Being involved with the rural North Country is like being in a bad love affair. The summer woos me with warm breezes off one of The Great Lakes and the river. It offers me lush greens and sunlit days. It entices me with a multitude of lavish experiences: picnics under the trees, quiet moments on the shore, spectacular thunderstorms topped off with rainbows, and evenings under the stars listening to the crickets and watching fireflies. It presents me with fantastic gifts, the sweet serenade of birds, the beauty of diamonds reflecting off the water, and bouquets wild flowers from its fields. The skilled lover pursues me, seizes my heart, and convinces me of its unwavering devotion. I fall in love!
In the fall, my intuition whispers to me that things are changing but my beloved is so magnificence in its bight reds, oranges, and yellows that I ignore the signs. I am caught up in the joy and exhilaration of the splendor. But its moodiness erupts suddenly. It frosts the countryside but quickly hides the evidence with a morning smile. I am bewildered but I am soothed by memories of earlier carefree times. The suitor offers me even more gifts: ripe fruit from its orchards, fat orange pumpkins, and an Indian summer ablaze with color and sweet fragrances. There is still warmth but the winds blow colder and the clouds turn from white to gray. I soon realize that the glow of my summer romance is gone.
The North Country turns irritable. It shows its sunny smile less frequently and the cold storms come. The leaves have been blown to the ground and the tress stand in shame. My body and heart feel the coolness. I wonder how such a beautiful entity could change so much. At first, I make excuses and rationalize that things are not that bad and this is a passing thing. But the weather becomes angrier and angrier and then there is snow. I groan when I first see it dust the green grass. The snow piles up higher and higher. Some days the rain tap, taps on my window to play a cruel game of freeze tag and I find myself alone in the dark and I am afraid. I feel like a prisoner unable to leave my home. My relationship with this part of the world becomes a lovers’ quarrel. I wonder how I ever fell for the false promises and I resent being tricked.
I turn away from the monster and go to my neighbors, family and friends to complain. And soon everyone in the North Country becomes part of an enormous support group seeking comfort and strength to endure the abusive demon. Day after day, the heavens crash down on us but it seems that hidden between the flakes of white are angels sent to help us learn patience. We stop resisting, accept the harshness, and against the power of the villain, we become one. We check on each other’s safety. Our homes and community centers open to strangers who happen to be captured in the storms. We gather together to ice fish, quilt or share a hot cup of coffee. Moving anyway from our raging disappointment, we move closer to each other and we survive.
But a deep bitterness remains and as the winter goes on and on, I start to wonder if I should leave and never return. I need a more stable companion because I can’t take the terrible fighting any longer. And then suddenly, as if my tormentor knows my limits, it starts to smile. It knows it must be loving again to thaw my frozen heart. It drops its frigid demeanor and begins to melt some of the snow. It calls back the geese and commands the sap to run through the trees. I spy the first buds, the trilliums in the woods, the red winged blackbirds, and my first robin. I smell the freshness of new beginnings. My transformed lover returns to me the things I cherish, the waters shimmer and the sky is blue and clear again. I have an extraordinary sense of hope and all is forgiven. I am in love again!
People who don’t know the North Counter always ask me why I stay. My answer acknowledges that, yes, the harsh weather is at times unbearable. But it is the contrasts between the cold and the warmth, the struggle and the peace, the light and the dark that keep me here. They provide a breathtaking intensity of experience that cannot be described. Like the first drink of water after a day in the desert or a hug after a long separation, the beautiful moments in the North Country are incredible. Not one of these times are ever taken for granted and with joy they touch the hearts and souls of the people who live here. During spring, summer, and fall, we live in paradise and everyday in those wonderful seasons are savored in a spirit of gratitude.
I also stay because of the other people who stay, hardy souls who have accepted the unpredictable temperament of the North Country. They have adapted and call this place home. In our towns, villages, and neighborhoods we have formed an unspoken allegiance to each other that requires no laws or charter. We have formed a culture based on the ability to weather storms and we know instinctively what needs to be done. This community spirit has developed so strongly that it not only appears in inclement weather but at anytime anyone suffers a loss or comes up against a challenge. The question is never “should I help?” but rather “how can I help?”
And so I stay in this sometimes bad love affair with the North Country. At times, the relationship is very rocky but I have learned to accept the inconveniences. And with this spirit of forgiveness, I have come to truly appreciate the extraordinary power of this wonderful place and its great people. And isn’t that what love is all about?
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