Winter, illness, and positivity

It’s been a long winter.

Our first snowfall came just in time for Halloween, and has stuck around until spring. Throw in some -40 windchills around Christmas and a few 8-foot blizzards in February and we had ourselves a good old-fashioned winter, the kind I remember as a little girl, with no 50 degree weeks in January or February rain. Just snow, and cold, and quiet.


Late October snowfall

I love winter: the silence, the clean feeling of a fresh snow. I love strapping on my snowshoes and having whole sections of the Superior Hiking Trail to myself, and snuggling up by the woodstove with a book after. I love stacking and bringing in firewood: the wholesome act of exerting energy and having it be for something. There’s something deeply satisfying about having activity being naturally integrated into other necessities of life, like staying warm.


Nature’s art

I love how people in Cook County love winter: I suppose if you live this far north you have to. When I lived in Wisconsin, though, I sort of dreaded winter. Complaining about winter seemed to be some sort of state pastime, like between the months of December and March everyone got this free pass to be as vocally ornery as they pleased. In my opinion, if you live in the Midwest, you should make the most out of winter or move…but that’s just me.


That’s no puppy

But along the North Shore, where we love our snowshoeing, skiing, dog sledding, ice climbing, skijoring, curling, hockey, winter camping (yes, you read that right), and basically any activity you can fathom that uses snow or ice, winter becomes fun. And to be honest, being around people who approach winter positively has made all the difference in how I see this season.


Snowshoeing the Superior Hiking Trail

Positivity has been on my mind lately, not as a luxury or an ideal, but as a necessity. Somehow in these last few months my health has taken an unexplained nosedive, limiting my ability to work, write, hike, or really do anything more strenuous than sleep for half the day. I haven’t been able to keep up with most anything I’d like to do (including contribute to this blog), but being housebound has given me time to think, albeit foggy, fragmented thoughts. But even scattered thoughts have shown me how, when you’re sick long-term like this, thinking positively is sometimes the only thing you can do to make your days bearable, let alone enjoyable.


Frozen roses

As I was leaving the doctor’s the other day, I ended up behind a car with one of those stickers that says “Wag more, bark less.” Normally I don’t take life advice from bumper sticker tropes, but maybe because I was in need of a happy thought (or because I recently adopted a dog), this one stood out like it were in flashing neon letters. Our world is so full of barking–from the bloodbaths of Facebook and Twitter to the seeming inability of adults to discuss a nuanced topic without it becoming a partisan anger fest. We all fancy ourselves as vigilantes with the one correct view that will save the world…if only we can scream or snark our opinions into other people’s heads. But what is it all good for?


I believe in being kind to people. I believe in standing with the hurting, the abused. I believe in generosity and love and noticing when someone is sad. I believe in looking up even if everyone else is looking down. I believe that acts of kindness within a community, within relationships, are what will change people, and that moments spent online, on concepts and problems that I will never change, are moments wasted. Moments that could be spent calling a family member, engaging with the person sitting across from me, snuggling with my dog, even thinking of the things I’m thankful for. Wagging more, barking less.


Northern Light Lake with Leif

After school got out the other day, I ventured onto Artist’s Point. The sun shone warm on my skin, and sent the retreating snow piles cascading down the rocks in newly made streams. The waves rolled in happily from a sea of imperial blue. I could smell the rocks and lake again. And as I sat there next to that mammoth lake, under the endless sky, I saw once again the reassuring truth of how small and insignificant I was. One small piece of the big, big picture.


I’m not big enough to change the big, or even medium-sized picture. Heck, if you’re into the whole ranting-about-politics-on-Facebook-thing I don’t think this post will change your thoughts on the habit. But I can change me. I can change my thoughts, change my habits of kindness, change how I spend my limited energy. I can wag more and bark less or live and let live or whatever catchphrase fits the picture.

Spring is lovely, but winter is beautiful too, made even more so by seeing it positively. I suppose the same can be said about life.






Autumn: On colors and casting off

Cast off everything that is not yourself.” –Persius

Welcome to October, dear readers. Welcome to brisk mornings and cozy evenings, exhilarating walks and wooly socks. In other words, the best time of the year.

Day by day, the tip of the arrowhead feels more like home. It’s been almost a year since we landed in Cook County, and it’s taken about that long for this to feel like “our place.” But eleven months in, the sense of belonging has begun to grow. We’re making connections and trying new things. Whether that be a construction class or ballet, making tacos or throwing clay, each experience is putting down a little baby root. I’m thankful for this place: for the people, the activities, the quiet, the beauty. Especially here in the autumn, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.


Already the maples are dropping their cloaks of scarlet while the aspens shine in their most brilliant of golds. The glaze of frost, clouds of breath, and sting of early morning cold all made their debuts in this first week of October. Even the lake has begun to look different, with the playful, splashing blues of summer giving way to the steely, churning waters of the approaching storm season. The harbor empties of sails as the nighttime temperatures drop. Autumn is here.


Something about the transition to autumn wakes up the soul. The dreamy, hazy gauze of summer gives way to a clarity like the October sky. School resumes, routines get established, new journeys begin. Lighthearted play gives way to a more serious forward-thinking. Personally, I’ve always thought we should rewrite the calendars so our new year starts in September…it just makes a certain intuitive sense to me.


I remember learning that—for the most part—leaves don’t change color in the sense that the yellows and oranges are conjured up anew. They’ve always been present since the leaf’s beginning in the spring, but for the most part are masked by the green of chlorophyll. It’s only when trees stop producing chlorophyll in preparation for winter that their actual colors show through, so to speak.


Why do we find fall colors attractive? Not because yellow or orange are inherently superior to green—that would be silly. We find them so beautiful because of their variety. Their uniqueness. The way each tree wears its own trademark hue, and each leaf bears a unique pattern of color. People don’t flock to the Northland in July to take pictures of leaves, because at that point they’re all the same. It’s only when a tree’s true colors emerge that we pull out the cameras or simply stop in admiration.


The emerging isn’t free. It comes with a cost, a sacrifice, the willingness to die. But that’s life for all of us. The discovery of our deepest layers involves the shedding of the masks we created when we were afraid of what was underneath. We no longer need them, but that doesn’t mean they’re painless to cast away. The first gasp of raw air may sting, but it’s a moment as fleeting as a gust of wind.


As we walk deeper into this autumn, my own season of casting off continues. When I said no more to Good Christian Woman chlorophyll running through my veins, the transition was certainly not seamless. But now, the acute pains over the deconstruction of my religion have subsided. I’m on the other side of anger. I still have questions, sure, things I disagree with, and moments of annoyance, even, but I don’t see myself as a rebel or escapee or post-evangelical or what have you. I don’t view myself in comparison to that culture anymore—time and distance have made it distant. I’m just here, being me, and for now that is enough.


I want to end with this quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We can be afraid of our colors underneath—afraid of the attention they might draw, the discussions they might spark, the changes they might make. But they intimidate us because deep down we know they mean something. You mean something. I mean something.

Live in that truth.

Lots of love and pumpkin spice,


Nature Helps

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” -Rachel Carson

Dear Reader,

This last weekend was Grand Marais’s Wintering Festival, a time where the community gathers together to celebrate the longest season of the year. For those who, like me, have had lifelong overdoses of winter grumbling, seeing the people come together in excitement to celebrate the love of this snowy season was so refreshing. With impeccable timing the first winter storm of the year decided to arrive last weekend too, bringing a fresh new covering to the woods and hills. Walking at twilight through the silent forest paths and observing the snow’s ethereal glow in the dusky light brings a peace and wonder to eradicate all traces of the day’s troubles. Winter is a magical season in the northland.

The Rachel Carson quote I shared was one I heard on Saturday at a presentation by Dave and Amy Freeman, a couple who spent an entire year exploring the Boundary Waters to appreciate the wilderness and raise awareness about proposed sulfide-ore copper mines near the Boundary Waters, which would contaminate its lakes and rivers. Their stories and photos were remarkable, but what stood out most to me was the peace and reverence with which they spoke about their experiences. A short walk in the woods or a quarter hour spent on Superior’s shores brings such refreshment—how much would a year in the wilderness change the way one views and responds to things, the pace of life, or the focus on what’s important.

Though I don’t have a whole year to spend in the wilderness, I’m trying to gather little bits of nature’s healing during this month: a glimpse of sea, a flash of stars, a short jaunt among the trees. During this time of transitioning, getting our bearings, and planning our next steps, being surrounded by such beauty and silence as there is here has been most enriching and vitalizing. Even though life feels stuck in almosts right now—almost settled, almost home, almost at peace, almost happy—there is comfort in knowing that just as night will give way to morning, so this time of almosts will give way to a time of fullness. And just as the hills and lake and rocks stand strong and constant, so can a constant trust and serenity be found even when everything else seems to be changing.

If you want to find out more about the Freemans and their mission or learn about America’s most visited wilderness, I’d recommend checking out this link:

All the best,