November, from Pandemic Winter

I used to want to live in Alaska. I’ve had this wild romantic dream of living in the cold, a dark winter with candles burning to keep the light alive. Spiky conifers, somewhere by a northern sea, with howling wind and breaching whales and ice.

This more or less scratches the same itch, minus the whales and smell of salt. Here, the wind rips across the freshwater sea, and water tumbles down cliffs, and I walk out to the breakwater before sunset, still trying to make here feel like home.

I have moved four times this year. First in March, pulled from Armenia with less than 24 hours notice and sent back to the states in a global pandemic, with no plan. Then in early June, up to Bayfield to guide again until October, when I moved back to Michigan, again with out a real plan.

And then now, a 10 hour car ride two states over to a small town in Northern Minnesota. Now, at 4pm, it’s almost dark. I’m working in an elementary school as a math intervention tutor here in small town, almost Canada Minnesota. The school transitioned to all online my second week here. Already the winter feels long.

Before the school closed it felt strange to be back in one. In Armenia, students ran through blocky halls with teal blue paint chipping off, desert mountains simmering outside. They would play tag, and I would watch one girl braid another’s hair, a different student would tug at my wrist. 

Here, in the American present, you record your temperature entering the building, and students do not touch each other. The school was empty save the youngest grades. I practiced smiling with my whole face. 

When the outbreak up here did reach a critical point it happened almost overnight— we went from reasonably sure we would make it through the school year, to nervous, to at home. 

I won’t lie. Having just moved to isolated Northern Minnesota in the middle of a global pandemic for a job that is now all online and increasingly difficult as a result… sucks. It’s been wildly frustrating. I’m lucky to know people in the area. And I know that things could be a lot worse. 

It’s not Alaska, but the North Shore is something magic. Once upon a time, this place was ripped open by volcanos, built up to mountains larger than the Himalayas. Now all that’s left is the dramatic volcanic bedrock, forming the hills of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Once upon a time, glaciers so heavy they indented the earth’s crust and scraped the soft rock out of the Lake Superior Basin, and in their wake we have Lake Superior.

The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), runs over 300 miles along the lake. There are more waterfalls than I could possibly find, and cliffs, and fog, and snow, and ice. As soon as we get enough snow, I’ll be able to cross country ski, and come this spring there’s a whole shoreline of world-class paddling.

I’ve been here almost a month, and parts of it feel like home already, but others don’t. The trails still feel strange to me, and I’m more anxious hiking new trails alone than I remember being before I left America.

The lack of normal socialization feels strange too; it’s hard to make friends while staying away from people.

Still, parts of it feel like home. My cozy little apartment with a candle burning as soon as the sun sets, the smell of cookies and cinnamon, flurries of snow outside the window. And of course, the lake. That always feels like home.


13 thoughts on “November, from Pandemic Winter

  1. Well Maddy…I lived in Alaska … moved there when I was 23…yes you described the desire with perfection. I too, am teaching online this semester and was in a classroom when the pandemic hit. Have been home and online since. It is a strange and demanding way to teach via zoom. Three classes remain this semester and I am exhausted. Your piece brought me great joy to read. I just returned from my first outing since February – a short lake kayak trip on Lake Roosevelt. Had to drive five miles in to avoid the crowd of Rv campers at my usual put-in. Best news – out beyond cell service, a beautiful sunrise and warm enough for cotton shirt over a long sleeve T. Stay with your dreams, keep flexing and definitely walk in beauty.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Following your travails and travels is most interesting. You have made Lake Superior more familiar despite having only seen it once traveling by. I moved to Alaska a long time ago and have never looked back, but have discovered there are awesome place throughout the world, if one looks. Let me know when you want to come visit.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I always enjoy your writing Maddy ❣️ This year has been disconcerting and because it is uncharted territory, the way we react or feel is fine because we have never been here before. I am impressed with your lack of idleness Maddy. Take care💞

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I stumbled upon you on Instagram and then saw you had a blog. Love your photos and your writing. I’m also partial to the Upper Midwest (and a relatively new transplant myself). Enjoy those cookies and flurries!

    Liked by 1 person

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