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Column: Wrapped up in the U.P.’s wintry blanket

By John Pepin

Michigan DNR

MARQUETTE — “On a snow-covered night up in eastern Wyoming, another lazy day, looking for the sun,” – John Denver

In the place where I want to be right now, the snow is falling so softly that I can’t hear it, no matter how hard I might try.

The crystalline snowflakes twirl, spinning their fern-like icy arms, as they sift to the landscape covered in white below. An old gray field mouse stands at the edge of a woodpile, nibbling and spinning his last crumb of nothingness.

The sky dons its blue-purple cloak of twilight.

I settle in here among the others, the gingerbread man with a broken arm and legs and the ghosts of Christmas pasts.

We’ve all got our stories to tell, but no one is talking. The time for all that has long since come and gone. Everything around us is a testament to silence.

I nudge up closer to the trunk of a hemlock that has certainly seen better days, though her withered and worn branches over my head provide all the comfort I’m looking for.

The darker it gets, the softer and safer everything feels. I’m wrapped in a wintry blanket and need nothing more.

I’ll eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m dry, live my life on the square.

Peering through the looking glass, darkly, the snow angels have dirty faces.

Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mount Crumpit, he rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!

The days of December are busy and noisy, softer sounds need not apply.

On television, one man claps his hands while another tells me I can buy an electronic Darth Vader clapper device that talks, while turning on and off my lights and appliances.

May the farce be with you.

The wooden nutcrackers don’t have to say anything, just looking at them is enough to hear them clacking. Elves are creepy and Santa is maybe the loudest thing Christmas has to offer – Ho, ho, schmo.

Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the Charlie Brownest.

Among the internet’s “30 Best Gifts for Your Dad Who Totally Rules in 2020 (And Always),” are a “Papa Bear” T-shirt, beard lube and “The Corkcicle” ice whiskey wedge, that “keeps spirits perfectly chilled, but not quickly watered down.”

It’s no wonder the sound of silence seems so satisfying.

I’ve often thought that spending Christmastime stowed away in a snowbound cabin, maybe in the Yellowstone backcountry, would put me more than a few steps closer to heaven here on earth.

I don’t necessarily mean alone, though that thought certainly holds tremendous appeal as well. Rather, with those around me who mean the most.

No cellphones, no television. Just a warm fire, conversation, some good hot soup and a soft place to fall. I could push open the cabin door to only hear the wind, an owl or maybe a wolf howling out there somewhere in the night – so far away.

Steaming hot springs send their mists up through nighttime’s starry skies. The cold is biting, hard and honest. A deep breath hurts but heals at the same time.

Yes, the great Yellowstone – thank you, Teddy Roosevelt. So long, Pocatello and Idaho Falls. Howdy, West Yellowstone.

Out there, I think I could hear the tinkling celesta from the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in my head and smile. Which reminds me somehow, in addition to the hot soup, there would be a thermos full of thick, cold eggnog.

I could spend a whole evening trying to catalog the shades of blue in the wintertime skies. The darkness in that sublime setting would undoubtedly yield more than a dipper full of meteors, fizzing and dissolving past the faces of Orion and Cassiopeia.

I think confiding in nature can result in making the most sense of just about anything, if you have the time, space and the courage to listen.

Over the Wind River to the mighty Grand Tetons, there are voices floating on the air, the cosmic frequencies of the beyond.

Listening to that border radio.

I hope to one day see the glorious valley where the Yellowstone River flows. I want to walk along the trails of Denali and see the Craters of the Moon. I’d love to stand within Monument Valley too.

Like everyone else, I’m making plans and dreams in my head for after the shadow and sorrow of this great pandemic has lifted.

Death carries a big stick. In this case, it’s a damned big stick.

I think about fishing the cold streams for brookies, alongside the Coaster King – laughing and talking together.

I miss my sons and grandchildren too – the youngest I’ve met only once.

Living with pandemic, it’s as though all our friends and loved ones have passed away all at once – stationed in some type of purgatory, beyond our reach and touch.

We’re all praying and counting on a reunion of love and spirit and the ghostly presence of people in the flesh.

Please daddy, don’t get drunk this Christmas. Grandma got run over by a reindeer.

It keeps laying on my mind, like a fishing line across the top of a slow-moving pool, the recurring realization that too many people will be without the things they need, not only this holiday season, but every season.

As the world keeps turning, there’s a lot of people being ground under the wheels, bound up in the gears. These folks will remain on my mind and in my heart, as I walk through these uncertain days ahead.

Living on the bread of faith and hope, sleeping in cold places with not enough to eat, grandparents, parents and children – friends and neighbors.

Church mouse, country mouse, city mouse all in this house.

It’s a frosty night. The moon and stars are taking turns peeking out from behind the clouds that the north wind is pushing around up there. I wish I could have just one ride.

The clouds move past in ghostly parade, like the images cast upon my bedroom wall when as a kid I had an antique motion light that turned, as the light bulb heated up.

Up on the housetop, the chimney pipes poke up into the night sky – awaiting a perching owl or an early morning frost to encase them.

Either way, no fat man in a red suit will be sliding down the flue into our living room -even if he is wearing a mask. He’s had more than enough cookies anyway.

The holidays can be a tough time for so many people. Depression and anxiety seem to know all our addresses. My gift to myself and to others this Christmas will be to give away some of the things that I have.

Cutting the puppet strings to some of these things that hold me down, rather than up, will help free me from the heavy feelings the holidays can sometimes bring.

I find I often attach memories to physical objects and hold tightly onto many things for probably too long a time. The past is gone and won’t be returning on any train I plan to be riding. It’s time to sit back to enjoy the ride.

The snow sparkles as I take a last look across the front yard before shutting the door for the night. I soak up the silence and bathe in the darkness and the cold.

I hear the one-armed gingerbread man whisper goodnight.

— — —

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.

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