A Winter for the Record Books

By: Mark Wilson

A winter for the record books! Or was it? For those of us living in Central and Northern Michigan, the winter of 2011-12 won’t make it into the record books for low temperatures, nor will it make for record snowfall depths, if it has a chance of going down in the history books for anything, it will be under the heading of [Unpredictably Interesting].

To live a content existence in the northern half of the mitt, a person forces themselves to find some enjoyment in copious amounts of snow, impassable roads, and bitter cold temperatures. You expect it, and during the early part of winter you find that you strangely long for it. It is all part of what makes us who we are … sort of the ruggedness of being from Michigan. Those of us who enjoy the outdoors and nature take up activities like Ice Fishing, skiing, and snowshoeing. But, Mother Nature can throw us a real curveball on occasion, and this past winter was one of those odd occasions. Amidst the tepid weather of mid-December I thought to myself, “We’ve remained under the radar long enough.” I was mentally prepared for anything that Mother Nature could throw my way in the form of winter. The one thing that I wasn’t prepared was what she did throw my way … namely a total lack of winter.

Looking back at what I would call a normal fall, I had taken in all the sights, sounds, and smells of that season and enjoyed them immensely, as I usually do. The fall logically started progressing into winter… or so one would think. By late December things sort of got hung-up. As the calendar rolled into January, it felt as though it was turning into the metaphorical Groundhog Day, I, like Bill Murray in the move, was forced to live the same day over and over again. I would wake each morning expecting to see a blanket of snow, yet as I peered into the woods it was exactly as it had been the day before.

I love to snowshoe, and I had my shoes out and ready to strap on and hit the trails. I was primed and cocked, but in mid-January I found myself trudging along the still leaf covered trails with my head hung low, kicking sticks off the trail with hands in pockets. All the while I was thinking that Ma-Nature was going to turn loose her snowy fury any day. Day after day went by and it started to appear as though the winter of 2011-12 was going to be a bust.

As I wandered about the woods it appeared that they had entered into some weird state of suspended animation that really wasn’t all that ascetically appealing, all of the colors had faded into a drab gray. Like Bill Murray’s character in the movie I was wondering if I was the only person aware of this time loop. This notion was reinforced during conversations with others. They would mention how nice the weather was, and under my breath I was muttering “What weather?” Doesn’t it have to do something to be considered weather?

I cherish my time in the woods, so I told myself that I needed to find some positive light in the situation and move on.  Photography popped into my mind one night, and I headed into the woods the next day with camera in hand. After sitting that evening clicking through hundreds of pictures of “blah” I was struck by the reality that the general drab grayness didn’t offer much in the way of landscape photo ops.  But what I did find were very small things that held beauty, and this was surly the reason why some genius invented the Macro setting on my camera.

I was back in the woods with a renewed sense of purpose. Day after day I would head out into this unending insipidness challenging myself to find some small piece of nature that would make for an interesting close-up. It worked! I took lots of cool close-up photos, and moreover as soon as I stopped thinking about it … the snow began to fall. We had a few stammering starts to the snowfall, but it finally blew up a storm. And when it happened, it was indeed one for the record book … that is if anyone is keeping track of beauty.

It started off as that wet sticky snow that adheres to the trunks of trees on the windward side. The type of snow that builds up on the branches of trees and just stays there piling up and weighing down the branches. I went to bed one night with high hopes of having enough snow to snowshoe the next day and I woke to find a stunning snowscape that was unrivaled in splendor. Looking into the woods the snow had covered and clung to even the smallest of twig and caused the trees to bow under the load. It was an amazing site that we don’t get to see very often.

This one snowfall … this one moment in time that I knew would only last a few days more than offset the endless doldrums of the previous two months. I got in some much needed time on the snowshoes on my own, and with all of my family. Although I took many pictures this was the type of thing that will etch memories in your mind forever, no camera necessary. The remaining snow from that storm got a few more inches added to it across the remainder of February and it gradually started to dwindle away looking like spring was on its way, then Mother Nature in her usual unpredictable fashion decided to give us an encore performance of that storm in the month of March.  Again I was pleased to get a couple weekends of snowshoeing out of that storm as well, but alas spring has sprung.

Actually we did set a record this past winter in that it was one of the 3 warmest winters on record, but even with that, I’m still going to chalk it up as a great winter that produced some great memories. Now I’m ready for summer!

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