Winter in Missouri

I always wonder what people from other places think when they come to Missouri State University. They visit and have their orientation/registration over the summer, when the flower beds are all in bloom, our humidity is turned up to eleven, and the Ozarks is nothing but green oak trees and blue sky. They come here in the fall, when it’s even more hot and humid, but then the leaves start to turn and, let me tell you, this was one of the most beautiful autumns we’ve had in quite some time. And then they get through their first semester and winter hits.

When the students return this weekend, especially if they’re coming from the coasts, they may be in for a surprise. The temperature’s been hovering around zero the last few days, and the windchill was apparently around -20 Fahrenheit when I walked in from the parking garage today. If you’re an international student from the Caribbean, or from India, or just traveling here from Arizona or California… is this what you expected?

Business As Usual in Missouri is weather you can’t count on. Things can change in a matter of hours with fifty degree temperature swings, snow storms one day and tornadic thunderstorms the next, and an abundance of beautiful but deceptive sunshine. For those of us who grew up here, we’ve come to expect and even appreciate it.

I’ve only once heard someone from outside the Ozarks share their opinion on our manic depressive weather patterns. She was a student from South Africa, a place that Americans consider with awe and a bit of trepidation, mostly because it has the word “Africa” in it. We assume it’s all kinds of dangerous and challenging to live in, but she was perplexed at why anyone would live in America, let alone Missouri. “Back home we have to worry about crime and other things,” she said, “but here the very country tries to kill you! There are tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and droughts… every year! Why would anyone live here?!”

Why indeed. There are certainly places on the earth’s surface that are more peaceful and safe to live… but for the same reason we can’t imagine why someone would continue to live in Israel with all the strife there over the last… however many millennia, we can’t imagine living anywhere else. America is my home, and I really like Springfield. We get the occasional tornado, but compared to a lot of other places, it’s pretty OK.

At least, to me. I’m not sure our longer distance students agree.


Part of me always wonders why Nose runs
wet and the cold (which should freeze) instead melts;
heat should do that job. Goosebumps pebble in
vain–by bunching up, I feel less covered.
Hair’s huddling at the apex, and the air
is going through to the back of my teeth.
It hurts, but I’m

                                   watching dragon’s breath, grinning to ache
because that pain means life, though only
those who know winter well can understand.
Swinging bare arms with the exuberance
of a ten year old self who feels only
adventure; who would search the snow for white
leopards, the snow cats waiting for my pounce
to play. Part of me forgets in July
and dies, not to be reborn until the
first sign of snowprints in January.