Jay Lenkersdorfer

The weather is always a good topic for discussion, especially when it is active and out of the ordinary. We have found one of the benefits of having lived in different parts of the country over our newspaper career is that we always leave behind friends. Regardless of the time of year, it is always fun to compare notes about the weather.

One of our favorite places to live was Spearfish, South Dakota. Situated in the northern part of the Black Hills, Spearfish is a picturesque community big enough to have most of what you need and small enough to be quaint. It has all sorts of shops, restaurants, entertainment and lest I forget, it has instant access to the Black Hills. In literally just five minutes from my home, I could be on a dirt road surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills.

Southern Idaho is blessed with easy access to our South Hills. There are lots of roads, trails, and virgin ground so that you can find just about any territory you want with a little exploration. The Black Hills of South Dakota are very similar, except that they are heavily forested. Tree harvesting is ongoing and is part of what makes Spearfish such a wonderful place to live.

The local sawmill, in the same location since the late 1800s, has thousands of tons of sawdust that has accumulated over the decades. Up until pellet stoves were developed and the need for pellets for the stoves came about a few decades ago, the sawdust just piled up. After a rainstorm it was always the freshest place on earth as the pine smell permeated throughout the community as the sawdust was drying out. It was never so strong that it became a nuisance, but it was wonderful.

An email from our friends in Spearfish the other day put the real world back into focus for us. It was Valentine’s Day, our friend’s wedding anniversary, and her post was very short. “It’s 31 degrees below zero this morning, she wrote. Why do we live here?” Why indeed. Seeing her message reminded me of a cold winter day when we were living in Spearfish. I was calling on businesses and it was so cold, and the wind was so strong, that I could only make it two or three shops at a time before I was compelled to enter the next door I came to or die of exposure.

I don’t recall the exact temperature, but it was many degrees below zero straight up. Adding the wind chill put the temperature something like 40 below zero. Regardless of how perfect the best parts of the year could be, spending the winter there could challenge anyone’s sanity, not to mention the possibility of dying from exposure.

We lived in Arizona in the 1980s and we loved the sunshine. Arizona has the bragging rights of being one of the sunniest places in the nation, perhaps the world. I think they have something like 300 plus days a year of sunshine. I came to realize just how much I loved the clouds associated with weather systems while living in all that sunshine.

I still have a copy of the front page of the newspaper I was working for at the time. It was late summer, and the actual temperature was 122.6 degrees. I haven’t been to hell – yet – except that that summer in Arizona has to be very similar to the actual destination. When it is that hot and there are no clouds to break the intensity of the sun, Arizona is a trying place to live. Our saving grace, I strongly believe, was that we owned a boat and there were some beautiful lakes in the mountains not too far away. If you didn’t own a boat it was just plain hot and there was no escape.

I actually witnessed a car that someone left running, no doubt for the air conditioning, as they ran up to the house of a friend to drop something off. In less than five minutes the combination of the car idling, the intensive sun, and the physics of heat distribution, that car caught on fire and practically burned to the ground before the fire department could arrive.

We still have family and friends in Arizona. In the winter they brag about their fantastic temperatures as we struggle through the cold and snow. In the summer, when the outside temperature in Burley is in the 80s, we can’t help but mention how beautiful it is to live here. I think the hardest thing about living in the desert of Arizona is that it never cools down. Each night in Arizona, as I watched the ten o’clock news, the weatherman would report the current temperature and for months on end it was over 100 degrees at 10:00 p.m., no thank you.

The midwest is currently in the grips of record cold and snow. Texas, where we are headed just a few days from this writing, was 2 degrees below zero last night. We would love to cancel our trip, but it cannot be done so we’re just going to have to use the experience for something to talk about!

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