Michigan, like quite a large swath of the country, is in the midst of a depressing cold snap the likes of which puts me in mind of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. We haven’t started twisting straw into kindling or burning our furniture yet, but one can’t help but feel that everyone is teetering on the edge of that kind of desperation lately.
Last year the temperatures in mid-March were a full 50 degrees higher then they have been during the past week. This was not necessarily good, as it caused massive fruit crop failures when temps dipped below freezing again (for example, Michigan normally produces about 96 million tons of apples a year while in 2012 we only managed 2 million tons). But still, I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that it would be nice to have temps in the 40s rather than the 20s at this point in the year.
Being stuck in this winter is like being stuck in a story. You get to a certain point where you feel frozen. You can’t push forward. You can’t go back. You’re just…there. Waiting for the thaw in your brain so you can get on with it already.
That’s how I feel right now. Frozen in time. Tired of what has come before. Waiting to see where things will go in the future. Ready to move on. But stuck frozen in place.
How do you hasten spring? How do you thaw the fertile soil of your creative mind? It seems clear to me that we cannot rush the changing of the seasons, as much as we might want to. There are plenty of tips and tricks to get beyond blocks, but sometimes maybe we just have to wait it out, trusting that the thaw will come, the waters will flow, the flowers will bloom, and the story will move on to the next chapter.
Oh, March. You fickle month. You bringer of sunshine and rain, then ice and snow. You can’t decide whether to reveal the toll the winter has taken on the earth or to cover it all back up again. The birds sing, the red-winged blackbirds and robins and turkey vultures have returned, the very first crocuses have bloomed and frozen. The sap and the rivers are running, but I am sitting inside with my coffee wondering just how much longer until I can get out in the gardens and start cleaning up your mess.
Here’s a poem about March I wrote in 2007 and have been modifying ever since. I think I may have it how I want it now.
Month of crows
Driven rain in slush-filled gutters
All the flotsam of winter’s rage—
Empty bags whipped in wheezing wind
Parking lot valleys in the shadows of
Mountains formed from filth and snow and abandoned shopping carts
The frail sun pretends to shine
A sudden squall and all is beaten down again
comes the green
comes the green
The sun shines stronger
the days grow longer
and all my fondest hopes of spring
see fulfillment in one blossoming
What if we could go right from January to March? Right from the beautiful snowy newness of the first month of the year to the month when crocuses and daffodils start pushing through the soil? Here are 11 good reasons February should just be skipped altogether.
1. Too cloudy. I have no proof for this, but February seems a lot cloudier than January. If it’s going to be 20 degrees, shouldn’t the sun at least be out? White ground and blue sky look great together. Gray skies just make the snow look kind of dirty.
2. SAD. A large percentage of the population hits the Seasonal Affective Disorder wall in February. See earlier point about clouds. In Michigan we all get even more mopey and downtrodden than normal and the littlest things can drive us to despair. What? The timer on the coffee didn’t go off? I may as well go back to bed for a week.
3. No good holidays. Groundhog Day? Seriously? You do realize that if it just happens to be cloudy on February 2 (see earlier point about clouds) that there will be no shadow–and then spring will still come on the spring equinox. Valentine’s Day? Too much pressure and too much pink. Also, hearts are so ’80s. President’s Day? Just another reason for Art Van Furniture to make irritating commercials.
4. A culinary wasteland. All the indulgent feasting of the holidays (the real holidays) is done. The sudden desire in January for fresh fruits and vegetables in order to start the year off right by eating healthier has worn off, but it’s still too snowy for grilling and eating outside.
5. $$$. You get the heating bill for January and realize that you will now have to set the thermostat at 56 degrees in order to pay your bills.
6. Cabin fever is spreading. Forget the flu; cabin fever is as harmful to the mind as H3N2 is to the body. We’re all getting a little stir-crazy in the north. It’s that time of year people plan vacations they can’t afford and spend untold hours trolling the interwebs for time shares in Florida. We just want to see some green foliage and eat outside again. Is that too much to ask?
7. Supplies are running low. We’re running out of firewood up here. There’s that unsettling feeling in the back of our minds that soon things will get a bit desperate and we’ll be twisting straw together until our hands are raw in order to feed the cookstove like Laura Ingalls in The Long Winter. Okay, maybe we don’t have cookstoves, but we have been forced to buy wood because we’re down to the half rotted wood at the bottom of the pile.
8. We’re getting fatter. Yes, there are treadmills and gyms in Michigan, but what we need is good old-fashioned yard work and ice-free sidewalks so we can get off our big butts and get some exercise. We need to build sheds and trim our trees and mow our lawns and dig in the dirt. We need to take the dog for a walk without fearing that the sight of a squirrel will set off a chain of events that ends with us flat on our backs and in need of weekly chiropractic adjustment for the foreseeable future.
9. We’re desperate for fresh local produce. February just adds yet another month that we have to wait before we can eat real strawberries that taste like strawberries rather than the pitiful excuse for strawberries they ship up from Mexico.
10. It’s getting stuffy in here. Our windows have been closed way too long and despite the fact that we’re keeping up with the laundry and vacuuming regularly, the whole house is starting to smell vaguely of an evil mixture of wet dog, old pillow, and potato skins.
11. Seriously, it’s way too cloudy. I just can’t say that enough.
There you have it, folks–all the valid and compelling reasons we should skip over February entirely and get on to March. So, how can we get this done?
As part of my continuing Destination Lansing series, I bring you Hawk Island County Park. Once a gravel pit (many of the older members of our church remember swimming there back in the days before there was “public safety”) Hawk Island has been transformed into one of the best parks I’ve ever been to.
The pit was cleaned out, filled with water, and stocked with fish. There are pedal boats and picnic shelters to rent, a great playground, a beach and a splash pad, volleyball courts, horseshoes, picnic tables galore, a dog park nearby, and plenty of gently rolling, well-maintained lawns for relaxing on a blanket with a good book or getting a tan.
The Lansing River Trail runs right through it, making it easily accessible by bike, foot, or rollerblades. CATA bus route 18 will get you there, as will your car. There is a fee to park, so I suggest getting the yearlong parking pass as it will save you lots of money and encourage you to get out there and use the parks our taxes maintain!
On days when it’s above 40 degrees, we usually hop on the River Trail (I’ll post on this awesome Lansing feature in the future) near where it splits off to go to Michigan State University and ride roughly south through Potter Park and Scott Woods. Gorgeous ride at any time of year.
And as much as we love Hawk Island in the warm months, it is now equally awesome in the winter. When the picnic tables are all stacked and leaned against trees and the splash pad is covered with snow, Hawk Island’s new tubing and snowboarding hill takes center stage. Tow ropes take you up the hill of groomed snow (which they make, so no worries that the snow cover has been light this year) and then you head down, either sitting in one of their tubes on one side of the tow ropes or on your own snowboard or skis on the other. There are jumps and rails for the snowboarders, and it is loads of fun to watch them as you sit in your tube and get pulled up the hill.
Open in the evening on weekdays from 4pm until 9pm and from 10am to 9pm on weekends, Hawk Island Snow Park is, in my mind, the best new thing to come to Lansing. We enjoyed a gorgeous evening there a couple weeks ago with friends, the beautiful sun setting behind light clouds making everything glow. And a nice bonus was that all the people who were working on the hill that night were very nice (and in an age when good, cheerful service seems hard to come by, the employees of the Ingham County Parks System should be commended as they are invariably, in my experience, both competent and considerate).
I’m a big proponent of not letting weather keep you inside. If you have the right attitude and dress correctly for winter, you can thoroughly enjoy being outside in the fresh, invigorating air. Layer up your clothes, get some adult snowpants, wear good boots, get off your duff, and go have some fun!
I’m already hard at work writing January’s short story, which I’ve tentatively titled Winter Weeds. And because procrastination is an integral part of writing (and because I have to get to it at some point in order to upload everything to Amazon) here is my current cover mock-up. You may recognize the photo.
As I’m plugging away at this story, I am enjoying the challenge of capturing a setting in vivid words. The temperature, the way the light hits, the thin, faint smells of winter. This is probably my favorite kind of writing. Such a fun challenge to try to describe the essence of something physical and visual in mere words on a white page.
When are you at your very best as you write? Dialogue? Action sequences? Bringing emotions to life? Think about whatever type of scene you like most to write, the kind of thing that got you jazzed about writing in the first place. Are you still writing scenes like that? Has the joy of writing slipped away? Has your technique stalled or improved over the years?
Today, write something you absolutely love to write, whether or not it is attached to any work in progress. It may just take on a life of its own and become your next great work.
We’ve recently had some lovely frosty, clear mornings in mid-Michigan and I’m glad I had my camera handy when I was dropping off my son at school.
Mornings and evenings in cold weather are what make the dark and dreary winter months more bearable, and may even lift them to a level more on par with the wonder of springtime.
There are so very many lovely things in this world, to be found in all seasons.
We woke up this morning to a beautiful dusting of light snow, though most of it is melted now. The trees are all bare, but for a few that keep their leaves rather tenaciously, like the oaks. Puts me in mind of a little poem I wrote last November I’ll share with you here.
I think that may be the last thing I painted, an entire year ago! I’ve been getting the itch to paint again, though my usual spot in the sunroom has been taken over by model trains for the winter.
The waning months of the year are when we start getting those “Top Whatever of 2012″ lists sprinkled across various media outlets, and before that silliness begins, I’m taking a moment to analyze my own year.
I’ve spent most of my free time in 2012 sewing clothes for myself, contributing to the Sew Weekly, and editing a novel. It’s been a very self-focused year. I was convicted of that this morning. As we near the beginning of Advent and the beginning of winter, I hope to turn my thoughts and efforts more toward others, which, as a writer who tends toward introversion and introspection, can sometimes be difficult to do.
I wonder if you’ve ever had the same epiphany, that your life, energy, and efforts were too focused on yourself. Assuming the world doesn’t end in a few weeks, what are you going to do differently in 2013? Where will you put your efforts? Will you spend your time entertaining yourself and thinking of ways you can further your goals? Or will you conscientiously look for ways to serve? I want to look beyond myself and I pray for the passion and focus to do so. I want to be one lone oak leaf that, in dying to self, can live in such a way that my efforts ripple outward and touch every corner of my pond.
Wednesday of this past week my son and I spent the lovely 70 degree afternoon pulling up the vegetable plants, gathering herbs for drying, putting away sand toys and garden tools, and breaking up sticks for kindling. Soon I’ll move to wood pile near the back door and we’ll put tarps on the outdoor furniture and I’ll gather in the last of the lettuce and beans. Like the many busy squirrels we see burying nuts all over our yard, we are beginning the process of readying ourselves for winter.
It’s simply shocking to me, but I have realized over the years that most people don’t like winter. (Can you believe it?) They don’t like snow and they don’t like cold. Now, I can understand disliking gray clouds and pitch black mornings–though I’m trying to not let them get to me–but I love snow and I love cold. I love that for four or five months of the year I can wear sweaters and scarves and boots and hats. I love shoveling the driveway after a big snowstorm. I love taking hikes in snow up to my knees. I simply love the way winter makes you acutely aware of being a living thing.
Summer is easy. If your car breaks down or you get lost for hours in the woods during the warm months, you know you’re going to be all right. It’s only in winter when we are reminded that we are warm-blooded beings who are significantly different from the frigid, dead world around us. There’s an excitement and a fearful thrill to being outside in a foot or two of snow as the mercury drops well below freezing. And there is a palpable sense of contentment and joy at being inside on the couch in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a blanket, sipping a hot drink and listening to Bach or Duke Ellington.
Winter means five months of no yard work (beyond occasional shoveling). No weeding, no mowing, no raking, no planting, no trimming, no harvesting. It’s five months of talking yourself out of going out of the house (which is so overrated) and instead enjoying being home and doing homey things. It’s five months that slow you down a bit and give you a break from the bustle of the warm months. Winter means no rushing because it’s too dangerous to drive that fast. Winter means feeling like a daredevil adventurer when you drive across the state to visit family at Thanksgiving and Christmas and can tell them about how you cheated death, how you turned into the skid and avoided a colossal accident. Winter is helping that unfortunate person with rear wheel drive whose car got stuck, and feeling just a little bit smug about your winter preparedness. (How hard is it to stick a shovel in your trunk?)
I am hoping and praying for a very cold and snowy winter. Before you curse at me through your screen, consider that this is not just because I like snow. It’s because a huge part of our state’s economy depends on it. Unless you’ve been under a rock all summer, if you live in Michigan you know that the uncharacteristically early and warm spring, followed by the brutally hot and dry summer, brought our agricultural sector to a standstill. The crops that survived were sub-par and, because of supply and demand being out of whack, quite pricey. Maple syrup, cherries, apples, cider, peaches, corn–all of it suffered. And the people who grow it, process it, and ship it suffered too. Apparently the one silver lining in this agricultural nightmare is the wine industry. Grapes like hot, dry weather. (So buy lots of Michigan wine, please.)
Last winter in Lansing we had only one significant snowfall and much of the rest of the state was green most of the season as well. So who suffered while people were happily going about in shirtsleeves and even shorts? The entire winter resort/sports sector, people who normally plow our streets, ice fishing, places where you can tube or ski or ice skate. And probably many more I’m not thinking of. Our whole state depends on a good cold, snowy winter.
I’m getting ready for one.