Saturday, March 15, 2014

Embracing Winter for Spring Break

(From the March 13, 2014 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

My wife and I had planned a getaway to Florida in December. But then she had a surgery we had not planned on, and we had to cancel that trip.

When we decided we should re-book something for spring break, we quickly learned that the condo club we had joined had nothing available south of the Mason-Dixon line. So, on a whim, I thought I’d just see what was available for the first week of March. As it turns out, there was some availability if we wanted to head north.
So, we spent the week in northern Michigan, “up north,” for spring break.
It was neither spring nor a break from the winter. The first few days we woke up and checked the weather to realize it was zero, or below zero. The patio of our condo had snow up to the door handle. The wicker furniture outside looked like some sort of winter festival sculptures.
We exchanged e-mails with my parents, who are in Florida for several weeks. I communicated with colleagues and friends and students on Facebook, all of whom are in Texas, Florida, California, Hawaii or the Caribbean. Everyone was happily posting temperature readings in their temporary locales — 79, 83, 87. They would post photos of beaches, grass, alligators, palm trees and meals “al fresco.”
For a while, it was like torture. All these people I know sharing evidence of their enjoyment of warmer places was like waving candy in front of a child and then pulling it away. I stared at the fire, adjusted my wool slippers, pulled the blanket over me and took a long sip of my hot coffee.
All my friends are “al fresco” and I’m “all frozen,” I moaned.
But I got over it. I snapped out of it. I gave myself a cold slap in the face. I walked outside.
As a lifelong Michigander, I have long enjoyed the change of seasons. There are times that winter seems to be a bit too much of a change, or it doesn’t change back soon enough. And this winter seems to be such an occasion. But, given our circumstances, we decided to simply embrace winter, even the high snow piles and temperatures so cold they freeze your nostril hairs.
We went for our daily runs outside, taking different routes around Charlevoix to enjoy views of Lake Charlevoix or Lake Michigan, the marinas, the downtown ambiance, and a variety of very stately and currently vacant homes.
We went cross-country skiing a lot. We saw the beauty of a northern woods in winter, where birch and pine are lovingly decorated with pure snow. It gave us the feeling we were in a postcard or a painting by Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkaid.
We skied out onto Lake Michigan, up to the large chunks of ice formed since last fall. Up there — with a rocky shore and bottom, and cleaner water — the ice looks like blue gems.
We also saw a beaver in a tree — twice. It was the same beaver, same tree, on different days.
We had conversations without feeling rushed. We had the fireplace going a lot. We enjoyed soaking in a hot Jacuzzi. We read. We watched TV. We mostly avoided dealing with work or medical issues. I even took a few naps.
It didn’t feel like spring. It didn’t feel like spring break the way we northerners usually think of it — as an escape from winter. Rather, it was an embrace of winter. And a chance to enjoy it more fully than when we are at home and have so much else going on.
I have always enjoyed northern Michigan and have been up north many times in the summer. I had often said to my wife that it would be interesting to experience northern Michigan in the full force of winter. We certainly had that chance this year.
We had felt like circumstances worked against us when we had to cancel our December trip to Florida. But it now seems like circumstances were in our favor when we picked this year to spend the first week of March up north. Normally, the temps would be in the 40s and the snow would be slush. That would be no fun.
If we were going to go up north for spring break, it was best that we have ample snow and cold temps. And that’s what we got.
We also got something more typical of a spring break — sunshine, almost every single day. In fact, if you look at me closely, you might even see my tan lines. They are somewhere between my eyes and my nose

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