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The Moods of Winter jAN 9 09

The moods of a Michigan winter are as changeable as the shifting bands of lake effect snow drifting in from the Great Lake. Bright one day, somber the next, and often enough as vicious as a cat-o’-ninetails—that’s  January in this state, and February. March gets even more interesting, but that is another story, and most of the same rules still apply. Temperature and temperament are vitally linked for us Michigan natives. Some of us are snow lovers; others are snow haters; but most of us have learned to simply tolerate the cold season as the admission price for living here the other three quarters of the year, when the outdoors is a paradise for sportsmen, nature lovers, and boaters.

This winter started off in a particularly no-nonsense fashion. Beginning in November and continuing through December, a relentless series of weather systems socked us in with massive amounts of snow. The plows soon had my parking lot rimmed with ten-foot, frozen white piles. But those dwindled to half their size within two days after Christmas, when temperatures in the sixties surged north. Suddenly the concern was no longer icy roads and blowing snow—it was impassible roads and flooded basements. Swollen with rapid snowmelt, streams became torrents, large tracts of fields lay underwater, and area rivers churned over their banks to swallow up untold acres of floodplain. Of course it all froze. Even now, you can drive through the countryside and see icy expanses that lack only skaters to make idyllic ice arenas.

Last Sunday after church, I sallied forth with my camera, intent on getting some shots of the latest mood swing of the season: fog. Above-freezing temperatures and saturated dewpoints had conspired to cloak the landscape in mist, imbuing the most ordinary, unremarkable views with significance and mystery. A tiny lake rimmed by a tamarack bog on the edge of town  seemed no longer familiar; the ice and fog had turned it into a composite of Alaskan muskeg and Okefenokee Swamp.

Today, nearly a week later, I am sitting in my living room watching a fine mist of snow drop steadily out of a bland, creamy sky. This is more like it, the kind of stuff I expect this time of year. The snow is collecting on my balcony, covering the top of the parapet like meringue. In a little while, I will leave for Mishawaka to meet a friend, a most unusual friend whom I haven’t seen for several years. It will be good to reconnect with her, but getting there will be a challenge, with a winter weather advisory calling for significant snowfall along the way.

All that can change in a day, though. While a glance at the weather forecast tells me it’s not going to happen, yet at least in theory I could be out tomorrow taking pictures of snowy landscapes transfigured by electric blue skies and a dazzling winter sun; or of pearly patches of ice reflecting sunset colors off of a frozen lake.

Different day, different mood—that’s Michigan in the winter. Not a bad thing, either. Bright days invite a person outside to explore the optimistic trio of snow, ice, and sun. Days like today, on the other hand, give a body every excuse in the world to sit indoors and take one’s comfort with a cup of hot coffee and a good book. Winter is a chocolate box of possibilities. If you don’t like the coconut filling in front of you, never fear—a cherry cordial is bound to come your way.





Written by Dave.