Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'Tis the Season!

The temperatures have dropped, the jet stream is nestling into it's winter pattern but the lakes are open and warm. The lake effect snow machine that blankets the northern part of the state in a downy-white quilt has begun blowing.

One of the things I cherish most about living in Northern Michigan near the water is the change of seasons. Of course, people almost everywhere in the U.S. experience the transition. But in this region, the change is dramatic, more akin to turning a page between chapters of a book, rather than a slow 'fade-in fade-out” of a film. The fall colors usher in the transition from summer with vivid colors, colors that use the rolling hills and blue lake as a canvas to paint a seasonal vista unique to Northern Michigan. After the leaves are all but gone, winds increase further, days shorten significantly, and the steely waters begin brooding. For over a week now, I've driven through town every day to see an agitated gunmetal gray bay, full of closely stacked waves anywhere from three to eight feet, obscuring the marina breakwall and light in white clouds of spray and rolling in hurried formation into the east and southern shores of the bay.

Once the patterns shift to winter weather, lake effect snows begin. Cold fronts dropping across the warm lake pick up moisture and deposit it as snow along windward regions adjacent and inland from the lake. Meteorologists say about a fifteen-degree difference in temperatures is required to generate the conditions (obviously with air temps well below freezing). When these ingredients exist, even in the absence of an organized storm, the recipe can create widespread snow across entire regions or within surprisingly isolated areas. One can sit at a coffee shop in Petoskey, with overcast or even partly sunny skies, and look across to the north side of the bay to a heavy snowfall. Sometimes, with no snow falling in town, the other side of the bay is completely obscured by snow. During the beginning of winter, the temperature difference between water and air is great enough to keep us in almost-daily doses of fresh white stuff.

With the arrival of winter and the lake effect snow machine, in an area with three ski resorts in a thirty-mile radius, comes the anticipation of ski season, which commonly begins Thanksgiving weekend. Running shoes and road bicycles pass skis and snowshoes on their respective transitions into and out of hibernation in basements and attics. Snowplows are mounted, snowblowers and snowmobiles are tuned up, winter tires go on, and glinting bright lights of all colors begin to appear, tempering the cold, dark evenings with the promise of the coming holidays. And the words of seasonal greetings spoken to each other in the crispness of winter become visible in the form of cartoon-cloud puffs of frosty steam.


IowaAdmin said...

We're considering a kayak trip in the Le Cheneaux Islands this season. Have you been there? If so, any recommendations for lodging or campsites?

tim said...

Hey there,

I've been delinquent in attending to my blog but I saw your question re: the cheneaux islands. I've only paddled there once; there is an island called Government Island that has campsites and is easily reachable. I think they're city sites, and powerboaters frequent them in midsummer, so I've heard they can get full and/or unkempt. But when I was there in fall it was only me, and reasonably clean.

Other than that, I'm thinking the only other state or national campground nearby is Carp River campground, in Hiawatha National Forest, but you would have to drive from there.

There are a few area hotels and motels in or near Cedarville. If you do a google search of "cedarville MI hotels" you can find three or four.

Also: there is a guide in the area, good folks:


Drop me a line if you want help or more info, I'm only an hour away from there (I can't believe I've only paddled there once!).