Sunday, January 4, 2015

While Walking Along the Muskegon River, Wilbo Contemplates Wearing a Vest of Ice-Cold Winter.

Maybe all former students of the Byron Middle School have a love for rivers. In the middle of the Seventies, the school board built a building for sixth, seventh and eighth graders as near to the Shiawassee River as one could build an avoid major flooding. During lunch hours, one could run down to the shore and wade in the current. A wood lot remained standing after construction and nature paths were cut through the maples and oaks, the trails defined with wood chips. My group of friends would return to classes after lunch, soaked with sweat after playing chase on those trails. On those nature trails, we were given freedom to be part of nature. One week a year, our teachers taught school outdoors and one class of Outdoor School took a bus load of children a day's journey by canoe up the Shiawassee. The bus would drop off children, chaperones and silver, aluminum Grumman canoes off at a landing near Cohoctah. With a few stops for lessons and one for lunch, the party could make the Middle School ramp a half-hour before having to board a bus, damp and grimy from a day in the wild, for home. The Shiawassee River passed through farmlands, domesticated fields, and yet the river flowed through an envelope of green space, trees and shrubs and meadow, a strip of the wild on either shore.

A number of roads end perpendicular with the Muskegon River flats, a marsh where the State of Michigan has established a wildlife area for hunting and fishing. Getty Road terminates on the south side of the flats and picks up again on the north side. Starting at Business US-31 in Muskegon, no road crosses the flats until one reaches Maple Island Road. A River runs through it, the Muskegon River. Children who have tried to cross it have called for rescue on their cellphones, good that cells work in this swath of wilderness. I'm sure if I walked around the snowy shoreline I might find a hermit or two living in a camouflage hut, poaching fish fresh daily from the still warm river. Today, I am a temporary hermit, sitting at my wheel, writing a memory at the dashboard of my car.

I had to leave the warmth and safety of my Subaru and take a short walk along the shoreline, silent winter allowing the wind passing through a forest canopy to whisper all that needed saying. That wind on my cheeks made my body shiver, shoulders and ribs feeling the chill even though enclosed in folds of a warm wool overcoat. 

A New York Times article came to mind, called up by my shivering, a story of a man who is selling vests with inserts for an array of ice-packs, a vest of winter instead of a shirt of fire. The vests sell, not just one customer buying three or more so two can be kept in a freezer for a quick change into something absolutely frosty. Athletes have taken to them because the cold burns those final five to ten pounds that few diets can melt as calories. The inventor went on and on about how we need the cold to stay healthy, our bodies never intended to be kept at room temperature around the clock. 

It sounded reasonable. I always felt a brisk heat arise from my chest, radiating into my arms and legs, after swimming in Lake Michigan, a cold water lake even during the middle of summer. I walked about a half-mile with these thoughts in my head and turned around for the car. I started to remember days when my mates and I camped under Polar Bear conditions, when a warm car or lodge didn't await. Dances with Cold as a theme for a walk would have to wait for another day.

Will Juntunen

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