Incoming winter changes the watch | News, Sports, Jobs

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JEAN PEPIN

“And then, just in time, you came along and changed the game”, —Marshall Crenshaw

When I woke up, after once again falling asleep on the sofa watching TV until the wee hours of the morning, I sat gathering my mind in hopes of wrapping it around some thoughts or at least some something that I could collectively call a consciousness.

In the darkness, I looked up the county road to see the lamppost casting a pale, yellowish cone of light toward the gleaming asphalt, the dirt of the driveway, and the green grass of the lawn.

I had guessed that a misty rain was descending on the stage through the cool night air.

Instead, as I rubbed my eyes, I could see it was snowing. The grass was covered in white, except at the edges of the lawn. I came out.

The air seemed relatively mild, considering. The snow falling from the sky was wet and heavy and maybe more rain than snow.

It was a silent snowfall except for the sound of water droplets pouring from everything touching the ground and everything below.

After a few minutes I went back inside and lay down to try and get some more sleep before it was time to get up for work.

Over the past few days, the bird species changes at our feeders have continued to show the slow but sure presence of winter.

Just a few days ago there had been dozens of grackles, but they seem to have moved south, leaving behind a few allies – red-winged blackbirds in a small but rowdy crew.

A flurry of the slate race of black-eyed juncos had also arrived, in dribs and drabs. At first it was just one or two birds over the course of a few days. Now there were almost two dozen.

A winter visitor red-bellied woodpecker has been returning for the past week or so, arriving at his favorite suet feeder at the same time of day as last winter. Just in time.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, it was time to get up. I went to the window to see the snow mostly covering the downed yellow and red leaves on the lawn.

The big change between the peaceful scene I had experienced a few hours ago and now was the unwavering presence of a gusting, almost howling wind. The leaves were too wet or covered in snow to blow off the ground or they would be everywhere.

In the trees, stubborn leaves clung to the branches and whole maples and birches swayed in the gaping mouth of that wind. It was loud enough to make a shocking noise that I could hear from inside the house.

Saw a robin in the last few rainy days looking for worms or other food on the patio. I imagined this bird lingered a bit longer than recommended, although some blackbirds will stay all winter in some areas.

I could imagine this bird in its grass-woven nest setting a gray wing on top of a bedroom alarm clock, to hit the snooze bar once more.

This made me contemplate a distinction made by humans in general that I find strange. People will often describe their dogs, cats, birds and the like as members of the family, with almost human personalities and attributes.

However, this appears to be an honor we only extend to pets. People rarely describe wild animals in the same terms. I’ve never heard of a robin having human attributes except for a few anthropomorphic looks in pieces of music like “Rockin’ Robin” and “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along).

I think that kind of pet thinking goes hand in hand with a general rise of pets in prominence that has happened noticeably, especially in recent years.

For example, far beyond the fact that dogs are called “the men’s best friend,” Newscasters now routinely report pet losses in equity with people when it comes to fires or other tragedies.

I think it also goes hand in hand with a solid instruction that we have always heard or given that wild animals are just that. They are not pets and treating them as they are can lead to dire circumstances.

But it’s still a strange psychological separation – this concern between wild and domestic animals.

For the rest of the day, the wind continued to build in speed and ferocity, with much more snow forecast for the region. The high winds blowing at around 40 miles per hour sounded like a professional wrestler setting up an opponent for a big fall.

That the waters of Gitchie Gumee were high and rolling with white-capped waves crashing like cymbals on the harbor breakwater.

At the iconic red lighthouse, the waves rolled high and eerie, churning sand, mud, bark and leaves against the shore.

In the swell, a trio of surfers in black drysuits looked like seals lying on top of the waves, trying to find an opportunity to get up and slide on their boards.

The lake was like a bathtub that had too much water in it, lapping back and forth splashing water against rocks and, in some cases, onto roads. The picnic rock park had been closed.

A few years ago a similar storm that happened just before Halloween raged and howled and claimed the lives of two people here, carrying them from where they were in the receding foam.

Like a hand moving across a table, the big storm swept across the country from west to east, dropping more than a foot of snow in many places and packing another punch for towns and villages ahead of it.

This former mining town was one of those places. During the night heavy wet snow fell all over. He trampled on a couple of brave black-eyed Susans still standing in the garden under the cedars.

The weight of the snow coupled with the force of the winds split, cracked and toppled trees which, in turn, brought down power lines.

I went to get a shovel from the garage. I lifted it to knock heavy snow off the cable to the house and over a sagging maple tree that had dipped and bent all the way to the ground. It bounced about three-quarters of the way to standing.

Birds were everywhere trying to make their way through the wet snow to find dry sunflower seeds and suet cages hanging in cages.

The dark colored juncos, blackbirds and woodpeckers contrasted sharply against the large white background they were projected against.

And so the first real snowstorm of the season arrived.

My mind was no more ready for that, no more than trees that had at least half their leaves. Always yellow and orange. Always so beautiful.

The meteorologist says weekend temperatures will hit the 60s, providing enough warmth to clear all the snow from the landscape.

Mother Nature gives and she takes away.

After seeing this and reading this, I still have a hard time understanding, especially when looking at a white snow globe with sugar covered houses, trees, roads and paths.

My mind is wearing a sweater, deciding what soup to make for lunch and how nice it will be once I bring some dry wood into the house to start a fire in the fireplace. If I let him run too far ahead of me, my mind will already be pouring eggnog and wrapping presents.

I’m still a long way from being ready for that, although I fantasized about a day ago about Dairy Queen announcing another eggnog blizzard. It would be amazing.

With the wind picking up even stronger and faster, I decided to stay home this afternoon, hoping that no trees would fall in the yard.

Once the storm passes, I will go out with my camera to film what I can see.

I plan to poke my little black-eyed Suzanne’s head out of the snow and take a picture of her as she smiles and winks at me.

How sweet to find remnants of summer still existing here, even now, as winter’s first clenching of fists takes place.

For me, it represents hope.

And with hope comes love and often inspiration.

California is dreaming on such a winter day.

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who love and appreciate the world-class natural resources of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.



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