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...We Call It 'Winter'

The Great Lakes Iced Over (as of 3-2-14),
approaching the most ever in recorded history.
All across the world, news headlines have been declaring the deep freeze of 2014 as a monstrous natural disaster, a seemingly relentless polar vortex that has gripped the lower 48 states in bitter cold temperatures not seen in decades. Sky News in London’s headliner read, US Big Freeze: ‘You Could Die In 10-Minutes.’ Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north woke up in early January to a headline in The Montreal Gazzette that read: ‘Back to cold weather after a brief thaw’ ('cold' to them meant air temperatures that were -40 degrees).  What the rest of the nation and the world call a natural disaster, we in the north are simply calling…‘winter.’

Not to diminish the gravity of this two-month long cold snap, it certainly has been dangerous. Going out a little after 5am of a recent morning to snow-blow the driveway, I had several layers on, plus goggles and a facemask to help deal with the minus-2 degree temperature, and utterly mind-(and finger)-numbing minus-20 degree wind-chill. Thankfully, the handlebar grips on our large Ariens snow-blower are heated. But not even the heating elements could keep up with the effects of the bitter cold. Such is winter in Northern Michigan, which has now delivered (as of the first week of March) over 230" of snow to Leelanau County. We're not only on-track to break all time records, but we're already known as the one of the "snowiest counties in Michigan." Right up there with the U.P.'s beautiful Keweenau Peninsula, they've piled up over 240" so far. Many places are seeing snow piles exceed 20-feet. Many of our country roads and city streets resemble bob-sled runs, what with the snow banks so high they're up-to-or-over the tops of many cars.

Some really don’t like winter (for honest, understandable reasons). However, and not unlike the little mice in the movie, Stuart Little, we’ve come to accept this frigid phenomenon as being “just the way things are.” But think of all the things we don't have to contend with up here that our friends in, say, Florida do: poisonous snakes (well, we do have one up here, but it’s really shy),  scorpions, hurricanes, and tropical storms; we just don't see that stuff. Tornadoes are also very rare. The humidity in Northern Michigan, while it can be interesting in summer, is nothing like what it is in the south; it’s enough to peel the paint on a house, grow mold over-night, and straighten your hair that no amount of Aqua-net can ever begin to hold. Southern women have probably come close to blowing up their bathrooms by using too much of the stuff, only to have their hair immediately lose its’ lilt upon hitting all that stifling humid air upon leaving their air conditioned homes (having lived down south in Middle Tennessee, I know these things).

Some friends of ours (well, OK, we only met them once, but in Northern Michigan, after you meet someone ‘once’, you’re considered ‘friends’), Jim and Eve, own this wonderful retreat up in Paradise (that's the name of a village in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula), where is a charming retreat called ”Cloud Nine Cottages." Jim is an electrician, and Eve drives a school bus for the school system up there. Shannon and I stayed there for a couple of days some years back. I asked Eve how much snow they get of an average winter; she said “over 200-inches.” Then I asked her how they coped with all that snow; her answer was revealing: “we just slow down, and take it as it comes. We can’t change the weather, so we might as well just slow down and enjoy it.” What a wonderful way to go through winter – and life.

While it’s been years since Eve said that, I suspect she and her husband, Jim, are still living out that truth today. In that spirit, and having a couple of snow days early in January owing to the bitter cold and snow, I took a day off to accompany our family at a favorite winter get-a-way in our own backyard (sort of): The Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, where we enjoyed all the fun themes this indoor water park had to offer. For six hours, we rode down water-slides, and flew down utterly curvaceous chutes at great speed – some of which wound their way outside the building...with cold, wet slush, falling off the roof of the chute as we sailed down on tubes – what fun! There was the pool, and the giant lily pads to navigate, the ‘river’, and the massive hot tub (more like a pool carved out of the rocks, which felt really good after getting showered with slush from all the rides down the tube chutes earlier). By the time we finished, the temperature had dropped to zero outside with heavy snow falling, driven by fierce north winds. It was beautiful.

True enough, an old fashioned, hard Michigan winter is nothing to under-estimate, much less trifle with. But, if we slow down and take it as it comes, it can be a thing of raw wonder and beauty to take in…and be a part of. We know it can’t last, and before long the temperature will rise, the snow will melt, and the air will be filled with the fragrance of spring. There’s an old saying that goes something like, ‘the colder the winter, the more beautiful the flowers in spring.’ Well, here’s to all those beautiful spring flowers as we mete out our days behind mugs of hot coffee in front of a cheery warm fire…Up North.

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Our backyard, buried in snow when this photo was taken. Now, add three more feet to
that depth to get an idea of where it is's a real winter wonderland.

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