Early March. In Northern Michigan, this month typically signals nothing except more winter; the average temperature is only 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet this morning, on my run down to the bay with A. and Ike, something felt different.
M. told me that the deer didn’t have much fat on them this fall, suggesting a mild winter. We talked about how they could realize that. “It’s instinct,” he said at first, then changed his mind. “Well, it’s more than that. Their bodies just know.” As he spoke, I remembered that when we first met seven years earlier, he told me one of his friends had killed a bear with a layer of fat so thick it made him shiver thinking of the winter ahead. Perhaps the deeply buried animal instinct in all of us still senses the shift in season; that’s the only way I can think to explain why walking out the door today, I immediately felt a change even though icicles thick as my arm still hung from our eaves and a foot of snow carpeted the field across from our house.
As we headed down the North Country Trail, I took note of a few subtle, yet significant, signs that the shift is coming:
- I stopped at one point to tie my shoe, and felt warmth literally flooding my back. It was an almost human touch, a hand pressing my skin. A week earlier, my friend C. had said, “Come for a walk. The sun is so warm you can actually feel it instead of just seeing it.” I knew exactly what she meant, and it was happening today. It felt like summer and after I finished tying my shoe, I stood for a little while longer, imagining that I was on the beach in a swimsuit.
- At spots along the trail, snow and ice yielded to patches of mud that glistened with wet, and Ike’s paws left mucky prints in the suddenly softened earth.
- I heard a chickadee. They are technically around all winter, but I haven’t heard any singing until now.
- I saw grass…and my shadow.