My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

I do love it so!

It was a nasty day in November by most people’s standards, the temperature was in the thirties, there was a stiff wind out of the northeast driving occasional rain, sleet, and snow showers, a harbinger of things to come. It had to be early to mid November in the early 70’s, I wasn’t deer hunting, which starts on the 15th every year, I was running my hunting dog, but not hunting that day. On most days like that I would stay down in the valleys and in the woods to avoid the brunt of the wind-driven rain, but on that day, I decided to climb the large hill behind my parent’s house. My parent’s house sat at the edge of the Grand River valley, northeast of Grand Rapids, a couple of miles from the river itself. From the top of that hill, I could look down at their house, and see for miles off to the east, looking across the entire valley.

I was standing there on the top of the hill, squinting into the wind-driven precipitation, admiring the view as I often did, warm in my cocoon of clothes suited for that kind of weather, when it hit me. I didn’t just tolerate weather like that, I didn’t go out in it just to prove I was tougher than every one else, I love it, I do love it so!

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
John Ruskin

That pretty much sums up how I feel, only different kinds of good weather! I read another quote a long time ago in the Readers Digest that I haven’t been able to find, but it has stuck with me my entire life. “The weather is never really as bad outside as it looks to be through a window”, or something to that effect. I have found that to be very true. But, I think a love of “bad” weather is an acquired taste, or so it would seem. The first few times you are out there it is probably because you get caught in an unexpected storm, or you are forced to be out when you normally wouldn’t have been. I am sure most of you have heard the saying “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. I found that it holds true of the weather, too. At first, you’re just happy to have survived, but then, something else starts to take over. Everytime I was out there when most people wouldn’t be, I found a strength growing within me, to the point where now, my soul feeds on the energy from the storms.

That’s what I felt that cold, windy, rainy day on top the hill, I was absorbing the power of the storm, growing stronger and more sure of myself with every hard gust of wind and every band of the wind-driven sleet that was bouncing off me, I felt like I could take on anything! That’s a power that sticks with you all the time once you feel it for the first time.

Recently, an online friend posting something on Facebook after a day of biking in the rain all day, about being cold and wet on the outside, but that their spirits were high for the next day of their trip. My contribution was, “Being cold and wet on the outside makes the fires burn stronger on the inside”, and that’s the way it is for me. I never feel as alive and vibrant as I do when I am outdoors in “bad” weather.

Yes, I know I am crazy. Enough people have told me that over the years that it has finally sunken in that I’m the crazy one, not them, as I believed for so long. And even though I know that I’m the crazy one, it doesn’t stop people from reminding me of that on a regular basis. When I tell people about my being knocked off my feet while fishing for steelhead on Christmas Eve and getting dunked in the Rogue River, they tell me I’m crazy. They tell me that when I relate to them the story of Spud and I fishing the Betsie River at Homestead dam in an ice storm so bad that we had to thaw our rods out every so often because the fishing line was freezing to our rods. I hear it when they find out that I kayak rivers in January. People will tell me how beautiful the pictures I take on those days are, (Like the one on the top of the page) but they still tell me I’m crazy for being out there to take the pictures. Sometimes people will throw in a few expletives for emphasis, but the general response is always “You’re crazy”. Even people who hunt or go ice fishing tell me I am crazy for being out there because I like it, they may be out there, but they only tolerate the bad weather in order to pursue a hobby they enjoy.

Yes, that's ice on the banks!

OK, I get it, I’m crazy. I have given it a lot of thought over the years, as to what makes me love being outdoors when most other people are sitting huddled up under blankets in their living room, and there are many reasons. Some are simple, some not so simple. One reason is that it helps me relate to the past. It wasn’t that long ago, just a few generations, that most people earned their living in such a manner as to require them to be outside no matter what the weather was like. Farmers had animals to feed and water, cows that had to be milked twice a day, and wood to cut and split in order to heat their homes. Loggers were out there cutting down trees, skidding the trees to the rivers, and piling the logs up for the spring thaw when the logs would be floated downstream to the sawmills. There were whalers, fishermen, and sailors out on the ocean in all kinds of weather, as were the hunters and trappers out in the woods, supplying food for the few who had indoor jobs. Most people have heard the story of George Washington at Valley Forge, but if you really want to understand what the soldiers there went through, try camping in a tent in the middle of winter! It will give you an entirely new perspective on the hardships they faced that winter. As I wander around outdoors in the dead of winter, I often think of those who went before me, and what they faced without the high-tech gear available to me, and how much different their live’s were to ours.

Another reason is that most of the time, I am out there all by myself. I see things in person that most other people never see. Winter has a beauty all its own that most people never see. Sometimes it is a hard, harsh beauty…

Lake Michigan in January

And sometimes it can be amusing….

A sandhill crane and goose ice dancing

If you spend the winter hibernating, you never get the chance to see either.

There’s a lot to be said for the quiet solitude of winter, getting a chance to reflect on times gone by and times yet to come. Visiting places before the crush of summer crowds show up to distract you from what God has put there to be found. And I have found that the few people I do run into during the winter are much more friendly than those summer crowds. Maybe it is because we share a common bond to begin with, we are crazy to be out there in the first place, but almost without fail, I’ll end up in a conversation with any one I do meet outdoors in the winter. In the summer, you’re lucky if some one will even return a hello. On the day I took the beach pictures, I ran into one other person, and we stood there practically shouting at one another for 15 minutes to half an hour. We had to shout to be heard over the roar of the wind, the thunder of the waves crashing into the ice, and the frozen spray from the waves pelting our hoods. That was one of the things we spoke of, how friendly winter people are compared to summer people. We spoke of how crazy every one else is for not being out there to experience what we were experiencing, the awesome power and beauty of nature!

Most of the time though, I am out there by myself and never see another soul. That’s OK by me, I like my own company, even if the rest of the world doesn’t hold the same opinion. I can go at my own pace, spend as much or as little time in an area as I want to, explore what interests me, and pass by what doesn’t. Sometimes what holds my interest is the grand overall view of a place, sometimes it is a pretty little pebble that most people would never notice.

Then there is the cocoon effect. When you’re dress right, you can feel all snug and warm no matter what the weather is, it is like having your own little cocoon around you. I like that feeling.

There are also what are called microclimates as well. You will find pockets of cool air on hot days, and areas that are warmer on cold days. Not surprisingly, you will find most of the animals where you feel most comfortable yourself. They don’t like being uncomfortable any more than humans do, with one exception. Animals seem to like a warm, light rain. You’ll often see them out feeding, even playing, as long as the rain is light, and it isn’t too cold. I have found that being outdoors in extreme weather has taught me a lot about microclimates, and how animals react to them. As a matter of fact, I never heard the term “microclimate” until after I had already figured out that there was such a thing. I learned by observing animals, and always questioning why they were where they were, especially if it seemed they were in an unlikely spot, and by just paying attention to my surroundings. I could, and probably will do, an entire blog on microclimates one of these days, you can’t be a really good hunter, fisherman (Yes, bodies of water have microclimates too), or nature photographer until you understand them and how important they are to wildlife. And, if you’re ever in a true survival situation, knowing microclimates can literally be a life saver.

Even though I understand them, I still break the rules, I still climb hills on nasty November days, I still walk the Lake Michigan beaches during January gales. And I will stand there, taking in the power and beauty that is there to be seen, feeling the power flowing to my soul, and I’ll say to myself, I love this, I do love it so!

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4 responses

  1. Pingback: A dark and dreary day « Quietsolopursuits's Blog

  2. Pingback: Rainy day, dream away « Quietsolopursuits's Blog

  3. I’m going to get out more this winter after reading this! 🙂

    July 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    • I hoped it would inspire people to at least give winter a chance. But, I don’t want to be too successful, then there would be so many people out there in the winter it would ruin the solitude. 😉

      July 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm