Letter from Nowhere: Perspective on elemental truths

Posted: Mar 15, 2007 3:19 PM
Letter from Nowhere: Perspective on elemental truths

Arrived early afternoon. Snow dumped 2 feet during the preceding week. Mercury plunged that night to 10 below, where it sat for much of the week.

That week was highlighted by - let's see: Scooter Libby's conviction for lying about a crime no one committed; the $68 billion soda-pop industry's announcement it will market its diet drinks as health and wellness brands; some crazed TV-person's declaration that life for most of us would be vastly better with Dick Cheney dead; and daylight-saving time's arrival a month earlier than usual.

Oh, and the United Nations heard junk scientists afflicted by the fevers recommend a worldwide carbon tax and limits for the rest of the century on temperature growth.

Here, until the stay's end, the worry was warmth.

Where's here?

Nowhere, really - right in the middle of it. In Michigan's Upper Peninsula - an area the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, lacking sufficient people for even a single congressional district, yet boasting temperatures at this time of year frigid enough to freeze-dry the hottest toddy. You're well advised to take plenty of feathers.

You have to trek to this place down wilderness logging trails on snowshoes or cross-country skis. Make the trek no later than the first week in March to be assured you can cross the river before ice-out. Otherwise you'll have to swim it dodging small icebergs. Even now, you need to make sure there are no weak spots in the river ice under the snow.

On the other side is a log cabin accoutered with no electricity, running water, satellite, or cable. Cell phones might show a signal-strength bar or two if you're lucky, if the leaves have fallen, and if the air isn't loaded with too much moisture.

Heat comes from fireplace and wood stove. At 10 below, you'll feed logs into both maws several times a night. The plumbing out back can get real interesting at such temperatures too, what with the warmer air beneath the frost line down there, you know - rising.

Animal life? A lone adolescent bald eagle out scouting - and likely finding slim pickings, given the cold and snow and eagle preferences for fish. Tracks from some deer and snowshoe rabbits and a timberwolf. A red squirrel scurrying around the big pine at the river's edge. Two flocks of turkeys. The local alarm clock, a pileated woodpecker, drumming on a hollow maple at first light. And the trail of a vandalous porcupine: bark stripped from four favorite pines, and serious samplings of the thresholds at the cabin's front and back doors.

Having arrived Saturday, by Thursday the ghost of Marilyn Monroe wafted through singing a hushed and sultry "Heat Wave." The mercury rose to 48. Icicles fell, the river ice turned to slush, and great globs of snow in the pines whumped to the ground - falling snowdrifts big enough to make a guy's wife a sudden widow. And the car, a groaning protester of 10-below starts, had to be moved from its place on the logging trail to a better location so it - and its driver - wouldn't be mired in mud till June.

Maybe the thaw was global warming on a scale to please a junk scientist's heart. Not that we're not in a warming trend - we are. The unanswered questions regarding it are about the cause - carbon emissions or, say, solar activity. Interesting that Greenland probably got its name before icing over. It has lost some of that accumulated ice cover, but contrary to stipulations in Al Gore's Oscar-winning horror flick (Al believes - his words - in "an over-representation of factual presentations" to keep things stirred up), the ice loss there seems to have stabilized and 20th century temperatures in Greenland cooled.

Why these solitary sojourns at a wilderness dacha, particularly in winter? Lots of reasons: retreat and restoration, to do the things they say you can't, and - closer to the elements - to gain perspective on elemental truths and confounding questions. For instance . . .

Truth: Science is not so much about unanimity as about making sense of constants and variables. Question: Why does an entertainment-consumed population fritter at the edges, and concern itself with conjured cataclysm (global warming) based on "an over-representation of factual presentations," instead of with here-and-now threats to life as we know it - threats we can do something about, e.g., jihad?

The thaw came, and stayed. Sap began to quicken in the trees; the phoebes returned to the mud-daub nests they tuck-point each year. Soon the peepers will begin tuning up in the lowgrounds. Some may see in all that the dark hand of global warming. Others see it as the onset of spring - officially now just a week away.