Sunday, February 3, 2013

the meat of winter

There is a poem about Michigan that a few years back I cut out of the New Yorker and tacked to a cork board in the room I called my office in the house in Sand River. When I moved, the poem came down, and I do not know where that scrap of paper is and have not given it a thought, not even earlier this week, when I put up a makeshift cork board to fill the gap between the freestanding door that makes up one wall of my closet and the wall perpendicular to it. That wall slants away, top to bottom, following the roof line of the cabin. The triangular gap seemed right for a cork board. Once done, I tacked up my favorite cartoons—ones by George Booth, from the New Yorker, showing a man in a bath tub and a kitchen full of cats. A bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling. A woman in a lumpy house dress irons. The man says things like “Today I start the new me!” Even then, I did not think of the poem about Michigan. But yesterday, as ideas marinated and February became the meat of winter, and as I checked email and Twitter, there it was:


I clicked the link and read the poem about Michigan, read it through, savoring and remembering, especially this:
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat.
But February. For one, it’s a month of silly holidays. Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day. Not to mention the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, all that. Groundhog Day 2013 dawned with a temperature of 15 below zero, and if there were any groundhogs awake in the U.P., popping out of their burrows, well, I doubt it, but if there were and they did, they froze, shadows and all. On the second day of February, six more weeks of winter are never in doubt, and double that is more like it. Not to mention the fact that February is, by some accounts, 13 months long.

By the time the temperature rose to 10 degrees, I was ready for a walk, and Buster joined me. I wrapped him in his little olive green coat, buckled on my snowshoes, and off we went. We have about a foot of snow cover, but I’d been out the day before and my tracks remained, making a firm trail for us to walk on. We walked single file, Buster behind me, and were almost to the river when I looked back and saw he had stopped, so I stopped, and when he remained in place I turned back. There was a little jostling for position when we met on the narrow trail, then Buster jumped off into the deep snow and bounded away. Usually when this happens he seems to get disoriented, stops and waits for me to come get him, either because the snow is too deep or he does not know where he is, or both, but yesterday he just kept going, bounding through the snow, and I realized he was having fun. I took off after him. Running in snow shoes is much like you may think: gallumping through snow with tennis rackets strapped to your feet. It’s a blast. When Buster seemed not to know which way to go, I waved my arms and ran alongside and together we made tracks and raced home.

Buster and I make tracks.

By the time February rolls around, winter has shown us how it is going to be, has settled in, and we either accept it or flee. Acceptance means enjoying the snow, braving the cold, reveling in the pleasures of staying indoors, of being “snowed in.” The pace of life changes. We do less, plan more. We plan for spring. We notice that the days are getting longer, the sunlight a bit stronger. The very light that winter took away in November and December, the light that January held back on, is now being returned, generously. The sun may not have risen this morning until after eight, but in a month it will be rising at half past seven, and dusk has already begun to lag, coming in a little bit later each day, about 45 minutes later than when the new year started. That’s the meat of February—stuck in a snowbank in the light of a longer day.

There are three George Booth cartoons. In each the man in the bath tub is talking. The other two captions are “I’m working on Plan B.” and “My voices told me to just relax today.” I think February, with its prophetic woodchucks and love for chocolate, its parties and parades and presidential birthdays, its oddly fluctuating number of days, and, in Michigan anyway, its 13 months of meatiness, is a voice telling us to make our plans, start anew if we wish, but relax, because you know what? We are not in control. February is.

Three George Booth cartoons.

Enjoy “A Primer” by Bob Hicok.