Photo courtesy of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
By Sarah Bearup-Neal
Three sounds herald the transition to winter in Northern Michigan, and they are the following:
• Canada geese honking overhead.
• Chainsaw noise in the woods.
• Visitors who ask native UpNorthians, “Whaddaya do up there all winter?”
I’ve fielded the “Whaddaya do?” question. A lot. I’m a seasonal employee at a retail establishment in Glen Arbor. My place of employment is visited during the summer and fall months by out-of-towners, many of whom express a reasonable curiosity about life UpNorth after summer’s omnipresent sunny-ness fades. One such inquisitor was completely sold on Glen Arbor in the summer. But the winter? Not so much, she said. It was a perception problem. She imagined, she said, an empty place devoid of the cultural and entertainment amenities she enjoyed back home. Well, as my good friend Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish existentialist, always says, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Kind of like winter in Northern Michigan.
Reality number 1: book clubs
The reality of Dorothy Barker’s winter life is matter-of-fact. “You live here, so you do the normal things you do,” she said. Besides “taking advantage of all the specials at the restaurants” in the area, Barker leads the Glen Arbor Book Club. It meets the third Friday of each month, at 10 a.m. at the Glen Arbor Township Hall. “And when we’re through, we’re through, but it certainly never goes past noon. After we’re done talking about the book, we socialize,” she said. Fiction and nonfiction books are read.
The Lakeshore Readers, another area book club, meets at the Glen Lake Community Library in Empire on the last Wednesday of each month. They begin at 10:15 a.m. “The library opens at 10 and we like to give them a little grace period to turn on the lights,” said Carol Peterson, a club member. The title of the next book to be discussed — fiction, nonfiction or a time-tested classic — is posted on the library’s lobby bulletin board. Peterson, a retired librarian, reads a lot during the winter. “Sometimes you need quiet time to hole up with all those books,” she said.
Reality number 2: arts and leisure
Drive south on Lake Street any given winter night and experience the full-on wattage of a totally-lit Cherry Republic. Yet, another kind of light illuminates the nocturnal Lake Street, and that’s the beam of culture emanating from the Glen Arbor Art Association (GAAA), across the street and down the gravel driveway. Whaddaya do at the GAAA? we asked director Peg McCarty. “I was just thinking about that this morning,” she said, and rattled off a short list of activities that make up the GAAA’s winter schedule.
“Reader’s Theater is a group of amateur actors who get together for fun. They read the scripts. No sets. No props. No costumes,” McCarty said. Reader’s Theater’s next production is “A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 11-12 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. at the GAAA. Reservations may be made at the GAAA website. Auditions for the mid-winter production are Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.
“Talk About Art” is a series of conversational interviews with performing and visual artists that take place from January to April. “We live in a region with so many practicing artists,” McCarty said. “What a gift to be able to find so many of them willing to talk in plain language about their lives, their work and where their inspirations come from.” The seventh season of “Talk About Art” launches Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. with Doug Stanton, a New York Times bestselling author and founder of the National Writers Series, followed by:
• Julie Kradel, clay sculptor, March 26.
• Jeff Haas, musician, educator and host of the public radio program “The New Jazz Archive,” April 8
• E.J. Fitzpatrick, abstract painter and contemporary fine artist, April 30.
(Full Disclosure: I work on the “Talk About Art” program. I interview the visiting artists.)
Food, wine and art. Put them in the same room and you’ve got “Art from Wine County,” the GAAA’s annual winter celebration at The Homestead, Feb. 6. Eight GAAA members will exhibit work. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
“And don’t forget about Open Studio,” McCarty adds. Visual artists of any skill level are invited to work in the GAAA studio on most Wednesdays, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Bring art supplies.
For specifics about auditions, presentations, tickets and other events, click on the GAAA website, GlenArborArt.org; or call 231-334-6112. Most GAAA activities are without charge and open to the public. Donations are always welcomed.
Reality number 3: those whacky locals!
Elizabeth Ives, Glen Arbor Township’s deputy clerk, moved to Glen Arbor from Atlanta in 2010. What does she do in the winter?
“A lot of people who don’t live here ask me that question. Winter is one of my favorite times. Nobody’s here. I love the barenaked trees. I love to walk in the woods in winter,” she said. “I read. I knit. I go about my business. And I like that I can get into Art’s (Tavern) and get a table.”
Ives manages the township’s on-line activities calendar. Residents and visitors can enjoy pickleball, basketball, exercise classes, mah jongg and ping pong. Visit the township website at GlenArborTownship.com, and click on “Calendar.”
As winter moves toward its mid-point, the festivals begin. Winter Fest in Empire is Feb. 14 as is the Glen Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Winterfest. Both these celebrations involve standing around in the cold.
A high point of Empire’s Winter Fest is the Polar Plunge, at which people remove their street clothes and jump into a hole cut into the ice on South Barr Lake “if there’s not sufficient ice on Lake Michigan,” said Gerry Shiffman. Shiffman is president of the Empire Area Community Center (EACC), which organizes Winter Fest as well as a raft of other activities. Plunging begins at 3 p.m. “Winter’s not winter unless you get out and enjoy it,” Shiffman said. The entire schedule of Winter Fest events — as well as other things that don’t require a swimsuit in February — can be found at EmpireChamber.com. Or get on EACC’s email list: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not to be confused with Winter Fest is Winterfest, and the crown jewel in this Glen Arbor event is the Chili Cook-off: 20 contestants bring gallons of chili for the public to sample and vote on. “It’s a lot of people who look forward to freezing … on the porch of Boonedock’s as they eat chili and drink cold beer when it’s 20 degrees outside,” said Rob Serbin, Chamber president. “It seems suicidal.” But it’s fun, he adds. Boonedock’s is located at the corner of M-22 and M-109. Tickets are $10 for this Chamber fundraiser. A list of all Winterfest activities can be found at VisitGlenArbor.com/event/2015-glen-arbor-winter-fest.
Reality number 4: I heart snow
“This is such a fantastic place to be in the winter,” said Merrith Baughman, chief of interpretations for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. “We get such great snow.” And such great snow means Park visitors can enjoy ice fishing on more that 20 inland lakes, cross-country skiing on groomed trails and ranger-guided snow shoe treks “to learn a little about winter ecology — what it’s like for the plants and animals in the wintertime,” Baughman said. If, however, one requires a bigger rush, the Park allows sledding at the Dune Climb.
“Of course it’s thrilling,” Baughman said. “I’ve seen everything from people wearing crash helmets and goggles to parents-with-kids who go up only a little way.” Park passes are required. Information can be found at Nps.gov/SLBE/planyourvisit/index.htm.