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Now’s the time for crunching through darkness

January 21, 2008
Tom Carney
Mother Nature provided some early to mid-January pleasantness. No tough storms since those that struck in early December. Rains over the holidays melted most of what had built up and we’ve been favored with little snow since then.

I realize these pleasantries won’t prevail. Not for a few months, anyway. More snow will come. More will require plowing. Before too long the temperatures will start to plummet again if they haven’t already. I won’t be able to enjoy the luxury of typing in a T-shirt; rather, I’ll use the coffee cup to warm my typing fingers into working order each morning. And even if the sun is hanging around a bit longer each day, he still keeps his distance, often shielding himself with clouds, and keeps his warmth to himself. Kind of helps you understand the phrase “bleak midwinter,” doesn’t it?

This is crunch time. Dig in, make it past now, and soon the cold, dark days will turn warm, inviting. Then again, it’s also crunch time for a different reason.

The pleasant crunch of tires coming to an easy halt in a couple inches of fresh snow — is there a more agreeable sound uttered by a Michigan winter?

“Possibilities,” it whispers.

If you’re lucky, you’ll first feel a sting as the wind tattoos your face with a few dime-sized snowflakes. That combination suggests a storm, and it represents a neat time to be on a road trip. Too bulky to wear comfortably as you drive, your coat remains on the truck seat as you hustle to the building. You get chilled just enough to appreciate the warmth within.

Could be the warmth radiates from an old oil or kerosene heater at your usual bait shop near Grand Lake. The owner prefers his shanty on mornings like these and his wife doesn’t mind tending to the business.

You feel just a tad guilty when she catches you counting just to be sure she’s given you several more minnows than the dozen you requested. So you tell her to add in a Swedish Pimple, even though four more await you, still in their original wrappers and stashed in the hand warmer pocket of your coat on the seat of the truck.

Sensory tweaks like those help me to recall the possibilities that greeted my late father-in-law Charles and me in a different way one fine stormy night, as we detoured from a blizzard and opened the door to a small a restaurant in Grayling.

From the kitchen drifted the aroma of beef gravy; it was quickly supplanted by that of the apple pie the waitress carried past us. Word came that the storm was bad enough to close the Mackinac Bridge. Headed ultimately for Marquette, we quickly modified our plans. A slight detour, some crunching through the darkness, and we soon explored the possibilities of cribbage with some friends who own a resort motel in Rogers City.

The next morning we learned that the blizzard had crippled much of the U.P., obliterating M-28 from Seney to Marquette. We had to take the southern route, along US-2, then US-41 north at Rapid River.

Not far from Trenary, another building beckoned, but we didn’t stop by choice. This was a truck stop in more than one sense of the phrase. Warming our hands on cups of coffee we watched as a pair of wreckers positioned themselves to right the 18-wheeler which had jack-knifed and tipped over and which itself obliterated the highway, if only for about 15 feet.

“Might as well have another cup,” the waitress advised. “The state police have the road closed in both directions. You won’t be going anywhere for a while.

But no one told Bud.

Bud Willette worked with me in southeastern Michigan. He had left home that morning, about 18 hours after we had. Yet when he pulled up to the semi, there we were in the same place at the same time, the same distance from the same destination. He wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt and sipped on a can of Pepsi, while I stood there bound in pack boots, a goose down parka and a trooper’s hat.

Sometimes, the possibilities come from nature herself and are usually predicated on the fact that yours are the first tires that morning to be crunching into a parking lot.

In the Pigeon River Country, being first on the ski trails offers possibilities of a different kind. Elk, gray phantoms, drift from the trail and into the woods. Startled grouse, burst from their cozy snow roosts. At Thompson’s Harbor State Park, like teenagers caught necking in a driveway, amorous bobcats collect themselves then hustle away.

It’s easy to get caught up dwelling upon the negatives of a Michigan winter: the bone-chilling cold, the limited hours of daylight, the overpowering clouds during those hours. These delineate winter’s certainties.

But it’s the crunch that traces its possibilities.



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