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Column: Forecasting an ugly duckling winter

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

Do you believe that nature sends us signs and signals warning us how severe the approaching winter will be? For example, some believe that when the oak trees produce a heavy load of acorns, this is to feed the squirrels in the long, cold winter ahead.

I believe I have discovered a new sign from nature on the severity of the winter ahead. As I look out my window (I'm not an outdoor writer you know) on Nov. 19, I see about two inches of new snow on our 14-degree landscape and flakes of new snow falling on a windy day. Brrr.

About a month ago, I saw the discouraging signs of a cold winter ahead. The winds blew, the temperatures dropped, the snow flew and everybody moaned "not so soon." The early days of winter are the most uncomfortable as our bodies begin their too-slow transition to winter readiness. It was a dreadful, premature plunge into our long winter's nap.

But then I saw something else I hadn't seen before. On the pond across the street from our home, a flock of beautiful, pure white, graceful swans appeared. They were gorgeous as they swam about, occasionally plunging their heads straight down into the water for a bite to eat, showing us their white rumps sticking straight into the air. These weren't geese, mind you, they were curved necked swans. They gave a lift to our entire neighborhood. Were they a sign of severe winter weather ahead, or something else?

Then I remembered the fairy tale the Danish Hans Christian Andersen wrote 175 years ago about an egg that accidentally rolled into a duck nest and hatched as a very odd, homely little duck. The poor little creature suffered verbal and physical abuse from the other little ducks for being so different and repulsive.

The little scruff was driven out of the flock and bounced alone from pillar to post, almost freezing one winter, growing up as an outsider. Eventually, one spring a flock of big white birds appeared on a pond and they seemed to welcome him. Then, as he joined them, he saw his reflection in the water and realized he was one of them, a gorgeous swan, not the ugly duckling he thought he was.

It's a beautiful story and the flock of swans I saw (they're gone now — you can't swim on the ice) were a sign nature was providing for those who look out frosty windows and believe in fairy tales.

They showed up at a time when it looked like we were going to have a long, dreadful winter, but they were a reminder of the ugly duckling that would turn out to be a beautiful, graceful swan. The message was that what may have started out to appear ugly was not going to be ugly at all, but beautiful and welcome.

So here's the forecast nature has provided for me by the most conspicuous sign possible: the winter of 2018-2019 will not be ugly or dreadful at all, but as warm, mild and as pleasant and beautiful as winter can be. A little bird told me.

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