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.
For the last few weeks, I’ve had really good weekends, with the exception of Sunday nights. Sunday nights have been spirals of anxiety as I come down from the fun I had the rest of the weekend. Tonight, in an effort to cut that spiral shorter, I’m going to focus on what I am thankful for, in no order whatsoever:
– English muffins
– A really good pillow
– My dog, who loves me despite having been gone so much
– My job
– Having my own place again
– Red lipstick
– A few partial days with my brother
– Coffee and my programmable maker
– Halloween candy (especially KitKats)
– Old books
– The lesser level of stress I have now
– Clean bedsheets
There are tons more, but now I’m getting sleepy and I better take advantage of that before my body decides it needs another English muffin. Good night, everyone. If I haven’t told you in a while, I love you.
Some highlights of the last few weeks:
When my family and I first moved to our home in Ludington, MI when I was a kid, I didn’t expect that the previous kids would have left not one but two snow forts in the back yard. That was a major bonus for a kid like me who lost interest shortly into projects as lengthy as fort building. One even had a tunnel. It was nice to have somewhere that hide during the snowball fights.
Around the same age, my friends and I would beg and plead for the chance to build blanket forts when we were indoors. Stretched over sofas and pinned under kitchen chairs, the blankets gave us the illusion of separation. As long as we were in the fort, no one could hear us whisper or see how many Milky Ways we shoved in our mouths.
As adults, my friends and I joke on tough days that we are going to revert to our younger selves and hang out in blanket forts, only this time with KitKats and bottles of wine. There, we can forget about grown up things like boyfriends/husbands, credit scores, and whiney kids. The only place that will exist will be that little pocket of the universe, tucked inside bedsheets and buffeted by couch cushions. Safe, worry-free, no stress… Sounds lovely, eh?
Of course that never gets to happen, in part because we live so far apart. We dream though. Little moments when we close our eyes and exhale.
I’ve been up for 38 of the last 42 hours, and the sleep I had prior was very limited and restless. Work was needlessly stressful today, I spent almost five hours on the road to pick up my sister from the airport. In my exhausted state, I started rethinking my financial plans for the next few months. I tried sorting out a major emotional dilemma – something I can’t do when well rested, let alone now.
I’m overwhelmed. I want to be in a blanket fort inside of the snow fort, protected from whatever comes flying this way next, and apart from the rest of the world. It’s just a temporary feeling. One that will be gone after tonight’s sleep and tomorrow’s coffee.
While I might not get the fortress I want right now, I am reminded that I have the shelter I need: a physical one that keeps me out of this horrendously cold weather, and the shelter of friends who love me. Friends who stand as shields and who crawl in and hide out with me, depending on the day. Sometimes, on nights that seem dark and long, I find shelter in knowing that while I sleep, friends from here to New Zealand and back are up and moving around, sometimes praying for me. The affection of friends is the most effective shelter there is against the overwhelming anxiety of just being.
With that comfort, I’m going to try to sleep. I wish you a good night, or day, depending on your hemisphere, and promise you that should you need a fort, I’ll bring the blankets and KitKats.*
*Unless, you know, that’s logistically impossible; in that case, they will be symbolically delivered via Messenger stickers.
January has been a hard month for myself and a lot of my friends, and it has been hard to not focus on those things. Despite rough moments, there have been amazing ones. Brighter moments that are worth hanging onto when darker days prevail.
Friday, it was a kiss. Simple and sweet. Fun and familiar. Just what I needed.
Saturday, it was my great-grandma’s 107th birthday:
Sunday, it was a blizzard and the annual Super Bowl/Birthday party at my sister’s:
Simple and common as they may be, they are some of the best things life offers, and I’m thankful for them.
In the immortal words of Bobby Singer: “Balls.”
Last week, I was a bit broken hearted because, ultimately, I wasn’t on the same page as someone else with whom I had a relationship. In my hurt and anger, I said some harsh words that I can’t take back. Specifically, I called him a dumbass.
Today, I realized, again, that sometimes I’m an idiot. I wasn’t wrong to be hurt or to grieve for a potentially lost friendship (no idea if we’re still friends), but I was wrong to be so angry at him, to hold onto that anger, and to call him a dumbass. Because he’s not. I wouldn’t have liked him in the first place if he was.
Please forgive me for setting such a bad example.
What made me realize how wrong I was is the date I had today. The guy was nice. We were able to talk for hours. We spent a lot of time together today. It was nice to have someone call me beautiful and open doors for me. And by the time I got home, I was certain that I am not on the same page as he is. Nowhere close. He wants to jump right into Super Commitment Land, and I’m not ready for that. So I am going to have to give the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and I know that he’s going to be less than thrilled… basically, this time, I’m the dumbass.
I sent an apology to the guy-wrongly-called-a-dumbass. I can’t tell you how badly I feel for having been angry and called him that. I’m terrified that he won’t forgive me.
I’m afraid that it sent people the wrong message about who I am and the kind of person/minister I want to be.
UPDATE: It shouldn’t surprise me that he didn’t hesitate to forgive me and our friendship isn’t over. I am incredibly grateful for it. My heart hasn’t felt this good in a long time.