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The Long Way Home

If you’re reading this column you are likely a survivor of the Great Snowstorm of Christmas week 2022. With four days of wind, snow, brutal windchill, and blowing snow, you could say the storm was massive, unending, whopping, and huge–and not really Great.

This storm started early Wednesday and disrupted travel and life on the North Shore just days before Christmas. It didn’t gasp its last until Christmas morning.

Having lived the majority of my life in Minnesota, I am confident in claiming the Great Snowstorm last week is the worst in my memory–at least in duration. There may have been worse storms, but I don’t remember seeing four full days of snow and gale-force winds.

Last winter I was deliberately and gainfully unemployed, having chosen to avoid going anywhere that required a time commitment in case of a winter storm, winter weather advisory, or lack of daylight. There were a couple of storms that were doozies, but I didn’t have to drive in them.

The Bohunk signed up for some part-time employment last winter, and she had to contend with some treacherous driving conditions because of it. This winter she chose the deliberately unemployed status and thus, did not have to drive during this Great Snowstorm.

I, on the other hand, chose to be employed now and had to commute from our refuge on the ridge to the stoplight in Grand Marais each of the four days of the storm. My expected arrival time at work was 5:30 a.m. which meant the entire 13 miles had to be driven in the dark. With decades-old eyeballs, driving in the dark is a singular challenge. Add blowing, falling, and drifting snow to darkness, and my stress levels are stratospheric.

Already, my memories of this storm blur into one pile of stress-induced terrors. The drive downhill from the house to Highway 61 is taken slowly to avoid slip-sliding into snow banks. One morning, the last part of the road, always slick, was engulfed in a whiteout. I convinced myself to just turn around and go home, leaving my employer and co-workers in the lurch, but when I eased onto the highway I realized it was in pretty good shape so I ventured to make the drive.

The day before that trip, the first day of the storm, I got to a highway completely covered with a couple of inches of snow and more snow was falling at a rapid rate–did I mention it was in the dark? My high beams were useless of course, but the 17-year-old Subaru, Stella, handled the snow just fine. A car soon passed me headed in the opposite direction. I figured that it had managed to stay on the highway, so I followed what was left of its tracks in the snow to make my way to town at 35 mph.

Power outages were widespread. We had sporadic outages in Colvill, the longest of a couple of hours. Some I know lost power for a day or more. An inconvenience for sure, but think of how difficult power outages were in the good old days.

Lots of trees came down. We lost a stately, decades-old White Pine on Saturday night. Of all the trees around our house, it was one I thought would never fall.

In the end, I am grateful that I don’t live in Buffalo, NY. This winter storm dumped over four feet of snow on Buffalo and was preceded by rain and rapid falling temps. People died.

We didn’t have that at least.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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