Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Sun in Winter

Sunlight on Mount Baldy

Some days I wake up to find the room is drenched in fuzzy golden light, the kind that spills through the stained glass of a cathedral nave. I climb over my sleeping bearded husband (who protests), throw on my boots and my biggest coat while waiting for the water to heat up, and charge out into a world of diamonds and champagne.

This is a sunny day in midwinter. 

These days are, in fact, more common that most people realize. They hear "Michigan winter" and immediately begin to groan. The fact, friends, is that not all Michigan winters are made equal. The territory covered by this state stretches over three latitudinal parallels, four longitudinal meridians and five climate zones. By the time you get from the Lower Peninsula to the Copper Country, you've left dingy skies and slushy streets far behind for a palace of waist-deep white powder, pellucid skies and the kind of air that could cure tuberculosis. 

IMG_0534-1 2.jpg

The morning is so still you can hear the chickadees' cautionary whistle. The sky is that particular kind of blue so deep that it becomes green around the edges. It could be a summer day, until a passing breeze reminds you that it's four degrees. It's cold enough that you can comfortably drain a scalding cup of tea in three long gulps. Cold enough that the air turns your nostrils into a cave of ice, all the way up to your sinuses. As your circulation begins to pick up speed, the moisture thaws and comes flooding out your nose in one unexpected post-nasal gush. It's violent and refreshing, like being tumbled in an ocean wave.  

The cold crystallizes the hibernatory fog in my brain. My blood begins to pump industriously, the body following its primal instincts to save me from freezing to death. I pace back and forth in the narrow trough we've shoveled from our front door to the driveway, feeling a kinship with those monks who walk the labyrinth. Only I'm not repenting for my sins. Unless perhaps it's the sin of having ever thought I could live anywhere else. 

IMG_0215-1.JPG

The crunch of my footsteps subsides as I wear down the snow in my path. The morning is so still I can hear the church bells echoing from Calumet, ten miles distant. I lift my eyes toward the hills, where the sun reaches over the birch trees' spidery tops, and let the ultraviolet bore into my eyelids. It's a greenhouse effect for creative thought--no sooner do I begin to see blotches, than the great notions germinate and the phrases swell and unfurl. Everything feels possible on a sunny day in midwinter; not just possible, but like you're finally getting ahead of the eight ball. The world is sleeping, but the sun and I are awake.

Turning my head and opening my eyes, the colors of this white world appear more vibrant than ever--blue shadows of trees and roof lines lie raise a butterfat hue from the snow. The edges of the shadows are rose gold, revealing traces of sunrise that are already lost to the naked eye. Nearer, the garden's last leaves are bronze, their veins etched in tiny filigree like on an antique necklace.  

IMG_0243-1.JPG

Eventually it's too cold to stand still any longer. Since I'm not going to shovel or ski just yet, I have to go inside. When I do, the fog returns immediately. The hum of the little Japanese heating unit lulls me back to the four-walled world of tasks. I shed my coat and my body flushes with the warmth it had built up in those few minutes. My breath comes quickly, as though I've achieved something remarkable. Just standing in the cold, taking it on the chin (and nose and tips of fingers), sends you into the day knowing for certain that you're alive. That does indeed feel remarkable. 

The sun is pawing at the window like a dog who wants to play. I promise it that I'll be out again later. 

Chelsea BattenComment