The Winter I Expected

Recently I sent a Facebook “Friend Request” to a high school classmate. He replied, “I don’t think I can accept your friend request. You have too many pictures of snow/ice on your Facebook page …which leads me to think it could be your fault we’re having such cold weather here.”


At first I thought he was joking. Then I stopped to think about it and realized that some people seriously hate winter; unlike me. I love winter. It wasn’t until I moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that I came to love winter. I had experienced winter in Pennsylvania, which is very enjoyable and manageable – not too much snow, not too much wind, and not too cold. Enough cold to snow and enough snow to have the chance for a white Christmas and some treasured snow days close school.

I had experienced winter in Missouri and northern California. Neither of those winters were really anything except ice storms. Yuck! When I lived in northern California I actually bought snow chains for my truck thinking they would come in handy. I only used them once and they didn’t help much. They were too wimpy. 

Fourteen winters were spent in Wisconsin. Those were much more winter than Pennsylvania’s. Lots of snow but not too cold or blowy, except for the first year I lived there and it was −40 F without the wind chill. Anything after that was easy. There were a number of times I went for a stroll in the neighborhood during blizzards. It was a ton of fun. The air was crisp and invigorating, like during a thunderstorm. It just happened to be about 28 degrees and the air was full of white fluff. The marshmallows definitely tasted better in the hot chocolate after those walks.

I spent a Christmas in San Diego one year. It depressed me. All I kept seeing on television was news about the blizzard my family was experiencing back on the East Coast. Forget the comfy 70 degrees, I wanted to be bundled up playing in the snow with my sister, like we used to do when we were kids.

When I lived in Baltimore we had snow. The last winter I lived there we had three blizzards in two months. People didn’t know what to do or how to drive. They panicked and bought toilet paper, bread, and milk on their way home from the office anticipating being stranded at home for weeks on end. I had a joyful time helping my neighbors dig their cars out of the three foot drifts. It was child’s play for me compared to the two years I had spent in Wisconsin as a resident manager. Each time it snowed meant I could count on investing at least two to three hours clearing snow from the apartment complex.

Then my boyfriend, now husband, asked me to live with him. Happy happy joy joy! Right? Well he lived in Michigan. In the Upper Peninsula. Where they get real winters. At least that’s what I thought. I envisioned snow up to the eaves of the house. There would be a number of snow days that I’d spend in front of the wood stove enjoying mugs of marshmallows and cocoa as I worked my way through stacks of unread books. I was wrong.


I’ve previously written that he encouraged me to go for a walk, outside, in the cold, and snow. That was something that I wasn’t used to doing on a regular basis; just the occasional jaunt. But he was prompting me to get bundled up and go play in the big room – outside. Quickly I learned that if I didn’t go out each day I’d miss a lot. Nikon and Panasonic accompanied me. Unfortunately their batteries often couldn’t withstand the cold for as long as I could. But they helped me capture some incredible images of winter’s magic.


The first winter was tame. Books went unread. Hot chocolate begged for me to come indoors, but I stayed out for hours. I’d procrastinate and try to find tasks to do, like stacking wood, splitting stove wood, or sweeping the walk. Anything so I could stay outside. It was definitely not the type of winter I had envisioned. It was comfortable. Once or twice a week, snow would fall for a few hours. We’d get only a couple of inches, not the terrorizing six to eight that was predicted for an hour north or west of us. The storms would empty themselves out before they got to us. We had white on the ground most of the season, but not the piles I had envisioned.



The second winter was warm. Too warm. It was not a real winter and Michigan’s spring came too early. Many will remember it for years to come. The trees bloomed early and then we got a big long cold spell and it killed the blossoms. Apples and cherries were scarce and expensive that year.

My third winter here was relatively easy but expensive. We had little trouble except for the week of temps below 5 degrees. The truck froze when it went through the creek crossing. That was not good. When ice and water and cold combine with metal and plastic, things break; including the front axle on the truck. We had to hike three and a half miles, in hip boots through two feet of snow, in 3 degree temps to get the Jeep to pull the truck out. That is when we decided if it was an extreme effort to try to go to work, it was not worth it.

Today we heeded that decision.


About three weeks ago I asked Hugh what he thought was worse – lots of snow, extreme cold (we’d already had a number of below zero days), or winds. “Winds,” he said, “No doubt about it.”

Snow we can shovel out of. Cold we can bundle up against or add more wood to the fire. Winds make both the snow and the cold worse. Snow drifts and freezes and makes the two-track road (almost) unnavigable.


Since the beginning of December, we’ve consistently had snow on the ground. In the past, a forecast for two to four inches produced a half to an inch of snow. This year we’ve gotten almost everything that has been predicted. 

Today the marine forecast called for up to 50 mile per hour winds on the open lake. Since we live on the exposed lake shore we pay attention to forecasts like that one! The typical spots on the two-track were drifting and they were hard, solid drifts. There were chains on the Jeep and truck, heavy duty ones. We’d be able to get out to town, but only with a lot of effort.

“Do you think we’ll be able to get home?” I asked Hugh. If it snowed the two to four inches we were supposed to get in addition to a day of strong winds, we’d have a doozy of a time driving home. I knew we could always hike the mile home from our parking spot on the mainland. It would mean a long, cold, dark trek.

“No.” He replied. “I thought about bringing the snowshoes.”

Only the snow shovels were in the back of the Jeep and truck.

We looked at each other and knew today was going to be a snow day.

“Let’s go home.”


Despite the two feet of snow on the ground, single digits temps, and high winds, I’m loving winter as much this year as previously. The lake is frozen to the horizon. Any sailor will tell you that means miles, not feet or yards. Bays and coves quickly freeze with winter’s arrival, but the open lake has rarely done so. At least not in recent memory, until this winter.

The Bear Track Restaurant and Motel is my local lunch hangout. This week at lunch, Skip, one of the old timers, decided that we were not having an unusually cold or hard winter this year. “It’s like the ones we used to have all the time, years ago. It’s just that we haven’t had winters like this in a long time.”


Today before lunch I tried to stand on the point at the south end of our island. Forty knot winds buffeted me and tried to slide me around on the icy snow. I wanted to photograph the sheets of ice on the lake, but I couldn’t hold my camera still or bear the stinging snow on my face. The goldeneye ducks fished in the open spots between sheets of ice until the wind slid the ice closed. Then they struggled against the wind to find another fishing hole. Eventually I gave up my struggle and went inside.



Inside I could hear, through the wind and windows, the two inch thick sheets of be thrust up on shore. Even though I was cozy with my hot chocolate there, I wanted to be outside. It just wasn’t the same watching it from the dining room picture window. This is the type of winter I expected and I love it.


So yes David, it just might be my fault that we’re having all this cold. And I’m going to continue to enjoy it, and make the best of it by capturing winter’s magnificence.


P.S. – And yes, he was joking, he accepted my friend request.

P.P.S. – If you’d really like more of this beauty, it’s available via my coffee table book Art of Winter: A Photographic Essay. And stay tuned for information about the forthcoming iBook version of Art of Winter.

About juliemckaycovert

I am a therapist, teacher, photographer and published author. I am a lover of life and nature. My husband, Hugh, and I live off the grid on a remote 40 acre island, Shelter Island, just off of Drummond Island in the far eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This blog is about my life, a life I thought I'd never be able to live. This blog is about dreams and ideals being manifested. It is about daily events with a backwoods twist. It is about the simple pleasures and wonders being brought forth. I invite you to be inspired and even, as some friends have, live vicariously through my words.
This entry was posted in Drummond Island, Ice, Jeep, Michigan, Photography, Shelter Island, Upper Peninsula, Walk, Winter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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