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Home Planet

Posts tagged: winter

The Pull of the Moon and the Call of the Sun

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


    Following the main street through the center of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, on the western shore of the Door Peninsula, I stopped at the literal end of the road and stared out at the blue-white ice-skimmed surface of Green Bay.


    Sunset Beach Park is as far as you can go.


    A hundred yards or so to my right, out on the frozen shoreline of the bay, there were three people setting up cameras and tripods and occasionally their voices, scraps of conversation or a sudden burst laughter, carried to where I was standing. But for the most part, I was wrapped in cold winter silence.


    Of course, winter isn’t really silent at all. Even snowflakes make a sound when enough fall together. And as I sat on the curving stone wall looking over the cobbled beach, I began to notice the occasional sharp fracturing sound of the ice as it moved, edge against frozen edge.


    The park, aptly named, faces due West and provides a expansive view of the sunset and I imagine in summer, high season for the peninsula, when small towns swell with tourists and part-time residents, there is always a crowd at the end of the day. But it was still an hour to sunset on a cold February day, when the temperature was dropping with the sun, and still the view was irresistible. Minute by minute the colors of the sky changed.


    Suddenly the quiet was broken by the chatter and squeals of three teenage girls. They’d been strolling shoulder to shoulder down to the beach but when they saw the way the clouds surrounding the sun were stained, and shafts of light were streaking across the water toward them or shooting straight up, piercing the cloud cover like searchlights trained on the sky, they forgot whatever they’d been discussing and ran headlong down to the shore and out to the dangerous edge of the brittle iceline. The mother in me reacted and I almost called out to them to be careful. I could imagine their response, noticing for the first time the woman they’d hurried past, rolling their eyes at my warning. I held my breath as they danced and laughed.


    “Ohmygod, Ohmygod,” they called out, posing for one photograph after another, taking turns behind the camera.  “This is so beautiful.”


    “ Take one of me like this.”
   

    “No, take one of me.”


    By then, as if summoned to a meeting, a few more people had joined me at the park and cars were pulling over. On the ice, half a dozen serious photographers jostled for position, some setting up in one spot only to abruptly move to another- a better-angle for taking the perfect photograph. Other people simply pulled out cellphones and held them up, ready for the moment when the color would peak.


    As we all stood there, watching the sun move slowly, inexorably, to the edge of the horizon, washing the entire western sky in a deep pink, I thought about what primal drive compels us to stop for sunrises and sunsets and to record them if only in memory. Whatever it is, spiritual call or instinct, I was, in that moment, aware of its presence and grateful for it.


    It has to be a good sign, don't you think? Evidence that no matter where progress and time are taking us, we are, at heart, still connected to the natural world. On a raw Wisconsin winter day, we are held by its gravity and pulled by its beauty enough to make our way down to the shore to stand and wait, to celebrate the gift of the sun that paints the sky with fire.


    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The Solitude of Snow

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

The winter’s first real snowfall blankets the city, with more predicted, and for a moment the flakes have stopped falling. A window in the weather has opened and the time is right.

I pick up the snow shovel that is kept beside the back door this time of year and it doesn’t take long to find a rhythm. As I work my way down the driveway, the shovel slides cleanly over the concrete, scooping up mounds of the fresh white powder. Up and down the street other people have come outside, moving like dark shadows against the brightness of the snow. A few call out to a neighbor but most, like me, work silently.

The city’s big plows push up the main street, scraping against the asphalt as they clear the streets for the morning commute. I catch a glimpse of the flashing yellow lights as they speed past at the corner and then the quiet returns.

When shoveling snow, when working or exercising in any way, it’s hard not to marvel at the intricate mechanics of the human body. The heart pumps , the mind directs, the muscles obey, the bones bear weight and the process repeats so quickly and smoothly we forget that we are, at our core, a living machine. Built to work.

The cold air bites at my face and my fingers begin to ache so I stop and pull off my gloves, tucking my hands under my coat, pressing them against my stomach.  My body, warmed by the exercise, comforts itself and soon I am back at work and my mind plays over people and projects and problems as I push forward, and, as always seems to happen when my hands are busy and my mind is free, there is a clarity that too often escape me indoors. I am startled when an answer, a solution or simple resolution that has been eluding me, pops suddenly into my head.

The snow sparkles like diamonds scattered over the ground in front of me, catching the reflection of the single lightbulb that hangs over the garage and I am reminded that with each shovelful I am lifting and tossing away more tiny, singular, crystals than I could ever count. But it is only the ones that catch the light for an instant and glint in the night that stand out.

It is, when you think about it, the same with ideas and and memories and shooting stars. There are more around and within us than we can ever imagine and yet we only glimpse the precious few that streak through the deep quiet of solitude and, without warning, light up the dark.

  

(See more of my work at my CAMera photo/travel blog)

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons  and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Celebrating Another Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 


    I turned the corner, down an unfamiliar street, my mind so oblivious to where I was going I might just as well have been a dog with its head out the window, lost in the delicious rush of mysterious and fragrant air, just happy to be out and about with no thought of what might be ahead.


    Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, swept down by the wind and an early snowfall, and the sidewalks and street were littered with the russet and copper remnants of a spectacular autumn. But at the end of the block a scarlet tree still blazed, a burning bush, bright and vibrant against the faded landscape. Even the sun could not ignore it and sunlight danced in the tree, painting the leaves with subtle shades and shadows.


    It was impossible to look away and I didn’t try. I gazed at it as I drove by and even looked back at it in the rearview mirror. 


    Thursday my family will sit down to our Thanksgiving meal and for the first time one of our small group will be absent. My son is away, working in Japan, and we will miss him even as we celebrate his success.


    We are so fortunate to have made it this far without an empty seat at the table. Even in difficult times—and I have never pretended there weren’t some truly difficult days—we gathered, held hands, and spoke aloud the things for which we were most grateful.


    Each year I compose a mental list but when it is my turn to speak, the words fly out of my head. I tear up and can say only that I am grateful for the love of those around me. But what I can never seem to get out is that I am filled with gratitude for the gift of a million small moments.


    There were quiet Sundays spent reading, curled in the big chair beside the fire, my husband stretched out on the sofa. There were Saturday morning feasts that lured home grown children who filled the house with the sound of laughter and the smell of bacon and coffee.
   

  There were quiet walks through the park with my dogs and the rapturous look on my daughter’s face as we stood in Notre Dame Cathedral on a rainy January day in Paris. There was the afternoon my son turned to me and recited a poem I’d read to him when he was a boy, and my firstborn’s secret smile when she told us her news.
    

   There were shooting stars glimpsed from my back door and my youngest daughter’s shining face as she sat in the saddle, flying on horseback. There was, just this week, the chance encounter with a beautiful brilliant tree in a landscape that had already surrendered to winter.
   

 On Thanksgiving Day I will blink back tears and fumble the opportunity to say what I feel. But in my heart I will celebrate the quiet gift of time and the chance to have lived one more extraordinary year of ordinary days.
   


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Winter is Waiting

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

I had a few October days to myself so I spent them in the little town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. While there, it was impossible not to catch the energy of autumn, flagged by the flashing gold of the aspen leaves as they trembled in the breeze and the way the grasses and shrubs closer to the ground spread out in a fan of color, a wave of crimson and soft gold climbing up toward the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The sky was a dome of brilliant blue and the sun warmed me. It was the kind of perfect fall weather we cling to because we know, especially those of us who live in the Northwest, winter is only waiting for a chance to slip in.

I strolled through the town. I rode the gondola up and walked along the top of one of those mountains, looking down on the fairytale town below; a picturesque valley complete with a winding river and a castle—the historic Banff Springs Hotel—whose towers and steep sloping roof dominate the landscape. I walked along the Bow River and watched the water tumble over the falls. I bought a cup of hot chocolate and wrapped my fingers around it, letting the steam rise onto my face as I took each sip. I marked the end of summer and the short, sweet, season that brings us the prettiest weeks of the year.

But the day I was to fly back home, I awoke to a world that was painted in shades of gray, wrapped in thick white clouds that hung low and heavy obscuring the mountains and settling down onto the valley. A soft-focus, black-and-white view of the places I’d been a few just a few hours before.

Riding down the highway toward the airport in Calgary, I sat with my chin in my hand, gazing out the window. As the world slipped by something in the air shifted and, as if in salute, the layer of clouds parted, the way a curtain is pulled back on a stage and the change of scenery is introduced. I could see the first snowfall of the season had dusted the tops of the mountains.

After a few moments, the sky closed around the mountains again and the wreath of clouds settled again. But, having seen the sign, I pulled my sweater tighter around me and sat back in my seat.

It won't be long now. Autumn is fading fast and winter is already waiting impatiently for its turn.

  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing the editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Valentine Swan Song

  (photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

    The wind slipped cold, cruel fingers down my collar and teased at the heavy scarf around my neck and it fluttered and danced around my face as I walked carefully down the slushy sidewalk. The afternoon sun was high and bright but the temperature was still bitingly cold.
    I’d been wandering in and out of the shops that line the main street of Traverse City, Michigan,  looking for some kind of token to bring home with me. Valentine’s Day was coming.

    I picked up a few things as I shopped: jam made from Michigan cherries, a postcard, a pair of gloves. But nothing carried the true weight of what I wanted to say.

    Finally, running out of time, I turned off the main street and walked toward the shore of the Lake.


    As I navigated the path, I was careful to avoid the iciest patches. The deep snow formed a high white wall around the edge of the lake and I noticed there were no other footprints. A few cars were parked at the edge and the occupants were protected as they ate their lunches and gazed out at the water, but no one else was foolish enough to get out and face the relentless cold.

    I stood there, open to the wind that poured across the lake freezing everything in it’s path. My face was numb, my eyes watered. My toes and fingers ached.

    The deep azure color of the lake, rimmed by snowy beaches and green hills, flowed up toward the sky in bands of blue broken only by small clouds.  There was a skim of ice on the water closest to the shore and for a few minutes I watched a pair of swans, side-by-side, floating languidly in the frigid water. I remembered reading that swans mate for life and wondered, again, if it is true.

     
     Finally, surrendering, I pushed my hands deeply into my pockets and started to turn away but stopped when the pair of swans moved. As I watched, in a slow, subtle, water-ballet, the pair turned slightly toward one another, long necks gracefully arched, heads pointed down to the water, swimming breast to breast. And for a moment, at least from where I was standing, the space between them formed the shape of a perfect heart.

    Swans live their lives the same way so many humans do, it’s just that our seasons are longer. We court in the spring, have our young in the summer and in the winter, after the young have left the nest, we are content to swim alone, close to our mate for comfort and company.


    My fingers were cold and too slow to bring out my camera and by the time I pressed the shutter the swans had turned away. But I had found my Valentine.


    I was looking for a card or a gift but it took a pair of wild winter swans to show me the way.
 This Valentine's Day, all I really want to say is that when we are winter birds, I will still be here. I will always be the other half of the heart.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Cave Painting in Jasper National Park

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)   

 

 

    When we arrive at the starting point for our hike, Trevor, our Overlander Trekking guide, gives us all thick, insulated, boots and a set of cleats to strap on the soles.


    Checking that we have hats and gloves, he leads us across a narrow swinging bridge and up and along a trail that traces the rim of the frozen Maligne Canyon in Canada’s Jasper National Park.


    He shows us the trail we will follow at the bottom, walking on the frozen river that flows through the canyon.
    “Just watch me,” he says as we descend. “You’ll be safe if you watch where I step.”


    Stepping gingerly onto the path he makes as we move down into the canyon,  between high walls of stone, we follow a trail of thick, scarred, ice on what just a few weeks before was moving water. On thinner patches, you can, if you stop and listen for it, hear the deep roar of water moving freely below. It is an erie sound.


    Above, where the ground shears away, where in warmer seasons water flows over the rim, massive columns of ice descend the depth of the canyon walls forming layer upon frozen layer. At the tallest formation, the densest frozen waterfall, we stop to watch a pair of climbers. A man stands at the base, feet apart, a rope threaded through the harness around his waist and anchored at the top. He is belaying a woman who is slowly, one toehold, one pick into the ice at a time, climbing.
    
    We walk a bit farther to where the stone forms a dome over us. We are standing in a tall cathedral of limestone carved by rushing, swirling, water and polished by eons of ice and wind and snow. The rocks are coated with fine ice crystals and I notice that just above my head they are decorated by the handprints of hikers who have gone before us. People who, as they passed, put a hand on the stone. The warmth of their bodies melted away the ice and in the  shadowed, frigid, air the prints remained.


    It is a beautiful thing, this ice-walking.  Time and again we stop to take photographs, trying to capture the scale and majesty of what we are seeing. Time and again we look at the images on our digital cameras and are disappointed.


    As we make our way back out of the canyon, I take one more look over my shoulder. I notice again the pristine, crystalized surface of the limestone on either side of me. Like the others who’d come before me, I lifted my hand and placed it flat against frosted surface of the stone. Still and silent, I felt the sharp winter cold drawn into my skin as I exchanged it for the warmth of my body.    When I pulled away the distinct print of my hand, mine alone, decorated the rock.


    I was, in that instant, connected to the past in a tangible way. I imagined a woman who might have passed between the stone walls thousands of years ago and done the same thing - stopped for a moment to give in to the urge to paint the cave with her handprint.


    Seasons will change. The canyon will erase any trace that I was there. But, at least in my memory, the winter walk left a more permanent mark on me.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Taking in the Great Outdoors

    Usually, dawn is just touching the sky when I open my eyes. Still blinking, half-lost in a fading dream, I reach over to the table beside my bed for my glasses and my camera. I stumble across the dark room and make my way to the window or step out onto the balcony if there is one. I press the shutter.


    “Good morning,” I say to myself wherever I am.  “Good morning, world.”


    This mid-winter morning, I am far north, in the Canadian province of Alberta. Frozen, scenic, Lake Louise shines blue-white in the weak early light. My room in the historic Chateau Lake Louise looks out toward the lake and I watch as the mountains ringing the lake come into focus as a new day steals across the sky.


    These are private, personal, moments when I travel; watching the day begin and end from my window.


    This is not to say I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I do. I spend long hours exploring the landscape wherever I go. In winter at Lake Louise, the cold air bites, the wind tangles and teases. A few steps from the Chateau I am part of a wilder world. I can taste the Canadian wilderness and hear the sounds and soak in the silence of a truly wild place. I listen to the crunch of my snowshoes on the snow in the forest. I hear the distant sounds of others; the squeals and laughter of children skating, the jingle of the harnesses of horses pulling sleighs down the trail to Victoria Falls.  Outdoors, I am exhilarated, thrilling at the pull of muscles and the pounding of my heart. But there is something so satisfying about coming in from the cold. Walking into a room spiced with the fragrance of hot coffee and chocolate, laced with conversation and laughter. Hands cradling a cup, lulled by the warmth, it is a selfish pleasure to stand and look out at  where I have been.

     From the window-seat in my room, I watch birds circle the frozen lake and solitude-seekers skiing the perimeter of the lake in the morning. In the late afternoon I gaze down at families, toddlers on sleds in tow, skates laced together and tossed over a shoulder. A single-file line of children scale the high bank from the lake to the Chateau like Gold Rush hopefuls trudging up Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail.


     At night, I gaze, once more before turning out the lights, spellbound, as the stars spread across the sky over me.


    When it is time to leave, I buy a souvenir; a postcard reproduction of a 1930 Canadian Pacific Railroad poster advertising the Chateau. The grand hotel - now a Fairmont property - was built more than 100 years ago by the railroad as a way to lure travelers to the remote and singularly beautiful place. On the card, an elegant woman with bobbed hair and wearing jodhpurs, stands gazing out toward Lake Louise through one of the Cathedral windows of the Chateau. Tall, snowcapped peaks reach above it and the Victoria glacier can be seen in the distance. The view is framed perfectly by the arch of the window.

    In my imagination - oh, the occasional freedom of my imagination - the tall, slim, beautiful blond woman (my opposite in every way) is me.


    We are both captivated by a window on the world. We are captured by an unforgettable view.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Saturday, Snow and the Happy Boy.

There are times, or so it feels to me, when our lives are fed to us the way food is stuffed into a goose to make foie gras. We don’t get a break. We’re crammed with more than we can possibly handle. There isn’t time to savor a bite.


 I was thinking about that as I stood in line at the bakery on Saturday morning, waiting my turn to place an order. The day was cold and fat snowflakes fell, swirling and drifting down from the flat gray sky. Through the wide front window of the downtown patisserie, I watched a family walk down the sidewalk. Two little boys - maybe four and six-years-old, dressed for the wintry weather - walked a bit behind their parents. The littlest boy dawdled, taking his time. He wasn’t in any kind of a hurry. Every few feet his parents called back to the boys to catch up. The big brother dutifully picked up his pace and tugged at the little one to do the same. And he did. For a step or two. Then he began to slow down again.


 It was obvious the little boy wasn’t particularly interested in where the rest of the family was going in such a hurry. It didn’t matter to him at all. Besides, I suspected no one had asked him where he wanted to go, anyway. He was just along for the ride. He’d been bundled into his coat and a cap had been pulled onto his head. He’d been hustled into the car, buckled into a car seat, driven across town and then unbuckled and lifted out onto the sidewalk. And now he was being told to keep up and stay close.


Instead, he strolled happily along, face turned up to the sky, mouth wide open catching snowflakes on the tip of his tongue.


I felt the landscape of my face change as I watched him and I smiled.


After paying for my purchases, I took the box of pastries and walked out the door. By that time, the light snow was over and the family with their sky-gazing little boy was gone.


 I took my time going back to my car, even though I suspected there might be a parking ticket fluttering under the windshield wiper. Even though I had other stops to make and dinner to cook and deadlines to meet.
At that moment, I think if even one snowflake had dropped out of the sky, down to where I was walking,  I would have done just what the little boy did a few moments before. I would have opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue and let everything else simply melt away.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

When silence falls like snow





    The dog scratched at the door, asking to go outside. For days the city had been wrapped in a front of arctic air that swept down from the north and wouldn’t leave us. It was so cold that the doorknob burned against the palm of my hand when I turned it and the first breath shocked me, making me gasp.


    The dog rushed out into the darkness, disappearing into the backyard. He rolled in the snow, happy to be out of the too-warm house - too warm if you’re wearing a fur coat - and then stood still, sniffing the air.
    I wasn’t dressed for the weather but I stepped out and closed the door behind me. It was so beautiful I was pulled out into the night.


    In the cold, pure, silence that falls with snow, we stood there, alone in the dark. The air was so cold the snowflakes were thin and sharp, like frozen shards of broken rain swirling around me. I could feel them land on my face and in my hair. The sky was filled with crystals and the hard, crusted snow glittered.
    I pulled my robe tight, tucking my hands under the collar, feeling the chill creep in through the soles of my boots.


     Every breath I took lingered, hanging in the air around me, a cloud of proof that I was there in that cold place, warm and alive.


            Looking up, the sky formed a dome over me. For a moment, I was encased in a frozen bubble. There was no sound except the white noise of snow falling and landing on the roofs of the houses on the street, collecting on the boughs of the Ponderosa pines, falling to the ground around me. I listened to the sound of my heartbeat in my ears.


    I could, in that moment, imagine that I was in a snow-globe. I was a song, a carol, a witness to a silent night filled with peace and contentment. I was cold only because I chose to be cold. And, when I chose again, I could walk back into a warm and welcoming shelter. I was reminded that so many men, women and children do not have that simple luxury.


    Through the windows I could see the rooms of my house glowing with light and warmth. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the living room, strung with lights and ornamented with family history. The cat was asleep by the fireplace. There was the familiar clutter of books and newspapers and coffee cups. The fragrance of food still hung in the air. It was, at that moment, a place of comfort and joy.


    The dog shook the snow from his coat and brought me back from my thoughts. Together, we walked, taking our time, back through the door leaving the silent night behind.

       

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Ready for what is to come

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

   This winter, if ominous predictions can be trusted, is going to be a big one. That’s what the forecasters say. That’s what was printed in the newspaper. That’s what I keep hearing on the radio.
    They say this winter the wind is going to blow, the temperatures are going to plunge and stay down and the snow is going to fall. And fall. And fall.
    All close friend who skis is celebrating, she’s looking forward to a season of constant powder on the slopes and endless fun on the mountaintops. But I’m chewing my lip.
    I love winter, too. I really do. It’s incredibly beautiful here in the Northwest. The way the evergreen trees catch snowflakes and hold them until their limbs are flocked and heavy is a sight that always arrests me and holds my attention. There is nothing quite as peaceful as the deep silence of a snowy night, as though a blanket of white has been thrown over our heads muffling the noise of the world.
    I love the sting of the wind on my face and the taste of icy air as I lift each snowshoe, following a quiet path in the forest. As I drive around town, I notice the way the snow fills the areas that are normally in shadow, changing the landscape, upending the way we see things on a summer day. Looking out over the valley and across to the mountain tops in the distance, my eye follows hedgerows and fence lines, roads, rivers and streams, lighting on points I never noticed when the grass was green and the leafy trees hid the view.
    I love the winter holidays and the way they make ordinary things decorative; red and green traffic lights and a string of rush-hour traffic headlights on the highway are suddenly beautiful.
    But there is that other side of winter. The icy streets, treacherous roads and unpredictable mountain passes. The slush that turns gray and dirty too quickly, soaking through the toes of my shoes and making the hem of my jeans grimy. The chaotic parking lots and the sodden boots littering the floor by the back door. There’s the worry of frozen pipes and snow load on the roof. Will they close the hill before I make it home? Do I have chains in the car?
    “Oh, that’s just a bunch of little headaches,” my friend said when I brought up the darker side of winter, sweeping away my pedestrian winter worries with a flick of her wrist. “I say let the snow fall so we can go out and play.”


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Winter in Glacier National Park

Special to Pinch

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Feb. 21, 2010

 

      We drove into the west entrance of Glacier National Park late in the clear February morning and our tires crunched into the frozen crust of last week’s snowfall. The cold, sweet, air bit at our faces as we opened the back of the car and unloaded our gear.
    Strapping snowshoes on our feet, we put on gloves and hats and slipping our hands into the straps of our poles, we set out. Our lunch of hearty sandwiches on homemade bread, each as thick as a doorstop, was stowed and ready for a picnic along the way.
    The wide flat trail we followed was much more than a path meant for meandering.  In the summer, which comes late to the northwest, the 60-mile Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park is a busy throughway, carrying hundreds of thousands of tourists from one side of the 1.2 million acre park to the other. But in winter, which comes early, the road closes and becomes a place to play. The only human sounds are the scraping of snowshoes or the gliding sound of cross-country skis. Occasionally a laugh slices into the solitude.
   

Waiting Out a Fickle Winter

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to PINCH

January 13, 2010

  Winter weather, when it doesn’t behave as it should, leaves us confused about where we stand. And this January, living in a place that by now should be deeply frosted with snow, like a layer-cake covered with heavy white icing, that is the literal truth. I have to be careful about where I put my feet.
    My small backyard in the city, a frozen, snowy, Dr. Zhivago landscape this time last year, is in this rainy El Nino year, frequently a swamp. A soggy patch of sloppy lawn and boot-sucking mud. A mess. Then, in a few days, when the temperature drops again, it becomes a frozen tundra, as hard as concrete.
     It is also a place where three hens scratch and parade in the cold drizzle.
    My young urban chickens were last spring’s peeps. Three tiny balls of fluff, warming under the heat lamp, that have grown into plump, comic, egg-producing machines.
    All summer, watching them grow leggy and brave, watching them molt and then sprout new feathers, I worried and fretted about how to keep those hens healthy and happy when the bitterest part of winter descended on us. I plotted the route the shoveled path would take from the backdoor to the henhouse. I anticipated tender combs burned by frostbite and gray days so cold the hens would be happy to stay in the coop under the warmth of the heat lamp. I bought a heat lamp. I filled the nesting box with an extra layer of hay.
    What I didn’t expect was a winter that can’t make up its mind; that drops in and then melts and retreats only to sneak in another day or two of shocking cold before going back into hiding…

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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