Thursday, December 27, 2007

Welcome to Winter

Welcome to Winter
Along Route 2, Lake Michigan is a changing, breathtaking white expanse. Giant rocks, once pushed up on the shoreline, are now frozen in place by waves locked in ice. This is where water meets ice. The frigid nearly-January air has punched holes in the ice, leading the eye through the crystalline white aperture to the still water beyond. Large pieces of ice bob up, waving “go back.”

Eventually, route 2 rises up from the lake and into the heart of the U.P. Old tourist shops touting “pasties” – a Finish pocket food – have long since seen life, and real estate signs are every where. Cold is a way of life here, and those who can’t hack it get out. Winters are long and hard, and only the stoic survive.

Still, the tiny beacon of headlights on snow machines dart around in the black night as I drive up M-123. When I arrive at the “Sled Dog Lodge,” 60 or so huskies greet me with howling that parts the silence. It smells of spruce, and snow crunches under my boots as I unload my dogs and gear. I’m perplexed, however, by the temperature, which is a downright balmy 33 degrees.
I am continually impressed with the frugality and, simultaneously, generosity of mushers’ homes. Function precedes aesthetics in every musher’s home I’ve been in. Here, Gortex bibs and snow clothes hang from PVC piping dangling from the open beam ceiling, along side of pictures of the star athletes in racing action. Next to a coffee pot (a mushing necessity) a clothes line might be draped across the room with dog booties or wet gloves pinned up to dry.
One thing I’ve learned about mushers is, their doors are always open. Their hospitality is something I am most gracious for. I’ve slept in quite a few homes of people who’ve opened their doors to me having not known me an hour previously. During training and race season, their humble homes turn into dens full of tired mushers snoozing haphazardly in random places, like bears content during a winter’s nap. Mushers are known to sleep anywhere and catch winks when they can. I wonder if I will have a difficult time qualifying as a musher since I’m a chronic insomniac and infamously light sleeper.

Indeed, when I am first introduced to Jennifer and Jim Warren, purveyor of the “sled dog lodge,” they quickly forewarn me of several mushers who will likely crash my bunk around 1 a.m. in a couple days on their way in from an overnight training run with a team.
My head hurts. Tomorrow, Tom will take me on the eight mile loop by snow machine before turning me loose with my own team. Our day will start early, at daybreak, and it’s already 11:30 at night, but sleep doesn’t come easily. I walk outside into the black night. The wind sings through the spruce boughs, lulling my insomnia. The air is crisp and beauty surrounds me. I think about how I will miss winter.

It is estimated that, at the current rate of melt, all the world’s glaciers will be gone by 2080. A little over ten percent of the Earth’s surface is considered “permanently glaciated;" there is an average warming of two degrees per year. The majority, about 68.7 percent, of all the world’s freshwater is held in polar ice or glaciers. If all glaciers melted today, the seas would rise about 230 feet, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, mixing much of the world’s freshwater with sea water.

Do the math. It won’t be long before, like the Tragically Hip song, New Orlean’s is literally sinking, along with other lowlands. Find the nearest mountain top and set up camp.

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