Friday, January 15, 2010

Winning Over Winter, With or Without Wine

(From the January 14, 2009 Grand Haven Tribune)

It gave me a feeling eerily reminiscent of the 1920s. No, I wasn’t alive then. But I have published a paper about that decade and have read a lot about the era. Anyway, I was in downtown Grand Haven last Friday night for the “Wine About Winter” event sponsored by the main street DDA.

I saw a sign on the window of Gallery Uptown that read: “We are sorry. There is no wine.” Then I overheard a man in a trench coat and a fedora explain that the state government and local police had put a stop to the alcohol.

So, our economy has been compared to the Great Depression and now we have to deal with prohibition again?

Not exactly. As this paper explained in a front page article last Saturday, there were certain permits missing and rules misunderstood. So there’s no need to start a speakeasy in Spring Lake, or to start smuggling Michigan Merlot from Al Capone’s alleged hideout near Paw Paw.

Nor, as it turned out, was there any reason to whine about the absence of wine from the “Wine About Winter” event. People took the situation in slushy stride, as they meandered from business to business in downtown Grand Haven to view the work of local artists, shop a little, and enjoy some snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. The mayor himself was proffering “fake wine” at his shoe establishment.

Wine wasn’t really the purpose of the event. It was merely an incentive. The real purpose was to get people out of their homes on a cold, post-holiday, winter night. That happened. Neither the presence of snow nor absence of wine seemed to prevent it.

It was by many measures a successful event. People were bumping into friends, chatting with artists, and generally enjoying themselves. I’m not sure how sales were for the businesses, but the added exposure can’t hurt. I heard more than a few people comment that they hadn’t realized a store was there, or what was in a particular store.

Apart from the return for businesses, I think the event was a success just for being a “victory” over winter. There is this notion that winter in the north is despised, a cruel joke, a burden to endure, a force that keeps us all inside for months. Well, as they say in Pella, baloney!

We northerners are a hearty bunch. Sure, we complain a bit about blizzards, and driving conditions. But most of us also deal with—and even relish—the winter season. In fact, far from keeping us inside, winter provides an incentive to appreciate the outdoors. My wife and I enjoy the unique perspective in winter while running along the Grand River. We have seen Bald Eagles perched in the bare limbs of an oak, or soaring over open water in search of a meal. Cross country skiing provides uniquely exhilarating experience, whether by night on the lighted trails at Pigeon Creek Park, or by day in the wooded dunes and beach vistas at Hoffmaster State Park. Sunny days in winter can be spectacular, with rays of light glistening on new snow or shimmering on ice formations. But even the more common cloudy days have a stark beauty to them.

There are other advantages to winter too. There are no mosquitos. That’s enough right there to appreciate winter, if you ask me. There’s also no lawn care or yard work. Sure, snow blowing and shoveling can be a chore, but at least there’s no mowing or weeding. Also, the snow covers any bald spots or blemishes in the yard. Coffee tastes better when the mercury falls. Cuddling makes more sense. Even if you’re one who doesn’t like winter, at least you’ll have to admit this season makes you appreciate the other ones.

Many of us pine for warmth and envy those in southern climates at this time of year. But many of my acquaintances south of the Mason-Dixon line tell me they miss the snow, wish they could experience four distinct seasons, or wonder what it’s like to snow ski.

So there was no wine at “Wine About Winter.” There was also no whining. Because most of us realize that winter happens, every year about this time. So we deal with it. Some of us even embrace it.

I’m already looking forward to the completion of an ice rink on the first block of Washington Street where the road construction is currently on hold. Even after the road improvements are completed, such an idea could be good for Grand Haven on an annual basis. The city could even combine ice skating with the DDA event. Locals and visitors would come downtown to shop, view art, skate, and just generally enjoy winter. Who knows, with this much time for planning and getting proper permits, it might even be possible to serve wine next to the rink.

In 2011 we could see the first “Ice Wine” event. Or “Drink at the Rink.” Even if not, I’m sure we’ll all endure and enjoy winter just fine.