It takes seven winters to make someone a Yooper, I was told. Seven full winters in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, during which massive blizzards and week after week of snow would set the stage for thousands of miles of driving on sandy, packed snow, up and down the Porcupine Mountains. Lake Superior is its northern border, and the vast beast rages while it brings more and more snow to the wooded grounds and the flannel clad people to the south of it.
When I read the brochures for Northern Michigan University, my alma mater, the amount of snow mentioned was unfathomable. 170 inches? Who knows what that looks like? I chalked it up to “a lot of snow” and sent in my application. I moved up north in June. The drive across M35, along the north edge of Lake Michigan, was lovely. The trees along interstate 41 were kind. It was a freakishly hot summer, so I got familiar with the beach that was a few blocks away.
Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. I wasn’t a stranger to snow, having lived in lower Michigan as a young child and then northern Illinois. It wasn’t like I was from Mobile, where a few flakes would surprise me. But there is something interminable about the snow in UP winters.
I am only 3/7 Yooper, since I only have three winters under my belt. However, the UP is where I learned to love snow. Snow in the UP has quite a few lessons to teach those lucky enough to live there. It teaches you a different shade of friendship and neighborhood, where you don’t hesitate when lending your snow brush to a neighbor whose own brush is trapped inside their frozen car.
It’s where I learned to like shoveling, both for the workout and the feeling of satisfaction I got after digging out the cars in the parking lot. Snow teaches you, over and over, that you are not the master of the universe. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in ourselves, building up our own importance, until the snow moves though, and there is no controlling it. The only way to work through the snow is to work with it, much like the other storms in life.
I love the first snow of the season, when the world I live in suddenly gets turned into a glittery globe of wonder. This week, most of the people I know here in northern Illinois were pretty worked up about the coming snow. When the forecast was three to five inches, people fretted. When it was increased to six to eight inches, people had palpitations. By Thursday, meteorologists were saying eight to ten inches, and you would think it was the coming apocalypse. That isn’t an unusual amount of snow for Northern Illinois, but enough that stores were busy selling rations.
I, on the other hand, could not wait. I needed a good snow storm. It was oxygen to my deprived soul.
It started snowing when I left work on Friday, and I picked up Chinese take out a few blocks from my apartment. I took the dog out and went inside where I ate too much kung pao chicken, read some Green Lantern comics, got my laundry done, and drank half a glass of chardonnay. I opened the blinds and watched the snow fall. That’s one of the best things about a good snow fall: you pretty much have to resign to it. It is nature’s way of forcing me to stop doing and start being.
I slept deeply that night and woke to about eight inches of snow. I had breakfast, put my boots on, and headed out to go to Target. While I was clearing off my car, a couple teenagers were trying to clear the snow off of their car with a paper towel covering their hands. I lent them my snow brush. I cleared off my car as the snow kept falling, and I breathed in the smell of snow. It was beautiful and I was happy. So happy that I forgot about putting on makeup before I went about the rest of my day.
When I posted that picture on Facebook with a caption about being happy on the snow, my sister commented that I looked “so relaxed and happy.” I was. The rest of my day was awfully good, too: I made pumpkin cake bars and took them into the city, where I met up with Mike, we ate Italian take out in the hallway of the Irish American Heritage Center, then watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 with some friends before heading back home.
It was a really good day, and would have been regardless of the weather, but the snow took it to a new level.
By April, winter in the UP feels endless, relentless, and cabin fever is tough. When the last of the snow melts in June, people are thrilled to see muddy grass coming back to life. In Illinois, spring is rarely so desperate. In four months, I will probably be anxious for warmer, sunnier weather, but for now, I delight in the heavy white blanket that lays on the ground and weighs on the trees.