Gifts are a great way to show you care. Taking time together to build memories creates a gift long cherished.
Ice coated the lenses of my glasses as the wind buffeted my body, forcing me to lean into it like a reluctant lover.
It was only early October, but this was Sault Ste. Marie and winter was here. I should’ve known it was coming when I saw utility workers attaching orange bicycle flags to the top of fire hydrants around campus. The flags were six feet tall. There was no way they needed to be that high. Or so I thought.
I had walked around town dozens of times now. Being a student in a new area was exciting. It was as far away from Detroit as I could think of at the time while still being in the state. There was familiarity in the bridge to Canada, the gas stations, Mc Donald’s, and I-75; and yet it was so different. Smaller, quieter, cleaner. Geese waddled in the large field next to the school parking. Rust from the slag in the cement gave the roads a reddish hue that matched the metal roofs of the college. It was almost exotic.
All of that escaped me as I trudged forward. The only thing that mattered was getting some boots. Some good boots. I was wearing my new winter coat and was amazed at how well it fought the weather. It was made from a then new material called “thinsulite” and kept you warm without having all the bulk of traditional winter coats. I could twist and move freely as I walked up the road without doing my best impression of the Michelin man. I loved it and I wanted boots that could match.
The wind was there when I started the journey. Lake Superior State University (Lake State) sits on top of a hill and has two sides of it open to the river and a bay which brings an almost constant breeze. (Sometimes, something more.) It’s something you get used to. What I didn’t expect was the sleet. The wind drove the sleet forcefully down Ashmund street and into the opening of my hood. My cheeks, already burning red from the winds and cold temps flared against the pelting. Ice droplets the size of salt grains blasted against my skin while frosting my glasses and caking the front of my jeans.
I turned around and pulled out a bandana to wipe my lenses. Shoving it my pocket, I turned again to continue on. I made it about a block. This started a curious dance. Fight the wind and sleet for a block, turn and clean so I could see. Walk, stop, turn, clean. Walk, stop turn, clean. Somewhere along the way I gave up using the soaked and half frozen bandana to wipe my glasses and instead wrapped around my half frozen face to keep the stinging of the sleet down. It took me twice as long, but I reached the store.
“What are you doing? Dressing for Halloween?” Came the greeting from the store owner.
I smiled as I shook off my hood and pulled the bandana from my face. I knew I looked ridiculous, especially to the natives, but didn’t care. I didn’t see anyone else walking on the streets, native or not. I proved my toughness, now I was going to get my reward.
Walking up and down the aisles, I unzipped my coat. It was hot inside in comparison to the outside and I was beginning to sweat. Finding the boots, I looked at my choices. One had caught my eye. It was a nice tan color with rubber around the base of it and flowing over the toe area. Being five inches tall, it reminded me of high-top basketball shoes. I searched for my size. None were to be had. I was disappointed. They would’ve been perfect. They were small but rugged, and they even had thinsulite in them. Damn the luck!
Gazing to my right was another pair of boots. Same brand, same features, but not as nice. They were taller and had a dull, dark brown color instead of the bright yellow tan of the ones I really wanted. Still they were well built and had a tongue that featured sewn in sides to keep the snow out. They would work.
Throwing off my soaked sneakers, I pulled on the boots. They seemed comfortable if heavy. Tucking in my jean cuffs, I laced them and tied them tight. With my sneakers in the box I paid the forty dollars plus tax, zipped up, and headed back to the dorm. The three mile walk was easier with the wind at my back and new boots on my feet. I almost enjoyed it. That was, until I turned on Easterday Avenue and the wind changed to hit me square in the face.
It’s mid-May; what are your summer plans? Many of you have suffered a long and vicious winter this season. Being locked up inside must’ve kicked your summer plans into overdrive. I’m sure you spent hours, if not days going over every detail of what you would do once released from winters icy grip.
Here’s your opportunity kick those plans in motion and let the world know what you are going to do this summer.
You suffered the cold, so reward yourself by making those plans come true!
With an itch to see some spruce, I am going up to Maine. I will hike the trails and enjoy lobster freshly caught. Many pictures will be taken and wonderful ideas will be hatched.
I will also be hiking the trails more often around my local. There are many places close by that need exploring and there’s no reason not to go.
I’m also going to do my first solo camp. It’s amazing that I’ve never done one before, but I always felt like I needed to include the wife on this. She has no desire this time, unless it’s glamping, (just say no) and I want to do the rugged thing. I have made a concession on where this will be done. I wanted to try this at Deep Creek Preserve since it’s my go to hiking place, but she would rather have me camp at Oscar Scherer State Park. (I might push for Myakka River State Park since it has primitive campsites available.)
I will also be posting about my daypack since gear is always popular to blog about.
So what are going to do this summer? The days are warmer and the nights are warmer. Hear the whispers in the distance? Those are your adventures calling.
The wind blows strong tonight. It rattles at the window panes and howls through the cracks and corners of the cabin. Streams of dusty snow mimic the flow of the borealis. Even though I am sitting near the wood stove, I feel winters icy fingers as it grasps desperately for my flesh.
With an involuntary shiver, I can’t help but think of my sentence in purgatory. Winter’s end brings both sadness and joy. It will be good to see spring and the life that its warmth brings it; but the transitional month is the most dangerous time of all.
The frozen creeks and streams which were winter’s highways are now untrustworthy for passage. The snow lies heavy in the trees, ready to fall at a moment’s notice. The prey has long learned how to better hide themselves from the predators. In turn, the predators have grown lean and desperate with hunger. Anything moving now is a target.
The worst of all is the darkness. Like a cruel warden, it taunts you on your last leg of your sentence and never lets you forget where you are and who’s in charge. All your distractions are gone and all your mind can focus on is the moment when the daylight comes and you can be free again.
Some can’t make it. The pressure gets too much for them to bear and they foolishly run out without respect or care for the changes going on around them. They either fall through the melting ice or they injure themselves in a deadly cascade of tree fallen snow or avalanche. Others can’t handle it at all and end everything in ways I’d rather not talk about. It’s a hard time when all that’s done is done. When all thoughts are thought. When everything had been seen, read, or heard; and there is nothing left. In this darkness, when you are waiting alone for the light, is when you find yourself.
You can succumb to the long dark or you can step out past your front door and look up to see the bright stars piercing through the heavy dark. That there is still light in the world. That the ribbon of color called Aurora still happily dances in the night sky. That all these gifts are still there for those who choose to see and enjoy them. For their time is limited. Soon the sun will come and their light will be hidden by the warm glow of summer.
Remember to take this moment and enjoy them.
The snow shines brightly under the cloudless sky. My eye’s squint and water just from looking out my window. It’s not too cold out either. Maybe 20 degrees with a light breeze coming out of the Northwest. It’ll be a great day for a gathering walk. I already have my travel cup warming up for the outing. I love these double insulated, plastic cups. They keep my coffee long enough for a quick drink and don’t cling to your lips like the old metal ones do. I don’t know why they sell those stupid metal ones here anyway. Every time I see a tourist with one my mind keeps replaying the tongue on the pole scene from A Christmas Story. Ugh!
Luckily for me, I don’t have to deal with that crap. I wised up and live twenty miles from the nearest town. Yeah that can be a pain sometimes, but oh the benefits of it all.
No noise. No traffic. No stupid rules and regulations strangling you from all corners. Freedom. Pure and simple. My heart warms just thinking about it. People in the “civilized world” might wax poetic about their Chinese takeout and Starbucks Latte, but I was never one for Chinese food and my home-brew is better than anything Starbucks can dream of. Speaking of which. It’s ready to go.
It took me a few minutes, but now I’m ready to go as well. Got my parka on (Thank God for Thinsulate), pack’s all set, and I am out the door.
Everything’s different when you live in the bush. You have to go prepared. There’s no 911 out here. No ambulances to pick you up when you’re hurt. No hospital within an hour’s drive. (Hell, where I’m at, there ain’t no road!) It’s all on you to see that you make it home. That’s why the pack. It’s got enough stuff in it to keep me safe and warm if something should happen along the way.
But enough of that, It’s time for the walk.
I love a good “gathering walk” this time of year. The bears are asleep and the other critters are out and about. If you’re really quiet, you might get lucky. Last year around this time I witnessed two foxes frolicking in the fresh powder. They were romping and playing like kids in the school yard. I was one of the rare times I wish I had a camera. I also like to use this walk to gather information about the small game running around. Where their paths are. What trees and shrubs they prefer this go around. Whether or not their numbers have increased. But when it comes to small game tracking, my main goal is to scout out the wounded or lame ones. Those are the ones first on my winter’s hunting list. It might sound cruel, but I’d rather take them out quickly and as painlessly as possible then to have them live in pain or die slowly of starvation.
I also like to keep an eye out for newly felled trees. They make for easy firewood come the spring.
But mostly I go to be with nature. Time will come soon enough where I’ll be stuck inside for most of the time, so I might as well enjoy being outside as much as I can. It’s a treasure that most just don’t understand. There’s a feeling of connection to the earth that is lost in the “civilized” world. People make a big to do about pushing forms and data all around, while spending only two weeks of their lives trying to undo the stress from the other fifty. They call that living. I call it insanity. You want living. Come up here and live this way for one year. Only then will you get a taste of what true living is about.
WARNING! This story has harsh, adult language that is not suitable for children. The iuse of the F-bomb is in the story along with other harsh words. Adults only.
Insulated boots made their slow, deliberate, march forward as Jack trudged his way through the thick, heavy snow. Muffled sounds of crunching created by his boot-falls were echoed by the huffing of his breath. It had been an hour since Jack gave up trying to fix his snow mobile. An hour’s hike back on the trail and he had not seen nor heard any evidence of human life.
“Someone’s gonna show up soon.” He thought to himself as he trudged along. “Someone’s got to!”
His nose and cheeks burned against the cold and wind, but he felt it was better if strangers were able to see his face instead of a masked man walking alone on the trail without a sled. He had wished he brought his sunglasses. With the tinted visor on his helmet, he figured he didn’t need them, but even with the heavy clouds in the sky, enough light was reflecting off the snow to make him squint.
“Never should’ve ridden alone.” He scolded himself.
“Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.” Came the sounds of his boots on the dry snow.
Jack didn’t notice that his gloved hands were clenching and unclenching into fists.
“Huff. Huff. Huff.” Came his breath in a labored pace.
He stopped for a moment to look around. Grimacing he listened intently. “Nothing.” He said sourly.
Jack unzipped his jacket and took it off. His back was drenched in sweat.
“Shit this sucks!” He cursed as he let the frigid air cool his body. “Who knew you could sweat in winter?”
Tying the coat tightly around his waist, Jack pressed forward. He was shivering less than fifteen minutes later.
“Fuck!” He yelled as he hurriedly put the jacket back on. “This is crazy!” Two steps later he noticed the ring of sweat around his waist where the jacket used to be.
“I need a Fucking beer!” He whined to himself.
After a half hour of hiking and cursing later, Jack stopped again in his desperate search for rescue. He was rewarded with silence.
“Why the fuck didn’t I bring my fucking phone?” He yelled into the bitter air.
With a thump, Jack sat/fell into the snow. He looked around with a pout on his face before noticing that the sky was getting dark.
“Great.” He muttered to himself. “Just fucking great.”
It took the bobbing and twinkling of a light to make him hear the tenor pitched sound of a motor at high rev coming towards him. Instantly, Jack was on his feet.
“Hey!” He screamed at the top of his lungs while waving franticly. “Hey!”
A black and emerald snow mobile stopped revealing a rider dressed smartly in matching garb.
“Need a ride?” The man asked Jack.
“You bet I do!” He answered joyfully.
“Hop on.” The man said, gesturing behind him.
Jack quickly climbed on as the man started his sled. Fifteen minutes later they passed Jacks abandoned snow mobile.
“Yours, I presume.” The man said as the skied by.
“Piece of shit.” Jack answered. “Why we going this way?” He asked out of curiosity.
“Town’s closer this way.” The man stated. “If you had walked this way instead of backtracking, you would’ve been in town by now.”
“Great.” Came Jacks dour response.
Incredulous, the man asked, “Didn’t you know where you were going?”
“Nah. I just wanted to ride.”
The man shook his head as they motored on.
It was too much longer before they came to a small town.
“You should be able to get some help here.” The man said to Jack as he turned off his sled.
Jack’s eyes noticed a bar close by. “I think I need a beer first.”
“Maybe you should think of bringing some tools and supplies next time you go out.” The man suggested.
“Yeah.” Jack replied. “Next time I’ll bring my cell phone and a fifth of whisky! That’ll do it!”
The man turned his key and took off as jack headed towards the bar.
Muted light barely uncovers the letters on the keyboard as I type. The house is silent except for the soft strum of guitars accompanied by the faint falsesetto of Duncan Shiek flowing through the still air.
Looking out the glass of the sliding door reveals a grey sky of thick clouds mixing perfectly the slate roof and the dull white stuccoed walls of the house beneath it. Open windows whisper that the owners there, but no light of life shines out, only a heavy curtain of flat black to fill the space.
There is no movement outside. No wind to make branches sway and toss leaves in the air. There are no birds in the air, nor squirrels dashing to and fro. All is still.
Days like these are common enough up north, but they are a true rarity here in Florida where the porches are built extra wide and you dare not go outside without sunglasses.
The stark contrast alone of this steel day is enough to make one stop and notice; but then again, this is late January and it is winter.