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Taking note: Winter explorations

Broken icicle fragments were scattered across the frozen ground, glinting in the winter sunshine. The remaining ice on my roof was melting, falling almost rhythmically into a pool near the icicle fragments. This moment seemed to sum up the unusually gentle weather that’s taken place this month. It’s been so unlike my past experiences of the Upper Peninsula in January.

There’s been a near absence of howling winds, sub-zero temperatures and massive snowbanks this month. It’s mainly been gentle, mild days in the 30-degree range, melting snow and ice, light winds, and even some sunshine. Well, except for a few recent days, which brought more than a dusting of snow.

However, all this warm weather — often more reminiscent of early spring than January — has felt like a bit of a miracle, a reprieve from the usual deep, dark cold of this month.

I’ve gotten outside more than I usually would in January, while my ice scraper and shovel have seen some neglect during these warmer-than-usual winter days.

Beyond the unusual warmth of this month, there’s another thing I’m grateful for: the sun rising a little earlier and setting a little later each day. A little over a month after the winter solstice, this shift toward more light is starting to become more apparent.

It doesn’t exactly feel bright, but it feels less dark. But sometimes, that’s all we can ask for this time of year. We need a little light, a little excitement, a little something to break up these long days during what always feels like the longest month.

Usually, I find myself fulfilling my urge to travel this time of year, taking a trip during January or February to break up the long winter. However, this February will mark a year since I last left Michigan. The last time I traveled out of state was just a few weeks before the pandemic hit. I spent a week enjoying sunshine and adventure in southern California, an unknowing last hurrah before the world changed.

However, this past year has taken me on other journeys. It’s taken me on hikes and excursions to nearby places that I’d never been before. It’s led me to appreciate more of what already surrounds me, all the new adventures I can take without going far from home. I’ve found myself visiting waterfalls I’d never known about, walking down trails I had not noticed or considered previously. These excursions have left me seeing our little corner of the world in a new light.

Beyond exploring the area, this past year has even led me to appreciate all the adventures and activities that don’t involve leaving home. These long months of the pandemic have left me with a renewed appreciation of the journeys reading can offer.

I’ve found myself reading more than ever, letting books — rather than planes, trains or automobiles — take me on adventures to faraway places this year.

It always amazes me how a book can transport you from your couch to a whole new world. The people and places described can sink into your consciousness. You feel as if you’ve become deeply familiar with the sensory world of the book’s inhabitants. The emotions and experiences conveyed in a book can suddenly become your own.

Reading gives us the chance to glimpse the hopes, dreams, fears and everyday lives of people — fictional characters and nonfictional individuals– who live in various cultures, localities and historical periods. Books offer a chance to see the world through the eyes of others. Despite — or perhaps because — these perspectives are so different than my own, they have helped me work through my own hopes, dreams, fears and everyday situations.

I think this is why few things offer me more comfort and solace than a good book. Reading can offer a sort of mental vacation from our daily lives. And much like travel, books offer us a mental getaway that can enrich our empathy, insight and understanding of the larger human experience.

So if you’re like me, and you’re feeling a little cooped up this winter, consider picking up a book. Or taking a hike, if the weather is nice. Because there’s so much we can learn and explore from the comfort of our own homes and communities as we wait for the world to spring back to life.

You never know what you might find when you open a new book or start heading down an unfamiliar trail. But there might be a little magic, an undiscovered world within, that is waiting just for you. And by the time you finish exploring and learning, you might find the world a little warmer, a little brighter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cecilia Brown is city editor at The Mining Journal. She lives in Marquette and can be found hiking if the weather’s nice, or curled up with a book if not. Contact her at cbrown@miningjournal.net.

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