Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the great lake appears ready to wake up after giving us the silent treatment for weeks on end. Her surface is open in the distance now; a jagged necklace of blue ice shards adorns her shoreline.
But still she rests in winter’s arms. Cooling just enough to maintain her thin coverlet of ice. Slumbering quietly, but not for long. Not for months. But for weeks. Such is our hope.
And so we watch, just as fascinated with the big lake as when she roars in autumn or wears her diamonds in July. We watch over her, our “Mother Superior,” like anxious, petulant children. Peevish as we bundle and shovel and overeat. Waiting for her, willing her to wake up. Wake up and entertain us.
If this sounds snarky or whiny, it’s really not. I love winter. The solitude. The black and white expanses. The trips down the driveway at midnight on my kick sled, spying northern lights.
Winter frees me from the physicality of warm weather - the bugs, the sweaty chores, the riot of colors, the near-hysteria of days where the sun shines for as much as 17 hours and every second must be filled with activities, visitors, festivals, fishing, hiking, swimming… only broken by the hours spent trying to cross Highway 61 in a car anywhere but the traffic light at Broadway.
Winter, on the other hand, even relentless ones like this with the trifecta of wind, snow and subzero cold, is so very different. In winter, I feel centered. At peace. In the main, given short-lived rage over a frozen pipe, possessed door handles and constantly drifted- over pathways to the barn and chicken coop,
A real estate agent once told me that winter has a way of sorting out the folks who come here “looking for themselves” from those who knew who they were when they got here,
When faced with six-plus months of me, myself and I silhouetted against a backdrop of black and white, a good number of modern day immigrants don’t like selves they find. Their bliss is somewhere. Just not here.
I was lucky, I guess. The person I found here was no stranger. She likes to sit on a bale of hay in a 20-below garage cuddling a gray and white goose. Or nurse a lame Blue Swedish duck, carrying her to the water bucket daily so that the other birds don’t trample her.
She considers hours spent grooming an angora rabbit or teasing lush fibers off cashmere goats quality time. Dark and cold are simply excuses for building huge fires in the hearth, sleeping in a double bed with two large retrievers and knitting gathered fibers into cozy slippers and mittens.
Why I prefer these things to city living harks back to the hunter-gatherers we once were. I got this insight from an interview with Barbara Kingsolver in the March issue of The Sun magazine. Kingsolver wrote “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” a description of the year her family ate only what they grew or bought from other farmers within a 100-mile radius of their West Virginia home. A biologist as well as author of great fiction, poetry, and essays, she believes that our animal natures have run amok in today's world.
She said that, with some exceptions, we females are hardwired to forage, the males to hunt. Today, she posits, these natural drives are “subverted” -her word, not mine - into shopping and sports.
So that someone who once might have been the best forager in the village, with a root cellar to die for, now boasts a walk-in closet jam-packed with too many clothes and 300 pairs of shoes.
Small wonder I feel like a throwback. My closet is full of unspun cashmere and angora. And my shoes, all three pairs, are in a jumble with my mukluks by the back door.
Like Kingsolver, I was lucky to land where I did. To find myself in a place I belonged before I even got here.
This past week brought a welcome thaw to the land around the big lake. Her slumber seems broken at last. The shards of ice pushed up against her shores break up and float away. Inland, the sound of dripping water from roof and gutter, a sound so long not heard that for a while it can’t be identified. And while spring is still a distant dream, the nearly 12 full hours of sunlight lights our imaginations as we lust after seed packets and ponder the latest Murray McMurray poultry catalog.
All the while listening for that rush of water. The streams tickling the big lake into wakefulness. Making her yawn and stretch. But not quite yet. Just another month more, she murmurs. Hits the snooze button. And sends a few more inches of snow. Just to keep the kiddies happy.
(Photo by David L. Grinstead. See more at WTIP's Photos from the Edge)