grumpy about a Wisconsin winter

People in the Milwaukee area start complaining about winter some time in late November, and they don’t stop until late May, when it’s almost warm enough to wear short sleeves again (with long pants). I think it’s a shame, because this is a spectacular place to winter over.

I spent my first decade in Seoul, which in the 60’s and 70’s was still a third-world metropolis without a whole lot of clean beauty on the streets. Jesse recently saw some black-and-whites from my wee childhood. She pored over the dirty, bleak winter cityscapes contemplatively. “Were you very poor then, mommy?” My next 8 years were in Stockton, the armpit of California, where the air was brown and snow never fell. I went one entire winter in high school without socks. You could drive to the mountains nearby, but that wasn’t what my family did. We stuck around Stockton, staying warm and bored. Eventually I ended up in the DC area for a long time. Once in a while we’d get hit with a great snow storm, but mostly it was unpleasant ice and freezing rain. Then we moved to St. Louis, where the winters, like the city, did nothing exciting at all for me.

Then came Milwaukee. There’s nothing sexy about the name and place, but that’s because Lake Michigan is profoundly underappreciated. When we arrived here, we were struck dumb by how beautiful the lakefront is, all up and down the state. Lake Michigan really is a freshwater ocean. What we didn’t realize is that the shore is really at its best in winter. In late winter, after it’s been extremely cold for a good long while, you can walk hundreds of yards past the summer shoreline on the frozen lake. Ice volcanoes are weird and wonderful. Nooks and crannies beckon, and little holes and caves are waiting to be eyed cautiously.  Catch all this in a snowstorm, and it will take your breath away.

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Today Anthony and I took the kids to the Audubon nature reserve to hit the shore. It’s only a 10 minute drive away, and then it’s just a 3 or 4 minute pelting run after the kids as they race joyfully down to the lake. The walkable frozen shore today was still only a couple hundred feet past the sand, but there should still be another month of cold weather to take that out further. Well past where we could walk, perhaps 300 yards out to sea, there were rising stands of frozen volcanoes, with ice the unearthly blue color of glaciers. The arctic temperatures of the past few weeks have made everything beautifully cold cold cold.

We found ice formations that look like they belong in Yellowstone.

ice formations on the shores of Lake Michigan

ice formations on the shores of Lake Michigan

There were crevices to explore, and holes to visit.

Anthony drops into a hole to rest

Anthony drops into a hole to rest

There were newly formed sheets of ice to skid across, with care. Jesse crawled into a deep crack and spent 15 minutes pulling out chunks of snow the size of cinderblocks to build a wall. We found spots where nature had formed heart-shaped sheets of ice in freshly-frozen parts of the lake’s surface. Happy Valentine’s Day from mother earth! We wandered and stared. We lay down here and there to soak it in. It was quiet and peaceful (except for when Nick became a dragon for a while, but we mostly ignored that), and as always, it reminded me in all the right ways that I’m grateful to be enjoying my kids’ magical childhood with them, right here in Milwaukee.

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People complain and complain about the cold winter here. It drives me crazy. I don’t like being cold either, and we’ve got a drafty house for sure. But winter in Milwaukee gives us Lake Michigan at its finest (plus no mosquitos or biting flies!), and there’s always time for a warm snuggle with loved ones when it’s too cold to go outside. If you’re feeling down about the winter in Milwaukee, you might consider throwing on some snow gear and heading down to the lake. If that doesn’t take the grumpy out of you, I guess nothing will until May comes down the pike.

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