Joe, Bryn and I have just swapped Florida’s warmth for Michigan’s deep winter. The contrast is stark. Both states, though, offer their own peculiar beauty.
For nearly two weeks we took in Florida’s greenery, the odd, deeply whiskered, stumpy trees, the purity of a beach’s snow-white sand finer than cane sugar. That same sand, only a few miles down the road, is a denser honeyed vanilla. The difference is subtle but distinct. The Gulf of Mexico though, has a massive wardrobe of glorious colors that project its mood from moment to moment. When smoothed out and meditative it decorates itself with vivid variants of emerald green mixed with clear, pale blue tones trimmed with creamy magnolia margins. When agitated, its chameleon-like surface changes to an opaque, dull steel gray fringed with snow-white, foamy lace.
I find this endlessly changing canvas fascinating.
When at peace the Gulf’s countless, rhythmic, broad tongues of water quietly lap Florida’s vast shoreline, leaving unique impressions that last only seconds before the gracefully curved imprint of each is quietly replaced. Every wave ‘tongue’ has traveled thousands of miles for months, or even years, before finally sliding gently onto this beach.
This rhythm, to me, is reflective of our lives. In between our own formation and dissolution, there can exist a bit more time to make a unique impression, too, before being assimilated into the Great Scheme of Things.
Michigan winters create a pause that lasts for months. That pause can stretch time, at least for me. I have fewer obligations in winter, leaving more time to read, and to note changes- perhaps in me, and certainly in the landscape.
Bryn and I quietly observe the Grand Traverse Bay’s ice-lid, which seems strong enough for fishermen to move substantial huts far out there. I love to watch enormous, distant weather systems subtly alter each winter day’s limited color palate.
The recent sudden warmth has affected the ice’s solidity. It seems to stir, ever so minutely. Parts of it are translucent. And yet- lots of people happily fish inside their little huts, or move confidently over the arrested water, pulling sleds.
I, though, wouldn’t go out there, now.
Fat flakes fall to earth. As though equipped with parachutes each perfect flake seems to take its time selecting a landing spot. Dormant brown/black trees, swathed in a soft, white mantle, are striking in their nudity. I walk miles with Bryn, careful to plant my Yaktrax boots firmly on iffy pavements.What a wonderful invention.
Bryn likes to sit in front of Sunnybank’s floor-to-ceiling kitchen window to watch the secret garden’s edging gently blur with snow. Bouncing through drifts she’ll scoop up mouthfuls of snow, copying the street plows. She takes pleasure in every cold minute. Her nose constantly moves, reading the news plainly etched in every drift.
My dormant, winterized proboscis, though, is pretty useless.
Florida’s average temperature hovered at around 60 or so, and made Bryn drag a bit. She panted after only a few minutes’ play in the dog park. Though I’d trimmed her long, wavy fur and eliminated her beard, she was still too warm. Only days ago she’d been in 12-degree weather: the change was shocking. Confused, she began to shed in earnest.
But her humans loved it, so she kept her opinion to herself and her tongue in her mouth. She didn’t exactly long for long walks and bike trips, but enjoyed them just the same.
Ten days later it was time to leave the Panhandle. Using our iPad’s aviation weather maps we wove between systems to slip northward just ahead of huge, ominous black clouds that eventually dumped great quantities of water on Florida and Alabama, literally washing cars off the roads we’d traveled just hours before.
Now and then we’d visit a rest stop to stretch our legs. And at every one, beginning in mid-Alabama, the temperature dropped ten more degrees. We used our van’s large interior to swap lightweight tee shirts for long underwear and turtlenecks. By the time we entered Michigan and approached Ann Arbor, fat flakes had begun to challenge our windshield. It became very difficult to see- and stay on- the snow-covered, icy I-75 freeway. Cars, who’d whipped by us too fast just moments before, flew into ditches, turned over, or crashed into other cars. It was quite a sight.
About 15 miles from Saginaw, wind-driven snow had greatly lessened. It was the only fearsome weather we encountered during the 22-hour trip.
Back in Traverse City Bryn is happy to sniff all the news imprinted on every huge mountain of dumped snow deposited in the Central Elementary school’s front yard. She’ll add her own scent, then trot to the next spot, sniffing deeply, processing mountains of information I could never hope to learn...(How tall, how old, which sex, each canine’s personal scent, its master’s mood.) The answers are parked right there, in thin air.
Her delight in winter and my own memories of the Gulf’s wild beauty mitigate any sadness I might feel about returning to winter’s landscape.
Besides, now that it’s mid-February, I’m beginning to anticipate what’s just around the corner...