Milwaukee winter “sucks”? That opinion misses so much…

Milwaukee-area winter weather has been in the news this week for reasons that disappoint me. Channel 6 reporter Angelica Duria, while outside in Racine reporting on a snowstorm, said “it sucks here,” and national and local media have picked up on the story. The title of a story by CNN’s Jeanne Moos is “Honest weather reporter: ‘It sucks here.’”

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/living/2013/03/01/tsr-pkg-moos-this-sucks.cnn#/video/living/2013/03/01/tsr-pkg-moos-this-sucks.cnn

I, of course, spend much of winter encouraging people in Milwaukee to stay active, to stay appreciative, to enjoy the possibilities winter provides. So I want to issue a call out to people in Milwaukee, Racine, and other parts of the area to be proud of our region! It does not need to suck here in winter, and we should be enjoying the kind of beauty that we have to observe this weekend. I hope that people here – or elsewhere – do not think of us as suffering through what people would not choose to have to deal with. Wisconsin is a great place to be at any time of year, with a lot to offer both to natives and to those who might want to visit!

Before going on, I want to clarify that I am sympathetic to Duria’s specific statement, in context. From what I can gather, she had been standing outside for around six hours, next to several lanes of traffic (perhaps the interstate), with little to do other than stand and repeat the same basic observations. I can understand why that situation (not the weather itself) would suck.

But we should not think of ourselves as being stuck in that type of situation. For a number of us – the poor, those who work outside, those who are unsteady walkers – the cold, and icy walking conditions, pose significant challenges. I do not want to downplay those challenges. But for the rest of us – we can choose how we relate to winter. As Bernard Mergen demonstrates in Snow in America, there are a lot of different perspectives that past Americans have chosen to use to understand, and reflect upon, snow. We, too, can choose whether to see ourselves as confined by winter – or as offered unique opportunities by it.

Stand outside and watch the snow when and where you want to! Find a spot you want to appreciate – perhaps your backyard, perhaps a local park, perhaps the lakeshore where ice is providing new forms for us to examine on a daily basis. (Angelica’s location is likely one of the least pleasant places from which to enjoy winter weather.)DSC03977

What bothers me is the broader difficulty we have finding how to entertain ourselves during winter; and the lack of appreciation we have for our place. Duria’s comment was followed by a reply of “Angelica, welcome to ‘Real Milwaukee,’” [the show she was on] followed by the anchors giving her a standing ovation. How often do we find people implying that the ‘real Milwaukee’ involves shivering, bouncing around trying to stay warm, and being stuck dealing with the weather, with little choice as to how we interact with it?

This weekend, I encountered someone in Appleton expressing annoyance that it was snowing again (light flurries at that time). I heard someone poke fun at himself by claiming he must be a glutton for punishment, since he’s from “cold Chicago” and only visits his brother in “colder Oshkosh” during winter months. Why is this the most common way we describe winter weather? Why do people making small talk (including many people working at stores where I shop) expect that their listeners will sympathize with them when they complain about winter?

What does this say about how we choose to perceive our cities, nature, and our weather? The Oshkosh visitor had a computer with him, so I will assume that he most likely is able to afford warm enough clothing to wear when he must travel between places, and that he and his brother can afford to pay their heating bills. So why do they choose to feel so limited in imagination by winter? Why do they decide not to focus on opportunities for snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding which are provided when regular snow cover is available? Do they normally like to sit outside in parks, but during winter they choose to stay inside? Why be willing to cut ourselves off from exercise and beauty, simply because our cheeks might be cold, we might get sweaty (no different from what happens in summer’s heat…), and we have to bundle ourselves up?

Is the problem that we do not do enough to appreciate our places year-round? Milwaukeeans have accused of having an inferiority complex (and the city has received more than its fair share of criticism and mockery over the past years), so this may be another part of the problem. Those who do not get out and check out our parks in the summer, those who stay indoors most of the time, might not realize all that the city has to offer. The more you know about what your place has to offer year-round, the more likely you will be to want to keep being a part of your community year-round. Community members can come together to look at different conditions as opportunities to experience something they might not have access to at a different time of year, rather than something they need to commiserate about before heading back to their own homes.

I suggest that readers might visit pages sponsored by Milwaukee organizations (Milwaukier than thou, Newaukee Milwaukee, Our Milwaukee, and others), to see all that has been going on in Milwaukee this winter. Bundle up, go out, and enjoy it! For another call to appreciate Milwaukee, check out my post at https://milwaukeesnow.com/2012/01/11/what-does-winter-weather-have-to-offer-milwaukee/ And then check out my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Snow-bound-enjoying-Winter-and-Milwaukee/136469736408344) to see all the winter-weather activities that have been going on, as well as images of the beauty of Milwaukee, Racine, and other places in our area. What do I think sucks about winter in Wisconsin? The temptation to turn away from the opportunity to enjoy our communities during the season. So I hope you will avoid that, and learn more about what our city has to offer!DSC03972

Update: I am happy to report that Angelica Duria herself is sympathetic to my position: she responded to a tweet: “@MilwaukeeSnow agreed and understood! Winter/snow in WI is pretty & fun! My situation at that moment, not so much lol”

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About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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