It was a fifteen minute walk between my senior-year Kerrytown house and campus, and I soon discovered this relatively short stretch to be alarmingly fraught with peril. Braving the cars that made reckless right turns across pedestrian crosswalks, the daring early morning cyclists, and the inevitable long red lights that made me late a couple of times, I considered myself a hearty commuter. But of course, nothing compared with those January mornings. If you're a Michigan winter pedestrian, you know the ones. Those 8 AMs that freeze your face off. When two pairs of pants are not enough. When your eyeballs freeze mid-rotation. When you designate a cafe on State St. as your emergency midway point in case you cannot carry on. When it snowed so much the previous night that no one knows where the sidewalks are, so you walk in the street instead. And when you get to class, when you finally step through the door frame of Angell Hall, you utter a profound prayer of thanks for heating and classrooms.
Can you resurrect the feeling? I'm finding it difficult, because it was so long ago. Michigan's winter this year was for the faint of heart. Barely ever dropping below zero, shedding pitifully little precipitation, and surprising us with a couple of spring-like balmy afternoons every week or so, this tame but flighty winter has all good Michiganders scratching their heads. It's not like snot freezing onto your face is...nice. There's some magic in the twittering of birds in January, there's a sweetness and a sense of hope that comes with fresh warm air that we have always had to hold out for much longer. And yet, I feel like I'm missing something. There's some Michigan pride associated with experiencing all the seasons with such intensity, and I can't help but feel that my sense of inner rhythm depends on it. It has to be so cold that you can't imagine ever having been hot, and then so hot that you can't imagine ever having been cold--or it's not a year in the mitten. Sounds about right to me.
If climate so affects our sense of identity, global climate change could have a consequence I hadn't thought of before: deeply disorienting those people who are rooted in a place and connected to its rhythms and seasons.