Snowy North Woods Landscapes

Not to sound cliched, but there is something different about the North Woods during a frigid winter. Heavy snow nestles in clumps on the median, pine trees are heavy with white, and dark, large crows crowd telephone lines. Small towns and hamlets find protection from encircling balsams. Greyish snow is caked on signposts from the morning plows, pushing, salting, and sanding the world into a shape more suitable to people's whims.

The drifting snow covers doorsteps, as the wind whips and whirls outside. The temperature is only -1, but it might drop into the -20's. Even in Illinois, this stops traffic, closes schools, changes the day to day. Here it isn't as common as it once was, but it still creates less of an event. Cars don't start, and there are always more accidents on the first days after a snowfall. Yet as winter settles in, even the deer and birds seem to disappear, except at feeders. Of course, those crows remain, ever watching, ever circling. The world is silent for moments, if not for the sound of the chill wind.

When I was a kid, I would have done anything to leave this place. Now the cold, dark vistas intrigue me. It is no different anywhere else in the Midwest, yet the tapered trees, heavy with cover seem abstract here. Conifers just make more sense in the winter landscape. Cultural expectations demand they have holiday relevance. Extrapolate this to entire seasons. Something about a nestled pine tree near a hill of snow comforts, at least from the safe security of a recliner or kitchen table.

There is something about seeing from a distance that feels safe, within the warm confines of protecting walls. We look differently, like viewing old postcards, like encountering old family photographs. Out in the cold, vision gets hazy and our minds turn to warmth. We falter for gloves and feel that cold itching in our legs. Instead of stretching out for a walk, we stretch and yawn invariably, thinking romantically about those lonely vistas. They stretch out in our minds, more unreal than if we just strapped on the boots and walked.


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