“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” Anne Bradstreet
Using the reclining chair heater for the first time, I sat huddled in a fetal position under a crocheted blanket that was given to us as a wedding present from a dear friend who has always lived in Michigan. I was so pleased to have something made by my talented friend that I put the thought of never having to use it way in the back of my mind. But now, I was struggling to get every inch of my body under its warmth. Feeling like a wimp, I drank my hot coffee as I stared in horror at my ipad screen. The weather app was telling me it was a frightening 37 degrees outside. This is going to be an interesting month in Michigan.
Only three days ago it was Labor Day when we drove the RV into the northern Michigan campground that would be our home for 28 days. 70ish degree temperatures made camp set-up quite pleasant as we listened to the rowdy glee of several campers in the outdoor pool squeezing out as much summer as they could before winter preparations fell heavy on their minds. The amiable weather continued for the next couple days as we explored the outdoors in t-shirts and long pants. Fall can be so lovely in Michigan. But then reality caught up and it became clear as we watched the temperatures dip well below our comfort zone that we would have to buck up if we were going to do any kind of outdoor activity for the next four weeks.
When I left Michigan over 30 years ago, I moved to warmer climates and never looked back. My spouse Vivian is not from Michigan, she comes from a region about as far removed from the north woods as anything can be. Sixty years ago, she was born in Cuba, only 90 miles south of Miami where she has called home for the past 57 years. She is, for all intents and purposes, a tropical girl. To put her in the middle of northern Michigan is like planting a palm tree in a snowbank. As for me, I rarely miss the cold weather and am quite content sweating through a south Florida summer. When temperatures drop below 70, my body goes on alert. Get below 60 and it goes into defensive mode. Vivian, never having had a steady relationship with cold weather just doesn’t know how to respond, except to panic over how few articles of clothing she owns for such climates.
During our visit to northern Michigan, the fall chill gradually became more consistent and during that final week up to October 1, we were completely covered in clothing while inside the RV and spending a good portion of each morning strategizing our wardrobe before braving the outdoors. Do I need my long johns? Do I need a hat? Which socks should I wear? Are you taking your Marmot jacket? But somewhere in there, a funny thing happened. Somehow, we began to embrace the cold.
The turning point was at Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula. I was so taken in with photographing Lake Superior and the falls that wearing four layers of clothing, hat and mittens just felt so right. I was really getting into the feel of the north winds whipping across my face as I set up the tripod on the beach of Superior. If I was going to photograph Lake Superior, I had to embrace the chill. In fact, I could have spent the entire day standing out in the cold, capturing that powerful great lake. I know from experience that as long as you can stay relatively comfortable while outside in 40-degree temperatures (wind chill well below that), you can be rewarded with warm inviting temperatures and hot beverages later on.
We spent the entire day in the frigid air of the upper peninsula with the exception of taking refuge at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub. And when we got back to the RV, it was warm. And it was so cozy. That evening, I wore my flannels and cooked dinner while enjoying the warmth that seemed to accentuate the smells of garlic and spices in our closed-up RV. Instead of the usual loud blow of the AC, the gas furnace offered a comforting low hum. I was loving it. I began to remember what it was like a long time ago. Even in the winter, I always wanted to be outside doing something; running, skiing, shoveling snow, chopping wood. I thought of that sensation of cold wetness and the beautiful feeling of putting on dry, warm clothing afterwards. If you want to enjoy winter outdoors, it simply requires the right attire and you having the good fortune of a warm place to come home to. I was lucky back then and I was feeling lucky now, in my RV.
Two nights before our departure, I had one last opportunity to photograph Lake Michigan. One hour before sunset we drove west enjoying our view through farm lands. Once we got to the great lake shoreline, the temperature was no higher than 40 degrees. But I was prepared for it as I walked up and down the beach carrying the tripod and camera, looking for that final shot. Vivian stayed in the truck to keep warm having had her fill of the cold weather from fly fishing several hours that day in one of northern Michigan’s many rivers. We were both embracing Michigan’s great outdoors, she through fishing and me through photographing. That’s what you do; embrace the cold, one degree at a time. The evening sky over Lake Michigan was a beautiful scene unfolding and I was captivated once again by a great lake. It was so easy to ignore the cold. After the sun set and a few blue hour shots, I got back in the warm truck.
On our drive home, we reminisced about our time in Michigan and believed that we had experienced it as much as we could. We never stopped, even when the weather tempted us to stay in. We began thinking about more trips to northern parts with our home on wheels. This little excursion was only a small taste of what’s to come. But that is all in the future. In the meantime, we had things to do. It was time to pack up, torque the wheels, blow the leaves off the slide outs, and so on. We were preparing to head south; you know, like any self-respecting Floridian would do at that time of year.