Since moving to Minnesota’s North Shore I’ve had people ask what it’s really like to live here year-round. In this month-by-month journal, I take you through the full year to give you a glimpse of What it’s Really Like.
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Like clockwork, November came with a slow, long-held exhale.
The skies that had hung bleak and dreary for days finally dropped their first snow. Familiar shops and eateries hung signs proclaiming ‘See you next spring,’ and the rush of busyness that enshrouds most of us residents during the summer months finally gives way to rest.
How I love Novembers.
My husband and I moved North during a November, at a time when the quietness and solitude offered here couldn’t have been more welcome. The soft crunch of snow in a vast, silent forest and late nights punctuated only by the wind running through the pines was the finest balm for a worn and weary soul. And it still is.
I’ve felt a little wearied by all that’s been happening around me, a little worn down, and I’m realizing that I need space and reflection and reconnection with the slow rhythms of life around me. Do I notice how the sun sets the world aflame on those cold days when the snow has become sparkles? When did the full moon stop wishing me goodnight through the cracks in the curtains? How does life change so much without us noticing?
Luckily, the relative slowness of this season and the fresh change of seasons makes this the perfect time to explore. Between getting soaked by November gale waves at the harbor, sitting outside near the lakeshore with family, all wrapped in blankets, and strapping on snowshoes for lonely jaunts along the Superior Hiking Trail, it’s been an opportune time for that sort of much-needed reconnection.
Leif has been happy for the change of seasons. The first big snows are a sled dog’s dream, and he loves nothing more than tramping through the fluffy piles as we go for walks or romps in the yard.
This month, for the first time, I saw a wolf. Though I often stumble across their tracks while snowshoeing, their shy nature can make them hard to spot. But as I was driving home from work one day a wolf trotted across the road in front of me. I slowed to try to spot it in the woods, but it had already slipped deep into the trees.
About a week later, Leif and I went walking at dusk and heard the coyote pack erupt into howls quite close to us in the woods. Leif started barking, and fearing he would provoke them, we ran back to the house. After I had hung up my coat I looked outside and standing right outside our house was one of the coyotes. He must have followed our tracks, perhaps interested in Leif’s scent. I was suddenly very grateful for the door separating us from the wilderness and that we had come inside when we did.
Indoors, I’ve been hard at work on my writing, and this month have had the delight of seeing some of the fruits of that work.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working as a freelance writer for our local magazine, Northern Wilds. I mostly work on assignment, but after telling the editors about some of the traveling I’ve done they said they’d be happy for me to write and submit some pieces about my adventures abroad. And imagine my delight when I opened the most recent issue and found that they printed one!
I remember as a child poring over the travel section of our Sunday paper and thinking it would be the absolute best job in the world to get paid to write about world travels. So when I opened the travel section of Northern Wilds and saw my name printed under the travel headline, I bounced around the kitchen and thought of that little girl reading the Sunday papers and how proud she would be to see this moment.
As far as novels go, I’m brewing up a new project while letting another one sit. Funny enough, it’s been the break from that book that’s started giving me more ideas for it. Go figure.
The shorter days and coziness of the woodstove lends itself to reading. Since Minnesota winters are happier with books (and since this is a book-lover’s blog, after all), I thought I’d share a sample of the books I’ve been loving.
The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
One of the better books that I’ve read about character development, based on the (true) idea that we identify with and connect with books because of the emotional journeys they take us on. It goes deeper than I thought it would, and introduced me to some new concepts and techniques, such as third-level emotions.
If you’re tired of trite character development advice centered on mundane facts about your characters (i.e. make sure you know your character’s favorite color and what they ate for breakfast) and want to get deep, this is the book for you.
The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol
One of the more engrossing books I’ve read in a while, and by a local author! Pendziwol is a Thunder Bay writer, and she perfectly captures Lake Superior’s rugged shores and windswept lighthouses. This book flip-flops between the modern world and the life of a family living on the Porphyry Island light station in the early 1900s: a family with more than a few secrets they keep hidden. If you’re like me and like historical fiction, Lake Superior, and just a hint of eerie, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is a fitting choice. It’s fast-paced with strong female characters, and for the most part it kept me lost in the story.
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Another book that alternates between the tales of two women, one in the present day and one in a historical setting. The House Girl follows the stories of Josephine, a slave in the American South, and Lina, an ambitious New York lawyer assigned to work on a slavery reparations case. One of our B&B guests left this book for us, and I found an intriguing and thought-provoking story with characters I wanted to root for. Some of the alternating got confusing, but I appreciated the story that got me feeling for the horrors of American slavery while never feeling contrived or preachy.
If you have any books you’ve read recently and want to share, leave them in the comments! And until next time, enjoy this festive season.