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Warm Enough | By Suzanne LaFetra

“It’s your human environment that makes climate.”
—Mark Twain

The day before my mom and I were to leave balmy California, the dogsledding trip suddenly struck me as insane.

I called the Wintergreen Lodge to double check that the XX warm parkas I’d reserved would be ready. “And how’s the weather?”

“Oh, it’s warm enough for January,” chirped the Minnesota saleswoman. “It’s one.”

One? One degree?

“Yah, I’m not even wearing a hat today,” she sang in her cheerful Fargo-ish accent. “Yesterday was really cold, though,” she said. “Minus 50, doncha know.”

Minus 50? A full 100 degrees colder than it was in my garage?

Last summer, it hadn’t seemed like such a loony idea. My mom and I have always gotten along pretty well, save for some frosty stretches in my teens. But rarely have we done much together besides mothering and daughtering. I wasn’t sure I was ready to break new ground—particularly frozen ground—with my 64-year-old mom.

“You’re lucky,” my best friend said when I mentioned the possibility. Her mom had trouble just getting through a game of golf. “Our parents are getting old,” she’d said, shaking her head.

My mom and I flipped through the brochures in my sweltering California backyard. From the pages smiled apple-cheeked people petting fluffy, snowy dogs. Glistening icicles dangled from powdered sugary trees.

“This is going to be so cool, Mom,” I said, fanning myself with a straw hat. “More lemonade?”

I didn’t really think about the trip for a few months. I patted sandcastles with my kids, carved a grinning jack-o-lantern, and peered at columns of dark smoke when the Santa Anas sparked autumn fires nearby.

Then, shopping for Christmas presents, it hit me: We were going to the coldest spot in the continental U.S. in mid-January. What had we been thinking?

I flipped through a winter clothing catalog. Sorel Caribou boots, rated to minus 40. I ordered a pair for each of us.

After New Year’s, my mom phoned me. “Ely, Minn., is colder than Moscow today!” she was breathless with excitement. “Even Helsinki was warmer!”

I went to REI and bought super tundra-weight high-altitude mega-wimp fleece long johns. “I need the warmest gloves you have,” I said to the bearded mountain guy in the green vest.

“Sure. Heading up to Mammoth?”

“Nope. Minnesota.”

He stopped rummaging through the box of mittens.


Good freaking question.

“Dogsledding,” I said. “With my mom.”

He stared at me for a second “Try these.” He grabbed a package of Hot Hands, little chemical patches you slip into your gloves. I dumped the whole box into my basket.


“Nice day out there, folks,” the pilot said as we taxied on the tarmac. “Six degrees with a slight breeze out of the northeast.”

My mom whipped out her cell phone and called my stepdad. “We’ve landed!” she shouted into the phone. “There’s snow everywhere!”

In the tiny airport, I saw things I’d never seen in California. A moose head hung over the drinking fountain. Past the security checkpoint a stuffed grizzly bear pawed the air with his club-sized foot.

“You the folks from California?” a chunk of woman in a fur-lined camouflage parka said in her singsong accent.

I nodded.

“Okey-dokey, then. I’m Wanda.” She motioned toward the taxi purring at the curb. She hoisted my mom’s suitcase. “So, you guys ever seen snow before?”

We filed out into the icy afternoon, the low winter sun glinting across the slick highway. We sped past iron mines, a store called Chocolate Moose and a town called Embarrass. Flakes fuzzed the windows while Wanda passed back pictures of her grandkids. She asked if we’d ever felt an earthquake.

It was 3:30 and getting dark when we arrived at the Wintergreen Lodge. “Oh, you’re the ones from California,” said Dominic, one of our guides. He introduced us to our fellow mushers, all from cold weather places. One was even sporting a T-shirt.

Dominic announced we’d start Dogsledding 101 after dinner. “But first, let’s talk about fears and expectations.”

“Yah, then we need to go over your clothing system,” said Lynn Anne, the other guide. She was looking right at my mom and me.

One woman said she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle the dogs. Another confessed her fear of falling through the ice. My mom didn’t know if her cell phone would work in negative-degree weather. I was wondering what the hell a “clothing system” was. And my feet were cold.

“Uh, I’m a little worried that my contacts are going to freeze to my eyeballs.” I had read that such things could happen. I wanted to be ready.

Dominic shook his shaggy head. “If you get it in your mind that you’re going to be cold, you’ll be miserable,” he said. “Besides, it’s only 15 below.”

We practiced saying “gee” for right turn, and “hike” for go. We gobbled hunks of Baked Alaska. Then Lynn Anne asked us to lay out all our cold weather gear. She picked through our multiple fleece jackets, the Polartec leggings, the boots with extra liners.

“You guys are going to roast,” she said. My mom and I beamed.

People started yawning, and made for their rooms. But we were still on West Coast time and wide awake.

“Hey,” my mom said, “let’s see if we can see the northern lights.” Her face glowed.

“You mean outside?”

“Come on,” she nudged me. “We’ll try out our ‘clothing system.’”


We pulled on thermals. Insulated snow pants. Then a fleece jacket. Another fleece anorak, then the shell. Two pairs of socks and two hats. The minus 40 Sorels. Glove liners and mittens. And for good measure, I yanked my neck gaiter up over my mouth. I was ready to rob an igloo.

“Mmmffphrgg,” my mom said, and poked an appendage toward the front door.

Outside, I squinched my eyelids so only a nanometer of pupil was showing and braced for the icy blast. I gripped the handrail and started down, like Neil Armstrong descending. That’s one small stair, one giant step for the wimpy Californian.

The spruce trees were like giant green toothbrushes with a foot of icy white toothpaste squirted onto their branches. We waded through the thigh deep powder on White Iron Lake. A half moon winked from behind a cluster of clouds, bathing everything in a fairy-tale white.

My mom’s breathing was heavy and I stopped. I thought of wolves. Of Robert Frost’s poem. Of the ice, solid under our feet.

“I forgot how quiet it gets in the snow,” she whispered. I pulled down my neck gaiter and looked up. Tiny diamonds gleamed in the black bowl of the sky. Orion, the hunter. The dog star. Polaris.

We hadn’t gazed at the stars together since I was a little girl, back when time stretched out in front of us like a long summer day.

“It’s wonderful to be here together, honey,” she said. Her breath hung warm in the icy air.

You’re lucky. My friend’s words echoed in my head.

I nodded, and deep inside my ears I heard the shushing of my heart, the blood running hot and strong through my body.

My mom turned to smile at me. Well, she crinkled up her eyes so I assumed she was smiling, because I could only see a one-inch strip of her face.

And we were warm enough to stand together for a long time on that frozen lake, staring at the stars moving slowly but surely across the wintry sky.

Loneliness | by Swathi Desai

Saturday Night Seduction | by Janis Mitchell

Senior Mommy | by Karen L. Pliskin Veronica Chater

A Girl’s Best Friend | by Karen Yencich

Warm Enough | by Suzanne LaFetra


Illustration by Susan Sanford.