Storm clouds gather over the Mackinac Bridge

Storm clouds gather over Mackinac

This is one of my favorite shots from my recent trip up to Mackinac Island. More to come later, but I wanted to share this one with you. Besides the incredible storm clouds rolling in from the Upper Peninsula, what made this photo (and the rest from this particular twenty minutes or so) such a pleasure is that no one was around when it was taken. Solitude during the peak season on Mackinac Island is hard to come by sometimes. And I really needed it that night.

What’s the Weather Like in Your Story?

WindowviewartsyI feel a bit nervous saying this, as though by daring to utter it I might somehow invite another winter thrashing, but it truly does seem that spring may at last have won the epic battle it has been waging with winter for the past two months. It was finally dry enough and warm enough to spend the day outside, to feel the sun’s heat on my skin and hair, to remember what summer is like. I don’t know how dependable the change of the seasons is in the Middle East, but as a Michigander I feel greatly comforted when I read that God is more faithful than the changing of the seasons.

I think something in us as humans wants to have to contend with something. We want to contend with something and win, or at least endure. And that’s why when outsiders or transplants to Michigan bemoan the weather or are surprised by 50-degree temperature swings in a day or can’t believe it’s still snowing in late April we smugly shrug our shoulders and say “That’s Michigan!”

You don’t like weather? Start packing your bags.

And yet, even I will admit that enough is enough. I knew winter had gone on far too long when I was driving home from Grand Rapids earlier this week and I noticed a farmer’s field covered in bright green and my very first thought was, “What the heck is that?” Two days later I drove back to Grand Rapids in a snow storm.

My own modest gardens have come alive as well. And I saw the first bug smash against my windshield this week, so it is spring for real. Isn’t it?

Maybe because I’ve grown up with schizophrenic weather I love reading stories where weather plays a part or sets a mood. I like to know if it’s sunny or cloudy, humid or parched, burning or icy. Should I be sweating as I read this scene or shivering? If it’s raining, what kind of rain is it? A steady cold spring rain? Drizzle? The fat, merciless raindrops of a storm? Is it falling straight down or sideways? Does it soak me or sting me? Am I managing to stay dry or is my face wet?

Do you make the best use of weather in your writing? Or is that a literary tool you’ve left in your toolbox?

The Past, the Future, and This Unending Winter

March 16, 2013, Fenner Nature CenterMichigan, 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.