Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stewards of the North

A bold message in a tiny voice came calling.

Winged courage in the dead of winter

When I stepped outside on Tuesday morning, I was greeted by a wall of harsh air that measured -20° F and my face froze almost instantaneously. I swear, I thought my nose would slide off the front of my face like a sheet of ice. It was almost enough to take the breath right out of me, and I was worried the blood would freeze to a standstill in my veins. And just then, as all courage had been iced over, I heard a chickadee calling from the woods, and I remembered my place.

The tiny, lonely little Black-Capped Chickadee was out singing her song in the mixed hardwood forest to greet the morning light, and I was cold just walking out the front door of a well-heated house. The little bird shamed me. It was as if she were mocking me, calling me a coward, a fake, a phony, a weakling. Chickadee’s cries shouted taunts, challenges, and a strange, ancient language of support for brethren of the North.

My new friend gave me courage. I started my car to let it warm up, but instead of sitting inside it or retreating back into the house to wait, I began twisting my torso, spinning my arms in circles, and doing some free-weight squats in the driveway. I'm sure Chickadee laughed at my impromptu workout. I know I did. The movements got my blood flowing though, and before long I was one step closer to conquering the cold.

I drew my breath in with purpose - through my nose, slowly and fully. I was centered, and I invited the frozen atmosphere into my lungs to become me. I found joy in the crisp texture of the air and the pristine sights around me. Every tree, frozen solid, the snow on the ground, crunchy and catching the sunlight like diamonds, and the pale blue sky of winter overhead, void of any pollutants. And then, finally, I appreciated the world once again.

We can call it cold, freezing, or frigid, blustery, arctic, frosty, or bleak. We can light fires, bundle up, cover up, wrap up, and suit up. We can sip warm drinks, rub our hands together, and watch our breath make clouds in front of us, but it won't change how cold it is outside. We can complain through our struggles and shiver in our homes this winter, or we can greet this struggle head on. After all, if there's one thing on our side, it's this: We are people of the North, and we do not fear the cold.

We know what to expect, and we know what it takes to live here. We know what we're in for, and we know how to prepare. This Northwoods of ours can be an unforgiving place sometimes, and we are hardened by that. We who choose the North are stalwart, devoted people, and we know the ice. We take pride in our ability to live side-by-side along the frozen swamps, hardened hardwoods,  and snowdrift meadows. This is our home and we go by the song of the chickadee and the call of the coyote. We've spent lifetimes learning and preparing for the dead of winter, and now we find ourselves in the thick of it.

Buck up, I say! Spring will be earned by us like it is every year. The mud season is far off still, and we will exercise the patience and resilience it takes to get there - just like each year before this one. Don't be discouraged and do not despair. Do take some pride in the winter. Take some comfort in knowing you are not alone, and listen for the call of the black-capped stewards the next time your courage fails you.

“There is but one philosophy and its name is fortitude! To bear is to conquer our fate.” - Edward Bulwer-Lytton

See you out there,

A woodsman in training.

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