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Winter: What is it good for?

Having spent large chunks of the past few winters in the Midwest, I've started to question the season's usefulness. On the vast and barren plains of the country's midsection, snow, ice, and cold temperatures only make everything more miserable than usual.

Were I prone to indulging in lame extended metaphors - which I am - I might say that life in the Midwest is like getting an endless root canal. During the spring, summer, and fall, the warm weather serves as a kind of face-numbing dose of Novocain. You understand that an evil cosmic dentist is drilling holes in your mouth with the glee of a hyena tearing the entrails from a gazelle, but you barely feel it.

During the winter, though, the cold weather brings your nerve-endings to life, and you feel whatever kind of unspeakable pain root canals entail. I've never actually undergone a root canal - if I'm good at anything, it's maintaining a pristine set of chompers - so I probably shouldn't have constructed this particular comparison. But what's done is done - and anyway, an anesthesia-free root canal can't possibly hurt worse than winters in the flatlands.

And therein lies my primary complaint against winters in the flatlands: they take place in the flatlands. Sure, the Midwest has a few "hills" - three, according to the World Book Encyclopedia - but when it comes to mountains, you're out of luck, Buck.

Indeed, merely mentioning the concept of "mountains" to native Midwesterners confuses and frightens them. The poor saps dismiss mountains as either the stuff of myth (the most superstitious old codgers call 'em "devil's humps") or the invention of amoral Hollywood bigwigs who don't care what kind of outrageous ideas their movies put in young people's heads, as long as they pull in huge wads of cash. For instance, Midwestern viewers regard the film Cliffhanger as a piece of fantastical and implausible fiction, when in reality it's a nonfiction documentary about Sylvester Stallone and John Lithgow's doomed 1993 attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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