Waking up in the hotel room is nothing like it was in the little cabin. There is no window to sit and watch the sunrise from. In fact, when I look out the window, I see nothing. The storm has subsided not at all, and sunrise will serve only to change the hue of our blindness.
The storm is so serious that the people on the news have given it a name– Neptune. I am inclined to scoff at the dramatization borne of the 24-hour news cycle, but there’s no question the storm is worthy of a proper noun. Downstairs, at the frontdesk, I find out that all the roads are closed or closing. There is no way out of town. Snowmobiles are being blown off the road. “Would you like to make a reservation for another night?” I’m sad to think about our little cabin, the place that mom and grandma love so much, sitting there at the opposite perimeter of that white throbbing blob on the Doppler. Reluctantly, we put that extra night on hold.
I take the opportunity to use the hotel sauna. It’s not the authentic Finnish variety that the UP is known for, but it’s something. It feels nice to be too warm and to take a break from my family. The only other person in the sauna is a middle-aged man who tells me about the ice caves he visited yesterday. I tell him I’d like to go with my mom and Grandma and he asks me if I’m married. I’m so caught off guard by the sequence of our conversation that I answer honestly– “no”– instead of appropriately– “what the hell does that have to do with anything?”
The implications of his question make me think about the phenomena of “hurricane babies” where, in the prolonged absence of modern diversions of electricity and transportation, people partake in some very old-fashioned distractions. Today happens to be Valentine’s Day, and I smirk just to imagine the improvised celebrations that will come out of all those canceled dinner reservations. I predict that there will be a swell of bellies this summer, a sweep of babies this fall and that, for as many lives as Neptune may take today, time will reveal him to be quite prolific.
I’ve only been to Marquette once before and I got stuck here then, too. This place has an effect on me like the movie Groundhog Day– I wake up in the morning to find that I’m still here. It seems like the city is trying to tell me something, but it’s hard to know whether that message is “stay out” or “don’t leave.” On that backpacking trip, I waited an extra two nights for my re-supply package that contained maps, food, and other provisions to arrive in the mail. While I waited, I met Tom, (not the snow canoe Tom, all the people I know around here have practically the same name), and we had a thrilling night that would definitely fall into that category of old-fashioned entertainment.
With extra time in town, I text Tom and we meet up again. He takes me to the shop where he makes bike frames and teaches me how to weld. It feels good to learn something new. We run through the ridiculous biting wind. It feels good to stretch my legs. We eat a delicious lunch with homemade everything. It feels good to be in a place that values natural quality food even (or especially?) way up here. I am breathing again. That feels good too.
Tom and I talk, we learn about each other. I am impressed that this person I met in passing, this person with such a tenuously fleeting role in my life, happens to be such a truly good person. What are the chances? It’s possible that I have the fortune of encountering the best sort of souls– maybe I’m drawn to the inordinately good people. But it’s also possible that there are just a whole lot of good ones out there.
Back with mom and grandma, we find a restaurant that stayed open through the storm and share a Valentine’s Day celebration. I’ve been stuck in impatient adolescent mode with my mom for far too many years and I want to stop, but I don’t know how to. This trip has been no exception. Sitting across from these two women, I try to take a step back. I know these women, I know them to be profoundly good people full of undying love that they never get sick of sharing. So, what if they weren’t central figures in my life, but rather strangers I encountered in passing? Would I know how good they really are? I would not. Would I at least have a clue? Maybe just a little. How wonderful to think that every time I get a hint, a scent, a whiff of goodness off a stranger, that there might be all the goodness of my own mother underneath.
From a glimpse into the soul of a stranger, to seeing my family with fresh eyes, this Valentine’s Day, I fell in love, a little bit more, with people.
Aw hey, you can have some more if you want it and also if you go right here