Sunday Night Check-In: A Michigan Spring

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In June of 2000, I moved from Seattle to a small town on Lake Michigan called St. Joseph. It’s tagline is a “Special Place on the Lake.” Since 1993 I had been employed by Whirlpool Corporation in various roles, and I was thrilled to get an opportunity in the Corporate Headquarters in Benton Harbor, the small town across the river from  St. Joseph. It was beautiful in June. I had been in a rainy climate, and the sun was out, the summers were as cool as Seattle’s moderate summers, and I loved being close to the beaches and resort towns along the lake.

I had experienced a Northern winter in Pittsburgh when I lived there for a short stint during my first marriage. Seattle’s winters were mild, and the rest of my residences were in Southern States. I had no idea what to expect, but I was eager to find out what a real Midwestern winter with lake effect snow might be like. As Labor Day passed, and the temperature started to drop, I began to worry a little about how I might cope. Luckily, I had relocated with a couple of other Southerners as part of a new leadership team in our business unit. We all geared up – literally – for what was to come.

Coffee and Chow in Benton Harbor

I had no reason to fear the cold, long winters. I came to see them as the flip side of the hot southern summers. I hated being outside in July and August down South and was very uncomfortable for a few months a year. The same thing happened here. I was merely uncomfortable on the other end of the Fahrenheit scale. Just like I stayed inside in summer and waited out the heat, I stayed inside in the winter and waited out the cold. I was lucky that I lived in a condo, and they took care of the snow. My wardrobe morphed from primarily summer dresses and sandals to include mostly hats, mittens and coats. Before I left, I even started running again – in February. I adapted.

I am in St. Joseph this weekend. I’ve had a long four day weekend, and the stars have aligned to provide the most amazing weather. It snowed here last week. They say it was just a dusting, but, just the same, it snowed here last week. Today it was 80 degrees. I took an hour walk today, and I was sweating by the end of it. I did not expect the weather to be so warm, but it certainly is a nice surprise. St. Joe is definitely a beach town. The crowds have been out, and the beach was full.

Derby Birthday Party

I flew into South Bend, IN which is the closest regional airport to this area. So, I had about a 40 minute drive through the countryside to get to St. Joseph and my lovely group of Michigan friends. The sky was blue. The sun was out, and spring is in full force. This was my second taste of spring this year as Louisiana’s spring has already come and gone and has been replaced with some kind of horrible monsoon season. I have not stopped smiling since I arrived. The drive over was unbelievably picturesque.

Southwest Michigan is the largest fruit-producing area of the country next to California. Miles and miles of cherry and apple orchards flew past my car window. The apple trees are not blooming yet, but the rest of the fruit trees were in full bloom. Dandelions peppered the bright green carpet below the trees like stars in the night sky. The vineyards literally took my breath away with their blankets of green grass, dandelion stars and rows upon rows of symmetrical vines pruned back in anticipation of this years vibrant season. I could just imagine the next few months as the landscape totally changed with new growth and eventually the magnificent Michigan fruits.

Spring in the South comes in great glory. The azaleas are over the top, and it’s almost as if southern cities are showing off with their dogwoods and azaleas in bloom. It happens in a predictable rhythm with each tree taking it’s turn with its color blast. But, up here, the winter is hard, and everything is frozen for so long. With the first taste of sun, spring rushes in. Everything bursts forth at once like a fireworks display of immense proportions. It is a celebration of nature. Here, spring is the start of the best season of the year – the miracle of summer. Summer is expected and endured in the South. In Michigan, summer is a long, anticipated precious gift.

The Lingering Signs of Winter

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Asparagus grows wild here. Self-serve farm stands sit on the side of the road piled with bundles of fresh asparagus for $1 a pound. I didn’t find any this weekend, but the same stands featured bouquets of flowers. If I had been in a place where I could keep flowers, I certainly would have stopped and bought some. The asparagus here is buttery and fresh. Supermarket asparagus doesn’t even taste like the same food. And the asparagus gives way to bounteous crops of fresh fruits in the summertime so sweet and so diverse that I never got bored with them. This area is lush and green and idyllic.

I had a great weekend with friends. I went out for coffee with my friend Marv, went to a birthday party for my friend Autumn and her dog Pumpkin, ate at the amazing Lark’s BBQ (which I’ll write about later in the week) and hung out for hours with my friends Nancy, Jill and Cheryl. The area has changed a great deal, especially in Benton Harbor. Whirlpool has been a great corporate citizen to this town, and I saw several new buildings dispersed throughout the area. The downtown area Benton Harbor has become an arts district. When I was here in early 2000, that area was boarded up and burned out. A fabulous new golf course and residential area grew up by the lake and is thankfully a sustainable and environmentally friendly project. For the first time ever, I actually spent more of my time in Benton Harbor. As my friend Nancy said, Benton Harbor is so much ‘hipper’ than St. Joe now.

St. Joseph Today – Antiques on the Bluff and Walking Around Town

Lake Michigan itself has not changed. It’s still beautiful and expansive. I can’t see it, but I know that Chicago is on the other side. The sun doesn’t set until after 9 PM here, and I might catch a glimpse of the big city as the sun dives into the lake. I’ll see if I can catch a pic of it for you. The lighthouse sits in St. Joe’s harbor as it does in all seasons…. frozen in winter … popular as a walking destination in summer. I can already imagine the boats that will fill the harbor in the coming months. It is celebration time in Southwest Michigan. From now until Labor Day is prime time. Thank you, Michigan, for a beautiful weekend and the sweet taste of a second magnificent spring.

BTW …. my Yoga Challenge is still going strong! Have a great week, y’all… I’ll see if I can make myself go home.

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