YEARS AGO, when my wife and young sons and I lived in the Old Town neighborhood of Traverse City, we often walked to the Carnegie Library on Sixth Street. On winter evenings we would bundle up in coats, boots, hats, and mittens and set out through the snow. If it was very cold and much snow had fallen, there would be no traffic and we would enjoy the novelty of walking down the center of Oak Street, breaking trail through the new snow. When we looked back the way we had come, Gail’s and my tracks always led straight down the street. The boys’ tracks meandered from side to side, for they were interested in everything, and everything required investigation.
By the time we reached the library we would have lost feeling in our cheeks, chins, and ears. The library was busier than we expected. Cars were parked at odd angles in the parking lot, and the lot was rutted where vehicles had gotten stuck and had to be rocked free. Inside were rosy cheeks and laughter, a festive atmosphere, everyone bumped out of their ordinary selves by the storm. We felt fortunate to be in that warm, bright building, surrounded by people who shared our appreciation. The library has never seemed a greater haven of light and knowledge.
I thought of those evenings not long ago, when a winter storm closed our little city for a couple of days. It was one of those storms that people complain about but secretly find energizing. Schools and government offices closed, and most of us took a time-out.
Late on the second night, while the storm was winding down, I took a walk down Front Street. The downtown district was deserted and so quiet that it seemed I must be the only person in the city who was still awake. Drifts clogged the street, and cars parked along it were heaped with so much snow it appeared as if they had been abandoned. The snow muffled all sound.
Somewhere along the way, as I broke trail on the street, I was joined by a stray dog, a long-haired mutt that might have had some border collie in him. He approached me, stopped a few feet away, and we made eye contact. I swear he gave a nod of recognition—You can’t sleep either? Well then, let’s walk—and we set off together, past street lights with snowflakes flaring beneath them and darkened storefronts with their windows etched with frost. It was like seeing the town for the first time. I’ve lived in or near Traverse City most of my life, but that night it seemed like a new place.
And isn’t that one of the pleasures of a storm? It shakes us from our routines and causes us to pay attention to the world again. There’s something deeply appealing about that. For a few hours everything’s quiet, and a bit of the wild returns to our lives.
(Originally published in Michigan Blue magazine, Winter 2015-16)