Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | March 25, 2009

Into The Depths

winter-carColdness, darkness, and snow—lots of snow.  These are the three things that I associate the most with winter. The snow is often quite beautiful, even magical. When it is fresh and undisturbed on the barren branches of trees and on the tops of fence rails and posts, when it glistens in the sunlight of a chilly morning, when I can look out the window beyond the deck and see deer tracks in the new-fallen snow that give evidence of a few transient witnesses to the overnight transformation of the landscape, it is then that I see the pure, transcendent power of one of nature’s most magnificent beauties—snow.  This is the redeeming side of snow.  In spite of all of our complaining about shoveling or blowing snow off our driveways, and brushing snow off our cars, and skidding around on too-slick roads, snow still can be quite beautiful if we will just take the time to still ourselves for a moment and look around.

I have always had a fascination with what has been called “the dead of winter.”  It is a time when snow lies flat on the land and is measurable in feet, not inches, and is heaped upon itself into piles measured by the yard, not by the foot.  It is as cold as cold can be, and there is barely a sliver of sunlight for weeks on end as a seamless bulwark of clouds unceasingly looms overhead. One can look out at the trees and wonder if leaves will ever appear again on the branches.  Birds are not to be seen within hundreds of miles, and even the hardiest of squirrels and deer and other animals can’t be easily found because of the driving wind and snow and the unrelenting cold. Then there is the darkness; I often think that the darkness is the worst blow of all. Where I live, we get all of about nine hours of daylight in the dead of winter. We go to work in the dark, and we come back home in the dark. It is all so depressing.

I’ve tried to pick a date that is most likely to represent the dead of winter.  After slogging through many a winter in my lifetime, I’ve finally settled on that date: January 20.  Where I live it is always cold, there is always snow, the local lake is always frozen, and the surroundings are always lifeless on January 20, consistently—every year, year after year.

Around here, December will often be fairly pleasant.  I remember a few years ago taking a few days respite in Traverse City during the first week of December and sitting out on our hotel balcony—in shirtsleeves—taking in the stillness and beauty of Grand Traverse Bay while slowly sipping my morning coffee.  In other years, December can be cruel—as in this past December when, for most of the month, Michigan resembled the arctic on steroids.  Often on January 1, the weather is fairly pleasant around here, and our local inland lake—while sporting some measure of ice—still remains navigable by a few adventurous fishermen.  By January 20, however, winter has finally seized and dispatched any lingering vestige of weather-reasonableness.

But the locking grip of winter does not last long.  While we can still have a good taste of winter well into April, February 2—Groundhog Day—is a day that I look forward to every year.  By February 2, there is the faintest of light that can be seen at the far end of winter’s long and narrow tunnel.  The first flicker of this proverbial light comes with the increasing hours of daylight.  The longer days first become noticeable to me right around Groundhog Day.  By the second or third week of February, we usually begin to get much more sunlight during these longer days—in many years, more sunlight than we have seen since October.  The combination of longer days and more sunlight definitely is a lift to the spirit. The impending onrush of spring, however, is signaled to me around the middle of February when I visit my accountant to go over my taxes.  I will usually look out his window and see snow piled around and think that this will all be gone in the next few weeks—and it always is.  There is great irony in the thought that doing my taxes can be such an uplifting experience.

Once March arrives, things really begin to look up.  Daily high temperatures are consistently above freezing, keeping any potential new snowfall at bay.  While it can and does certainly snow in March, precipitation begins to come more and more in the form of rain as we move through the month.  The first of March also brings the change back to daylight saving time, another reason for celebration.  After many months of evening darkness, there is finally enough light at the end of the work day to begin to think that we do not live in a cave after all.

March typically gives us the first 50 and 60 degree days since late October or early November. In fact, March is also likely to post the first 70 degree temperatures of the year. After a long and tough winter, 70 degrees is definitely a pleasant development! Then by the 10th of April, I am becoming so confident of the staying power of spring that I will put away my snow blower and haul out the deck furniture.  And so it is in Michigan.

It has been said that there are two seasons in Michigan: winter and construction.  The problem is that winter can last seven or more months, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for construction.  This is probably why our roads are always in such poor condition.  Some people really love winter; I tend to trudge through it.  I’ve often thought that, given my druthers, I’d be better off living somewhere else where it is warmer for more of the year.  That might yet happen.  On the other hand, Michigan is a beautiful place to live, work, and play.  The lakes are unequaled anywhere else—particularly the “Big Lake,” the name by which Lake Michigan is known around here.  The landscape is so varied that you can drive 100 miles and go from terrain that resembles most all of Indiana, to that of Kentucky or Vermont with their rolling hills and small mountains, to even desert!  Visit Sleeping Dunes National Lakeshore sometime for a little taste of the desert in the Midwest.

Lake of the Clouds - Porcupine Mountains

Lake of the Clouds - Porcupine Mountains

And then there are the Michigan vistas—hundreds of the most spectacular vistas that you have ever seen. Pick any spot along the Lake Michigan shoreline, look north or south, and be prepared to be amazed; stand on the bluff north of Arcadia and look out across the infinite, awe-inspiring lake; from the shoreline at Leland, train your binoculars on the sparkling jewels that are the Manitou Islands; take in the breathtaking vantage points that pepper the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas near Traverse city; be dazzled by the majestic Straits of Mackinac, and the mighty Mackinac Bridge, and the grandeur of old Mackinac Island; take in astounding views of the Lake Superior shoreline all along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising; and renew your soul with the stunning—even thrilling—panoramic view of Lake of the Clouds from high up in northern Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains!

Wow!  I’m not sure if I would be giving up more than I would gain to live somewhere else.  It looks like I am certainly trying to talk myself out of moving.  In any case, it is spring in Michigan.  Time now to put the long, dark winter behind us and look forward to the renewal of all that I love about Michigan.  Come July and August, you Florida folks can be eating your hearts out!



  1. (Oh, yes, this post definitely tipped the scale to the center!)

    Beautiful imagery and so true– although I’m not certain spring has quite arrived yet. We generally get one good, solid snowstorm in April. On the other hand, they’re boiling sugar sap into syrup up here which is always a sure sign of spring. (The small birds actually lick at the sap-cicles that form on the branches of our maple trees overnight.) If we do get a pile of new snow in April, it melts in a matter of days. No big deal.

    One of my favorite places on Earth is a small stairway concealed in the trees that winds its way up the hillside to East Bluff on Mackinac Island. From this vantage point, there’s an incredible view of the village, the steeple on St. Anne’s and the picturesque harbor. Breathtaking! And, the tourists have no idea I’ve discovered the best seat in the house. 😉

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