I was born and raised in the Copper Country, which is nestled in the northwest of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is a beautiful place surrounded by the mighty Lake Superior. It’s called the Copper Country because of the great stores of copper found there. It’s a beautiful place full of bountiful nature, a temperate climate, and snowfall that some see as scarier than a ghost story. Hancock was named the third snowiest city in the U.S. with a 30 year average snowfall of 218 inches, or 553 cm.
I’ve spent more than half my life in the Copper Country. My birth year of 1978 experienced a record 355.90 inches in one season! Snow isn’t something you can just ignore. It has to be moved with a plan. The daily commute needs an extra 20-30 minutes tacked on for snow removal and road conditions. You either accept it and adapt, or complain. Most likely both.
So that is my hometown in a poorly structured snowglobe.
Fast forward to 2012 and I found myself on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan. I’ve dropped from the 47th latitude to the 33rd in Hita, Japan. It’s pretty close to Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to the equator. I am now going into my second winter in Japan. Hita is considered one of the hottest and coldest cities in Japan thanks in large part to the beautiful surrounding mountains. I grant that it is quite hot and humid in the summer. Everybody is a walking sweat rag due to the 30C+ temperature.
Then the colors of fall come, hinting at the inevitable winter. The temperature sits around 10C (50F). The lowest so far has been 4C (40F). It feels cold. It is cold. But there is no snow. Gardens are still maintained rather than hidden under snow. Last year there was one day with a fluttering snowfall that melted before morning. Apparently the mountains get more snow and much lower temperatures but it still pales in comparison to the Copper Country, which is already in the negatives by now.
These are the two climate extremes that I’ve experienced. Granted it is a small range when considering the ore extreme climates of deserts, tropical rain forests, and the poles. But even in such a relatively small difference in climate I can see significant cultural differences that transcend national cultural norms.
From my perspective, having come from a snow culture, the differences are remarkable. My first was of disbelief and awe. Life was so easy in comparison. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say easy. Let’s use different. What it boils down to is that people from different climates approach life from different perspectives. They think about different things and deal with weather in different ways.
Over time, a large rift can develop between the groups. One can’t understand the other and can sometimes perceive the other as crazy for living where they do. After all, why would anybody choose to live in a harsh climate? But I think it is more than that. Climate creates a way of life just as much as it impacts the architecture (flat or angled roofs) and language (how many words for snow or rain). It is this way of life that becomes so ingrained in our lives.
I know it’s easy to romanticize about memories. My memories of winter are particularly fond. I remember the bitter cold, the snow, coming home in the dark and having to chop away at the frozen mass of plow detritus piled so high I couldn’t drive over it, the frozen locks, frozen water lines, etc. I also remember the beauty of freshly falling snow, the satisfaction of maintaining a path to the front door, the crisp smell, and the excitement I felt every time that first snowfall comes.
I love winter.
I hate winter.
The climate I came from shaped my thoughts and feelings. The new climate I’m in is also shaping me. Just like snow doesn’t stop people in the Copper Country, rain doesn’t stop people in Kyushu. Live in a few more places and I’ll be invulnerable to weather!
Nah! Mother Nature will always humble.
But for real. What’s your most cherished memory of winter?