winter

Posted by Ellen

The post in the foreground marks the border between the Canadian province of Manitoba and the state of North Dakota; the farm fields in the background are in North Dakota. Last weekend, 22 refugees, mostly from Somalia, walked for miles through these fields in below-zero cold and waist-deep snow, attempting to escape the United States and find freedom in Canada.

In 2016, more than 400 refugees crossed the border here, in hopes of being granted asylum in Canada. Thousands more attempted the crossing elsewhere along the northern edge of the United States.

A common story behind this journey involves fleeing a war zone or other hellish homescape and eventually making it into the U.S., usually by way of Mexico. The refugees plead for asylum and are taken into custody; they are imprisoned for a year or more, during which time contact with their families back home is extremely limited. In fact, communication with the outside world is so limited that they find it impossible to properly prepare their asylum paperwork.

Eventually, they may be released under restrictive orders, pending an asylum decision. Their petitions are judged inadequate, their claims rejected, and they are ordered to report for deportation back to Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, or whatever land they had fled.

Instead, they head north. Canada and the U.S. have had a treaty since 2004 called the Safe Third Country Agreement, which basically says that refugees just get one shot at filing for asylum, either in Canada or the U.S., whichever they come to first. But the refugees argue that the U.S. isn't really a safe haven and keeps refugees locked up and unable to obtain documentation needed for their claims; Canada, they say, has a fairer system.

As long as the treaty is in effect, Canadian border agents have to turn over would-be asylum-seekers from the U.S. to U.S. agents. So the refugees can't enter Canada by road. They walk through woods or fields, or in some cases swim, across the border in between offical crossing points, and then they turn themselves in to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The police call in organizations to help find housing and other support for the border-crossers. Immigrants from their homelands are contacted, to help with employment and translation. Advocate groups help with the asylum paperwork. Border towns, such as Emerson, Manitoba, the settlement closest to the fields shown here, are sometimes called on to provide emergency food and shelter.

On Christmas Eve, two men facing deportation back to Ghana, where one of them said he would be killed because he was a homosexual, paid a cab driver $400 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to drive them to the border. The driver let them out near this field in a snowstorm, with wind chill far below zero.

For seven hours, they struggled through snowdrifts to cross the field. Only one of them had a hat; neither had gloves. When they finally crossed the border and came to a road, they spent three hours trying to flag down a passing vehicle. Finally, a truck driver stopped for them and called 911.

Both men are still in the hospital in Winnipeg, where they face amputations from severe frostbite. One has been told he will lose all his fingers and at least one toe. Still, they say, their situation is far better than it would be back in Ghana.

This refugee railroad, headed north to freedom, predates the election of Donald Trump. But there is now much greater interest in sneaking into Canada even by asylum-seekers who have not yet had their claims rejected; they fear that even if somehow they can manage to stay in the U.S., their families will never be allowed to join them. 

There is also increased interest among Canadians in ending the Safe Third Country Agreement, in light of recent evidence that the U.S. can no longer be considered a safe destination for many refugees.

Posted by Ellen

There was a leetle, teeny bit of snow in Seattle, and then a taste of sun. Fine winter days.

But that was then; now, the snow has melted and it's raining hard, and predictions are that it will rain forever. It's easy to see why Lewis and Clark, after they spent a long, wet winter in the Pacific Northwest, judged their entire expedition a failure; this part of the world that they'd struggled so hard to "discover" was chilly and gray and mildewy and just plain unliveable.

Posted by Ellen

Snow fell on Alabama the other day, and bitter cold settled in. Same thing happened there back in about 1989, when Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa froze up thick enough to run around and slide on, and our three eldest posed for a picture on the ice.

From the bottom: Ted, John, Joe. Note the complete absence of gloves or mittens, and the general inadequacy of winter apparel. In his hat and jacket, Ted appeared to have a chance of staying warm, but the other two just had to tough it out. There is no evidence in this picture of the socks-on-the-hands and/or plastic-bags-in-the-shoes that we recall improvising for wintry moments in Alabama; nonetheless, they all somehow survived.

Posted by Ellen

In the wintertime, Franklin Falls, in the Cascade Mountains about 60 miles east of Seattle, takes on a dual personality.

The main cataract at the center of the waterfall flows too fast and furious to freeze up tight; it roars and splashes and spits spray all winter long.

But closer to the edge, the waterfall's trickles and drips crystallize as icicles, which pile up through the winter months into layercakes of glittery, frothy ice. And this year, by mid-December, the ice at Franklin Falls was ready to be climbed.

Our man of the mountains, Hank, showed up there then with his buddies and their gear: ropes, crampons, ice axes, and optimism. They were climbers who knew their way around in the mountains, who'd put in their time conquering knife-edged ridges and post-vertical cliffs and glaciers and whiteouts and whatnot. 

None of them, as it turns out, had actually climbed a frozen waterfall before. But they must have seen it done on YouTube. They were pretty sure they would be able to figure it out.

And they did. We heard that it was a little bit scary but pretty fun, actually.

Posted by Ellen

On the afternoon of March 7, 2009,  the ice went out on the White River in South Royalton, Vermont. For hours, the river roared and groaned, as its thick cover of winter ice was ground to bits by rampaging ice chunks from miles upstream. By the next morning, the river ran free, except along the banks, where rocks and logs had snagged some of the frozen slabs and beached them on dry land. Over the next few weeks, the jumble of beached ice melted very slowly, and then it was really spring.

Posted by Ellen

Downtown Seattle in the wintertime, as seen from the ferris wheel on the waterfront.

Posted by Ellen

In the winter of 2004, at the winter carnival in Québec City, eleven-year-old Hank met his doppelganger, the festival's mascot, Le Bonhomme. And Le Bonhomme met a little mascot of his own in smiling Hank.

Posted by Ellen

This sign is posted on a fence at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Long Island, where Norman lived in the 1950s, when he was a little boy.

He swears there was no such sign back then, which is probably lucky for him. Of course, he was going to run away and join the circus–he did see the movie Toby Tyler. But even as a child he suspected that he wasn't the daring kind who would fly through the air with the greatest of ease–and worse, he suspected that some of his friends probably were that daring kind, and so there would be peer pressure, and he'd feel like he had to try flying through the air, with the greatest unease.

It just could be that life's gotten a bit tougher for some of the young people growing up these days in East Meadow.

Posted by Ellen

Presidents' Day has already come and gone, and they still haven't taken down the Valentine's decorations.