Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Defined by Winter

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…

Fred Skaggs says that he can’t look at snow for more than three days in a row without seeing a therapist. He doesn’t even care if it is his therapist; he just has to see somebody’s therapist. [It would be fun to slip in an albino therapist on him.] So he asked for an explanation of the tag line of these CIW mutterings: “…where life is defined by winter even in the summer.” He says he thinks others might like to know, too.

When you retire, you can live any place you wish, and grandchildren are more important than anything else in your life, and if only one of your children has produced grandchildren, you can just trail them around. To Mason City, IA, the “River City” of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” To Sterling, IL. Finally, the coup de grace, to Iron Mountain, MI.

We moved to Iron Mountain on July 11. It was a warm and lovely day, typical of Iron Mountain summers, high in the 70s, low in the 50s. We did not know that on July 10 the last of the snow had melted because the temperature finally got above freezing. Nor did we know that the snow and cold would return on July 12.

I should have known. I read Sports Illustrated. There had been an interview in SI with NFL coach, Steve Mariucci, who grew up in Iron Mountain. [1] They asked him what folks in Iron Mountain did in summer. He said, “If it doesn’t snow that day, we have a picnic.”

But on July 11, there were bright flowing hanging baskets of summer flowers on every porch, and people had turned their garages into summer homes, complete with sofas and TV sets. They just leave the doors up, for, unlike the rest of the UP, where people are called Yoopers [UPers], Iron Mountain has no problem with mosquitoes or other bitey bugs. We have about 50 thousand bats that live in an old mine shaft. At dusk they come out and fan out across the town. A bat can eat up to one thousand mosquitoes in an hour. Our bats have a comity agreement, assigning specific bats to specific yards. Ours is Walter.

We learned that the flowers were all in hanging baskets to keep the deer and rabbits from getting at them. We have as many deer as mosquitoes, but they are too big for the bats to eat. That first summer, our daughter planted a rose bush. She went around the corner of her house to get the hose to water it. By the time she got back around the corner, the rose bush was gone. [As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.]

The hanging baskets come from about two dozen temporary summer greenhouses that are set up in tents or parking lots, so folks can do drive-by planting. UP here you don’t have enough summer to plant seeds and wait for flowers to grow. They would be eaten by the deer, anyway. You just buy a hanging pot with the flowers already blooming and put it up and stare at it.

Summer is so short here, and beautiful, that you don’t want to waste a single precious minute of it. The first day above freezing, you get the lawn chairs, shovel off the deck, and start summering. You know that winter is looking over your shoulder.

So, on this first day of spring, where March is just February under an assumed name, and our average temperature the February just past was 5.4 degrees [F], and the city snow plow truck just went by, and we’re slated for below zero temperatures again this weekend, when we’ll celebrate Helen’s March 6 birthday because we’ve waited until the weather was better for our Chicago daughter to come, I’ll remind you that Iron Mountain is where “Life is defined by winter, even in the summer.”

John Robert McFarland

1] Folks here are highly, and rightly, proud of former Iron Mountain High School teammates Mariucci and Tom Izzo, MSU basketball coach.

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where life is defined by winter even in the summer!

I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721.

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