Monday, November 1, 2010

Cold can't always be measured by a thermometer. It may say ten degrees above or thirty degrees below, and the cold can still be other-worldly cold. Cold like the dark side of the moon.
Cold like Black River Harbor that February day in the winter of 1997 when Pat and I decided that it would be fun to see some of our favorite waterfalls when they were engulfed in snow and ice.

The Lake of the Falls, near Mercer, was our first stop. The flowage was covered in snow and ice thick enough to hold not only the two of us, but four-wheel drives and ice shacks. We struggled through the snow to get closer to where we believed the falls to be, but stopped when we heard the sound of rushing water. The water of the meager falls still had enough power to force through the snow. Hmm? we thought as we stood panting a mere foot from the open water, and then we wisely tromped back to solid ground.

The falls at Black River Harbor were more of the same, except that our trek through the snow was much longer and followed a rabbit path instead of the boardwalk which led tourists to this spot in the summer. We were pretty much alone, not even any rabbits out that day.

We continued our drive and came out on Lake Superior. Up until that point the air outside felt like the chill of any other winter day. The sun was shining, and felt warm when we turned our faces to it. But we had been raised on Wisconsin winters and as long as the thermometer stayed above zero Fahrenheit, we didn't think it was too bad.

When we got to Lake Superior, however, it was as if all heat was sucked out of the universe. It wasn't just the cold and it wasn't even the wind because there was none. The air was still; there was no movement in the sky above or the ground below. No birds were flying and there was no noise whatsoever. It was like walking into a vacuum.

I thought that Gitche Gumee was powerful in the summer, when the waves crash on the shore, unrelenting in their actions. The power to just withdraw heat, movement, the very air above was a power I could barely fathom. The Lake was covered in snow, with drifts like waves upon the beach, and as far as you could see it was one solid whiteness, the sky blending into the horizon.

"Wow," Pat said, "not quite what I expected."

"I know. It’s like being on another planet. It’s beyond cold.”

We took our pictures and fled back to the SUV. And then hunted up a place in Bessemer which was open and served hot chocolate.

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