stan has to admit, Minnesota’s winter—drag on longer than it needs to. 

I could go on. But in lieu of falling into the saccharine or cornball or too-long myself, I’ll point to the source material and leave you with a handful of passages I highlighted from the book, in no particular order:  

Outside, Evelyn felt the winter move into her lungs and renew her, sending a crisp vigor through her aging body. She felt as if she’d just had a restful night’s sleep. She lifted her face to the sky and felt massaged by the elements, the way a cool shower soothes on a hot summer afternoon.

Johnny claimed dressing for a winter day could change his emotional state and his level of confidence. When he got it just right, he said the outdoors could feel like another room in the home, only more alive and vaster. It’s then that he knew he had perfectly matched his ensemble with the weather. The comfort was exquisite, he told me, and the sense of satisfaction almost intoxicating.

Only a playful god with a deep love of childhood could decide that this beautiful blue planet would be made more entertaining if seven inches of confetti were dumped upon it.

Being cozy, warm, and snug, in an agreeable, intimate environment, enjoying simple pleasures with those closest to you, is one way citizens of the North have gotten through long winters since the invention of those winters.

And when the snow is fresh and new, so too is life. I’m shaken awake. Change is something I too often don’t realize I need until I get it, but without it, I slip into routine, and too much routine leads to sleepwalking. Leave the house after the first snow, however, and walk into a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar, and everyone is carrying a palpable new energy, operating at a slightly different frequency.

Despite the hardships that will befall them in this bone-chilling new world, they’ve fallen in love with the idea of one season each year offering such an astounding shift in presentation, with so many new ways to experience being alive. Their world is given a kind of energy transfusion, a new and powerfully novel energy to keep the days on this earth from getting stale and boring.

Winter is for the children, and falling back in love with winter, as an adult, means allowing the child still inside you to reemerge. It’s a marvelous reunion.

The cold is a brisk balm, he determined. It can wake every sleeping cell in the body. It sharpens the mind and fires up the blood. Thoughts come into focus, clear and defined, and the sight of the breath gives one the sense of a body with its motor running.

Mac Meade is also enamored with the North’s winter silence. It has almost a mystical effect on him. "There’s simply no silence like the silence of one of those crystal-cold winter nights," he said. "It’s very hard for me to describe the effect this has on me, but I just crave it. Everything is stone silent and crystal clear. Everything is so pure and clean and crisp. There’s just something about it that I love. A tradition for me every year is to find the night that I think is going to be the absolute coldest night of the year and I walk out in the darkness and stand in the middle of a frozen lake. I just stand there. There’s an intensity that I experience there that I just can’t experience any other time."

She said a snowfall is the one thing that never fails to place her in a "state of grace," and she’s come to view it as nature’s most sacred act. "I always feel indebted to snow. The sight of something so pure and so angelic falling from the heavens immediately arrests my attention and I stop what I’m doing to feel a great calm come over me. Notice what a snowfall actually does. It demonstrably stills the world. It covers plants and those things that otherwise might move with the wind. As it falls, things settle in place, and the world gets noticeably quieter. Snowfall has the power, all by itself, to immediately shift one to a state of contemplation. The world after a snowfall appears hushed. I don’t know any individual act of nature that speaks more directly to the soul."

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