The slow and steady coming of spring

MARQUETTE — When I stepped closer and reached for her arm, her hand and forearm were buried in the cold, deep snow.

I closed my hand around her elbow and tugged gently.

Nothing happened.

Her hand was stuck.

I kicked away some of the snow with my boot.

Then I tried again.

This time, her hand and lower arm came up from beneath the snow.

I could almost hear her sigh as I did this.

I was unprepared for the sight.

The long, bony fingers of Madame Chokecherry were encrusted with ice diamonds -dazzling diamonds, glittering in the fine sunlight of a Sunday afternoon.

These shimmering remnants from the cruel ice storm weeks ago had been preserved on her hand underneath a thick cover of drowning snow that had soon followed all the clinking, clanking and the jingle jangle of those difficult days.

Now, she was free – free to again stand upright, without the pain of being pulled and held out of place from what was proper.

She bowed and nodded.

The day before, I had driven west an hour or so, feeling like I was bogged down under the ice and snow myself. But the brilliant morning sun, the sight of an open highway and the music on my car stereo all helped my dipping barometer.

I had grabbed a Kim Richey disc before I left the house, one of my favorites, called “Glimmer,” which I hadn’t heard in a long time. It’s a collection of honest, bittersweet songs that warm me inside, like a spoonful of brandy on a bitterly cold night.

It doesn’t seem like much to ask; to live a life that isn’t caught up in the past

But there’s really no place else on earth for me right now; I wish you’d come around

I listened as the miles clicked by.

Well, I’m the first to say I should forget you and I wish I could

But sometimes, wishes don’t come true

The haunting ethereal sounds of the songs reminded me of something I’d forgotten.

A handful of years before my dad died, I had taken him to St. Ignace to see a country show. He had taken me to see many great shows in my formative years and I wanted to try to repay my debt, albeit with a modern twist.

The show was headlined by Travis Tritt and warmed up by the baritone, guit-steel wonder Junior Brown. I knew my dad would like the music if he heard it, though it was a far cry from Eddy Arnold.

His agreeing to go that far to see the show on my asking outlined some of the unspoken affection of our relationship and points up some of the largely intangible and memorable things I miss about him.

On the way home that night, I was playing my Kim Richey album and he was in the backseat, leaned way back, like Hank Williams or something. My girlfriend at the time was riding shotgun in the front with me.

In between a couple of the tracks he asked me who the singer was. Knowing him, that could either be a good sign or a bad one.

Turns out, he liked her and the show.

Remembering this as I drove put a resemblance of a grin on my mouth.

This recollection and the music itself laid down a new sedimentary layer of memory I’ll hang on to for one of those cloudy, amber autumn days.

The longer days and the prominence of recent sunshine have continued to impress me. It seems to make the birds more active, animated, and certainly more vocal.

At home now, sitting at the dining room table, a fiery glow is cast across the window at the far side of the room, as the setting sun shines through the red oil stored in the base of an old lamp that sits on the windowsill.

I have a strange sensation lately, like simultaneously being buried under a long winter’s worth of snow, suffocating and breathing the fresh clean air, sensing springtime is around the corner.

It’s time for a last dash to do those winter things I wanted to get done, like more snowshoeing, lake hiking, ice fishing, waterfalling and ice-caving, tube sliding and more.

Another realization strikes me here at the table.

Of all the times I ever fished with my dad, there exists not one single photograph I am aware of that shows us together doing that.

The closest thing I know of is a photo of my dad in the kitchen at my grandma’s house with a German brown trout he’d caught. I am just a little guy in the picture, and – though clearly intrigued – I appear to be shying away from touching the fish.

Seems funny now.

My dad looks so young in the picture. I wonder what his dreams were then and if he ever felt he attained them? It’s weird to think that I am older now than he was then.

Here at the table, I’m sitting on one of those kitchen chairs shown in the picture.

It’s strange to me that in nature trees keep growing taller and stronger, while rooms and furniture made from them – as the years go on – seem smaller and smaller.

I remember coming home from California and standing in disbelief realizing how small my bedroom really had been, as well as the house we lived in as a family with four kids.

The backyard was small too, but the old maple was enormous, having pushed itself high and wide into the sky, quenched and nourished by snowmelt and sunshowers.

The town seemed a lot smaller too, with a lot fewer people, fewer shops, more vacant storefronts, taller and longer shadows. Rusted and torn down mine gates, towering rock piles, roads crumbling, while old boards on old houses crack and just get older.

Hardscrabble times for lots of folks to exist in the bosom of god’s country.

And now the deed is done, and the smoke has cleared, from the ashes a glimmer of the truth appears…now the window’s closed, opportunities fled, all that’s left to do now is look back and shake our heads.

Outside my window, it’s been a few hours past since I lifted the lovely hand of Madame Chokecherry out of the snow. It was a small gesture, but one I feel good about.

She’s lifted her arm now, about as high as her waist. Her ice diamonds look immaculate and are likely all the rage among the trees in the yard. She’s now the only one with much of any glittery jewelry left to show.

She stands tall, but clearly hobbled, like a relic from the close of the Gilded Age.

I step out the back door and feel the cold wind wrap around my neck like a snake. It won’t be long before Orion will be hunting in the blackness above, the dippers will be filled, with my cup running over, freezing on the ground.

— — —

John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.


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