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A Season of Love

Last month was 'National Thank You' month here in the U.S., a lesser known declaration than the one we celebrate this month - Valentine's Day (while the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of St. Valentine on July 6th). With legends steeped in history (or vice versa), the day hails back to a priest named Valentinus who was persecuted by the Romans for performing weddings for soldiers (who weren't allowed to marry back then), while providing comfort to the many Christians who were being persecuted in Rome. For demonstrating kindness and compassion that the Roman government deemed treasonous, he was jailed and condemned to death in 269AD. Before he was executed, he penned a final heart-warming love letter to the jailer's daughter whom he had earlier befriended...and healed, signing his name, "Your Valentine." The rest is history. Ever since the mid-400's, and in spite of all the contemporary commercialism of the day, his name attached to this heart-shaped holiday of 'February 14th' has been synonymous with a season of love and compassion for others; hopefully a season lasting longer than just one day!

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness...
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from
Heaven's brink."
- John Keats

Speaking of seasons...and love, among the things we love about Michigan are its four distinct seasons, each of which are strikingly beautiful in their own right. Closer to home, what isn't there to love about all things Up North! From north of the M-115 / US-10 corridor, all the way to Upper Michigan, the area is home to some of the most beautiful landscape in the Midwest. Home to five fresh-water 'great lakes' that are among the largest in the world, together with an additional 62,798 inland lakes and 300 named rivers, you don't have to look very far to find pure water. The habitat surrounding them is often wooded, picturesque, and matter the time of year.

Making my way to work recently, I followed a little-traveled country road that wound its way through Antrim and Charlevoix Counties. The natural beauty on either side of this road is breathtaking, meandering its way over streams, valleys and gentle hills. In early winter, barren trees are often bedecked with heavy frost that sparkles like so many millions of dazzling diamonds against a still sleepy sunrise. Later in winter, freshly fallen snow blankets whole forests of trees, making the landscape look profoundly majestic...and surreal. Celtic Canadian composer, singer, and harpist, Loreena McKennitt (who celebrates a birthday this month), captures the quality of such a landscape in her hauntingly beautiful ballad entitled simply - "Snow"

Shannon captured the beauty of an early winter morning frost on pines
that surrounded our home (C).  

Music often compliments nature, especially when experienced in tandem with each other. On another recent ride to work, I was listening to a smooth jazz piece entitled "Northern Lights" with acoustic guitarist Russ Freeman. I was on one of those winding country roads, not far from a snow covered Boyne Mountain right about the time the sun was at the horizon when I caught sight of an eagle flying at tree-top level beside my car, going the same direction I was traveling. Its mate was just ahead, clearing a tree line on its way to nearby Deer Lake. Their wings beating in time to the rhythm of this music. It was an awesome experience; I love singularly surreal moments like this!

A couple of weeks ago, a similar scene; the eagle was maybe 40' over the car, again flying in the same direction I was traveling. A similar-but-dramatic scene played out last fall; a bald eagle flying to within only a few feet of my windshield, along that same stretch of road. We don't have to look far to find things to love about the quiet places and beautiful spaces of Northern Michigan. May we never take such experiences for granted, or ever treat them lightly. They are gifts we have been privileged to experience...and freely share with others who have no quiet places to retreat to or remember.

We only have a few more weeks of winter, when the fresh blanket of snow we are under now will be all but forgotten with the lengthening of our days. Then comes the anticipation of an Up North spring. Until then, and before the snow melts away, why not enjoy some quiet time by bundling up and venturing outdoors for a walk in the woods to enjoy the raw beauty of a Michigan winter...Up North.

A heart-shaped chunk of snow lodged in a bush
next to our front porch; a good reminder of how
we should always live...
...with love in our hearts.

Someone left an "I Love You" card anonymously on the handrail next to the
old cement steps behind the Elk Rapids Public Library this past summer.
Regardless of the season - summer or winter - may the meaning of the message
remain deeply rooted within our hearts.

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