A Warm November; A New American Climate

The warm, sunny days leading up to Barack Obama's improbable election were equally improbable for a Minnesota November. Seventy-five degrees, and door-knocking in shirt sleeves? What's going on?

Well, for once the weather gods favored our side, that's what. The young campaign staffers and volunteers who poured into Minnesota from across the nation to work on Team Obama were sorely tempted to settle down here. "It's not so bad," they told their stunned parents in Phoenix and Philly, who raised the specter of winter.

But on election night it was still balmy. After the buzzy exuberance of the DFL victory party in St. Paul, we drove home with the windows down, letting the air billow through the car so we could breathe in every particle of this new era, the way a dog joyfully sniffs spring after the crust of grimy snow has finally melted.

The closer we got to home, the quieter the night became, until we tumbled into the welcome soft silence of bed and sleep.

In the morning, something felt different. It wasn't just that the piano-string tension in my body had given way, leaving me slack like any overstretched cord. There was a brighter light in our bedroom. And it wasn't because it was midmorning and I was still lying in bed, happily devoid of any early risin' Minnesota shame.

It was because the maple trees lining the street outside our window, which the day before had held their quaking yellow leaves against a postcard blue sky, had finally let them go, and the bare branches stood stark against a winter-gray sky. The whole earth, it seemed, had given a collective sigh of relief.

When I opened the door to bring in the newspapers, I saw that the maples' fallen leaves had paved the street in fluttering pale gold, and the awesome history of the moment hung above them like a mirage. OBAMA, proclaimed the headline, in a point size that made it real.

The rest of the day was oddly still, the way Thanksgiving Day is still. No cars raced up our street, the phone stopped ringing, and even e-mail dropped to a trickle. People tried to describe the emotions they felt, but all they could summon were inadequate clumps of words. "Can't believe it." "Never thought I'd live to see the day." The weighty significance of what our country had done, and the giddy euphoria that followed, were too huge for the confines of language. The spontaneous street dancing of the night before had said it better.

For a few days we stayed in a hushed daze, as if we might tear the fragile veil of our new reality if we spoke too loudly or moved too fast.

Then it snowed. Not a deep, wet snow or a wind-whipped dry snow, but enough snow to dust the roofs and lawns, enough to subdue the glow of the yellow leaves that had fallen that Tuesday night. Enough to remind us that the exuberance will fade, that winter will come. And by Sunday, it was here, with a bone-rattling chill.

Those hard-working campaign kids reconsidered their options, called their folks and headed for home. And although the wind blows icy off the prairie and the sky has gone to pewter, those of us who live in Minnesota don't mind, because we know that's just weather. What we have changed in America is the climate, and our children are driving into a much brighter future.

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