paradise, of a sort

Every self-respecting Michigander knows how you get to Paradise.

Head straight up I-75 over the bridge, then head northwest toward Tahquamenon Falls. It’s right there on the Lake Superior shoreline in the shelter of Whitefish Bay.

There are no palm trees waving in tropical breezes. Nor will you find any cabanas along the beaches of the lake’s dark, cold waters. 

It’s Paradise nevertheless. Nestled along the “big lake” on the edges of the upper peninsula’s mysterious, beautiful forests, it’s where dreams come true with that much-needed cup of coffee, maybe a pasty, and a tankful of gas. 

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Thank you, Eugenia, at Eugi’s Causerie for inspiring this little drabble with this week’s prompt, “paradise.”

signs of life

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Spotted this little dude while out on a freshly walkable trail. The flood waters have receded, and the snow is mostly gone, so it feels good to get back out there.

The sun was shining on the little muskrat, lighting up his pretty fur. He busily munched on something while I stood not far away watching.

Later, I surprised two deer in the woods. Further on, I spotted two more deer across the river from me. We all studied each other intently before they decided they would go ahead and dip their noses into the water.

During my walk, I also noticed all the birds singing, and caught sight of that proverbial harbinger of spring in Michigan – the robin.

I love all these joyful signs of life. Yay for spring!

the long month of february

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Contrary to the simplistic assertions of the calendar, February is, in fact, the longest month of the year. Ask any Michigander.

The cold, the snow, and the dearth of sunshine conspire to thwart our typical notion of time. Where once life carried on with abandon, now the terrain is silent, stark, and foreboding. The snow is piled up into formidable mountains under heavy, grey skies. The short days of winter are long and wearying.

Rarely does the sun emerge from behind those walls of gray clouds to beckon us to venture forth. It’s cold. Really cold. All the time.

Precious few dare a walk or run. It’s a lonely endeavor. Still, for some of us, there’s an instinct that compels us get out, to move one’s limbs, to feel the whole arc of our selves.

Sidewalks are generally a thing of the past, of course. Where folks made the effort and actually did clear their sidewalks, those turn out to be the most treacherous stretches for walking anyway – they have turned into unmaintainable ice sheets.

As a result, one walks or runs in the road, and at their peril. The roads themselves leave little space for a pedestrian. The snow and the ice encroach on the traveled portion of the pavement, forcing one to be wary and nimble, always prepared to negotiate oncoming traffic. It’s a sketchy endeavor.

It’s actually not strange to be forced to stop now and then just to figure out how to get from one point to another, like across a street. There may be such an amalgamation of dicey ice and snow mountains and traffic that it demands to be puzzled out in advance. Sometimes, the best course of action is actually to turn around and go back.

Nevertheless, those of us committed to walking or running persist. It remains, always, uplifting to get out into the air, if frigid. To see the trees, to hear the birds and be amazed by them. To spy the squirrels, still about their business somehow. To observe the dark river push its way through the stark landscape, sometimes carrying icy chunks. To feel the freedom of movement in space. To simply allow one’s mind to relax and expand beyond the confines of indoors.

I admit to feeling restricted to walking. The roadways are just too unpredictable and hazardous for me to feel safe running. And I am anxious to run. I need to run. I have considered an indoor track, but I yearn for the outdoor one. It’s how I feel whole.

Regardless of my petty needs, the reality is that February just carries on. And on, and on, and on.

I know, however, how these long, bleak days finally transform, making the wait somehow worth it. The little clues begin to show themselves before spring arrives and revives all of the life of this strange, harsh, sleeping world. Then, the long month of February becomes a fleeting illusion, a dream half-forgotten on waking.

It won’t be long. The calendar is proof of that.

embracing the polar vortex

veru1_31_19The snow flies around me, tracing wild paths through the air. The wind sweeps it over and down the roof of a house, and then, up, up, and it suddenly swirls into a small tornado – fast and fantastic.

I am in the middle of a frigid ballet, dancers on every side, and everything white.

The white and the wind become all one thing, and I am not quite sure of my path. My booted feet feel for the track of a car in the road. The streets are empty now.

I look ahead but can only see white. The wind stings my face with cold. Little needle-like flakes of snow make a constant, biting attack.

I tug my hat down low over my eyes, and pull my scarf up. I shove my twice-gloved hands into my pockets, curled and flexing against the cold.

I am exhilarated out in this fresh, new world.

I feel the extremeness of the moment, and notice how the various parts of me react: my hands, my feet, my face, my legs. I feel my shoulders hunched and taut against the wind, or tentatively relaxing as I turn away from it. I feel my breath captured and stolen by a rush of wind, leaving crystals on my chin.

I meet this new small planet with tension and abandon. A fierce joy rises up in me to be out in this uncontrollable wildness, to be humbled by the elements and awed by the eerie beauty.

There is no fighting it, despite the plow trucks periodically careening, seemingly giddy and meaningless, through this transformed land.

There is no fighting it. Can we take this cold, white moment to heart and resolve not to fight with nature, not to destroy nature, but to respect and work – in love and wonder – with nature?

This fearsome frozen minute reminds us to to live in harmony with our earth, not just because nature will win in the end, but because it is a needed part of us – we are intertwined, we are whole together.

hibernation

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There’s a lovely darkness surrounding me right now. It’s still moon and stars time as I sit comfortably and cozy, this Saturday morning needing to get ready to go nowhere in the cold and snowy world outside my windows.

I love this kind of time. It’s a time to appreciate the warmth of my home space, the other being in it, and the simple things that sustain us.

There’s something to that whole hibernation thing some of our fellow animals have going. We’re supposed to be the ones with all that brain power, but sometimes you have to wonder.

Just the other day, as I headed homeward about quarter to six, I marveled at the icy conditions and helter-skelter “rush hour” traffic. Cars were creeping and sliding along on the dangerous roadways in what was already fully night.

It occurred to me just how nuts it is. Rather than coordinate with and respect the very real difficulties of winter conditions, we just go full bore on our capitalist economy driven schedules – even to the point of imperiling life and limb. No one gives it a second thought.

Oh sure, the time will come when there is simply too much snow on the roads, and things will close down for maybe a day. For the most part, however, everyone just continues the daily grind for all the dark months of winter come hell or high water.

There is something to respect in that, I suppose: a sort of gritty determination that teaches people to have battery cables in their trunks, and decent wipers on their windshields. People adjust to simply coping with the conditions, bundling themselves up, shoveling, salting.

Almost all of those activities happen literally in darkness for so many working people, too. In order to get to work on time, they’ll get up early to do all the work of clearing their steps, sidewalks, driveways, cars. They leave extra time to make a slow drive in treacherous conditions.

The daylight hours then are spent at the toil of jobs that may or may not be meaningful for workers. As darkness falls, the exercise of combatting the elements resumes.

What if we approached the season a little differently, say, cutting back working hours during winter – acknowledging the realities of all the extra prep time for the commute and the very real dangers often experienced? What if winter working shifts were more like, I dunno, six hours, instead of eight? Imagine if corporations raised pay or offered premiums during winter to accommodate all the expense, difficulty, and danger of just showing up.

Just a thought, and I don’t really know where it goes. I know it’s crazy in our current context, but I maintain the context is not immutable.

I just can’t help wondering what a world that sought less to combat nature and more to be in sync with it would look like. I imagine that up here in the north, at any rate, during the winter that would involve slowing down, staying home more, and spending more time with family and home activities – a little hibernation, if you will.

wind run

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I don’t know why a windy run always takes me by surprise, but it does.

Yesterday’s run reminded me, again, all about wind. There’s all that resistance as you’re heading into it, and the pleasant relief of turning a corner and feeling it swoosh in behind you as if you are suddenly light.

For just a moment, it reminded me of my sailing days of long ago, tacking into the wind, making slow progress but getting there nonetheless – or the pleasant rush of a downwind run, maybe wing-on-wing or with a spinnaker.

As I was running, several flocks of geese passed overhead. I waved and called out, “Bon voyage!” I doubt they heard me, though, because they were going fast on the wind – like Mach 5 fast. It was crazy.

For a minute, it made me want to fly. I felt as if I almost could, and I flapped my arms a bit as I ran. Just as quickly, I realized, I am pretty happy just the way I am. I must have been going downwind right then.

The leaves were blowing everywhere as I trotted along. The wind has done a good job of undressing the trees. There were huge heaps of color here and there wherever I went. Many of the trees are already bare, but there are still quite a few blazing with colors from green to yellow to orange to red.

I am planning to do a 5k next month. I say this because I realized as I was running yesterday that I have very conveniently failed to sign up for said run so far. This is a clear sign that I am leaving myself the option of NOT doing the run. If I am leaving myself that option, there’s a very good possibility that underneath all my good intentions is yet another intention to not make the run. Why is that, anyway?

It’s good to sign up, and shoot for a goal. To try and do better than you did the last time. To show up, anyway. It makes you work harder as you prepare for the event. So I’ll sign up tomorrow. I will.

I really will.

Oh, and a little update. My new running shoes? They are absolutely awesome!! And the little twinge that was beginning to bother me in my left knee? What do you know – it’s all good now. Shoes make a difference. Lesson learned!