Reflections on Winters Past

Carol A. Hand

New Year’s Day, 2015. I know there’s much work ahead of me as I embark on the serious business of finishing books I began last year. But today, I remembered past winters while I took time to refurbish my old Sorel boots with oil and new liners for yet another winter. My boots date back to 1990, the first winter I spent in the northwoods of Wisconsin. I had accepted a position as deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency, but the clothes I brought with me were meant for a different climate. I needed more practical, warmer, clothes.

sorel boots

Photo Credit: January 1, 2015

My first winter was spent in a tiny hotel room above a bar that often had live performers belting out off-tune country and western songs until the wee hours of the morning. I could walk the two blocks to my office in downtown Lac du Flambeau, but the days I had to drive were challenging. My old car, with 190,000 plus miles, didn’t like to start or keep moving in the winter cold when I first started out. The pack of stray dogs that called the downtown their home loved to chase cars, but they quickly learned that chasing me was not a contest worthy of their time and effort. As my car sputtered and bucked and stalled down the road, they grew bored. Eventually, they didn’t even look up when I chugged by. But that car, like my boots, lasted many more years. I was sad when I was finally forced to replace my car, but my boots lasted despite the many miles they’ve seen and the many places they’ve traveled.

But of all the places we’ve traveled together, these boots and I, there is one place that remains golden in my memories. It’s the cabin I moved to after that first winter above the bar. Before the winter even began, I knew that I couldn’t live there forever, so I decided to see if I could find somewhere to move that was affordable. You’d think that would be easy in the northwoods, but that’s not so. Long ago, it became a favorite spot for wealthy urbanites who were able to buy up the lakefront properties that were lost to the Ojibwe people despite a series of treaties that guaranteed tribal ownership of land within reservation boundaries in exchange for ceding the northern third of Wisconsin to the federal government.

I was fortunate to find a local realtor who knew how to find the best deals and we spent many fall days exploring such interesting fixer-uppers. We became friends. One day in mid-November, she called me at work and asked if I could take some time off in the afternoon to see another property. I said, “Sure.” (It was interesting to see so many houses in need of loving care.) She picked me up and we drove, first down the highway, then down a narrow winding country road, and then on a dirt road. We turned about a mile later onto what I can only call a rough rutted path that could just accommodate a car, again, winding down a little hill and into a forest. When we emerged in a clearing, I saw the small brown cabin, but what caught my eye and made my heart sing was a vista of the lake and wetlands glowing in the afternoon sunlight. I knew I was home. I had no idea how I would be able to afford it, and I had no idea what it meant to live without electricity, or heat with wood. I had no idea how I would be able to get in and out during the winter, especially with my car, but I did have my boots (and later, snowshoes to attach to them.)

Amik Lake 1

Photo Credit: Amik Lake Lane

Living down a series of country roads, some of which were unpaved, presented both benefits and challenges. I had an opportunity to witness nature up close – the bear, deer, beaver, otters, rabbits and porcupine. I heard the powerful rhythmic pounding of eagles’ wings as they flew just over my head, the hauntingly lovely song of the loon echoing over still waters, and the howls of coyotes in the quiet winter night. Winter was my favorite time, even though it was often cold and snowy, and even though it meant a mile hike to my car when I had to make the trip to some distant city to go to work, attend class or travel for a speaking engagement or consulting job. The hike was easier in the winter. The path through the snow was easy to follow, even at night, and the mosquitoes, sand flies, deer flies, horse flies and ticks were nowhere to be seen as they bided their time for the spring thaw. Spring – mud season – also meant hiking. But I was younger then and used to the grueling physical labor living in the woods required.

Amik Lake 2

Photo Credit: Amik Lake Lane

Of course, living in the woods meant warm clothing in the winter, and a bug suit during most other seasons if you wanted to do serious work outdoors. I don’t have a picture of the bug suit my daughter gave me as a gift, although given the ubiquitous northwoods’ mosquitoes and sand files, I often wish I still had it. I still have the coat in the picture below. It’s the only thing I ever purchased from Victoria’s Secrets – it was incredibly cheap in their annual clearance sale. (I don’t think it’s any mystery why it hadn’t sold for full price.) The coat is a few year’s newer than my boots, but it got me through the polar vortex last year and with new loops for the buttons in lieu of the zipper that finally gave out, it will continue for many winters more.

ldf winter

Photo Credit: Amik Lake – Winter 1994

As I unclutter, some things will remain because they are still useful. Who needs the latest fashions when old things were built to last and carry such rich memories? These old clothes remind me of quiet, starry winter nights, of the sanctuary where my grandson spent many of his childhood days.

aadi and toys

Photo Credit: Aadi’s Christmas – 2001

Aadi & bubbles

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Aadi (my grandson) and me, blowing bubbles – 2001

They were simpler days of hiking, hauling wood, and clearing the beaver-culled trees from the road. Living in an urban neighborhood now, watching the plumes of toxic exhaust from the factories that block the sunlight on the few winter days without clouds, I feel the loss of times past. Not just my past, but the past of my ancestors. Strange though it may sound, as deep as the grief of those lost times often is for me to face, it’s what motivates me to do what I can to touch people’s hearts for the sake of this wondrous earth and future generations. And now, my boots and I are ready for the challenges ahead.


36 thoughts on “Reflections on Winters Past

  1. This post made me laugh. Never knew Victoria’s Secrets sold coats, The color choice was good – so you didn’t get shot by hunters.

    I once owned Sorel boots. Moving to Florida, I passed them along. Still think of them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad this made you laugh, JoAnn 🙂 It made me laugh as well. (I think one of my neighbors here felt sorry for me when they saw me out in my big-bird yellow coat. One morning, there was a gently-used Columbia jacket folded neatly in my backyard. I gave it away to another neighbor who needed it.)

      Sorel’s are memorable, but probably not necessary in Florida…


  2. Such a wonderful story, Carol. Your boots certainly have responded well to your nurturing care over time. As you turned down one country road after another I kept thinking “She’s so brave!” 🙂 But you would see beyond all the things to fear (like being alone so far from everyone!) and benefit from the beauty you describe so well. And I had no idea Victoria’s Secret had such sweet deals, lol! Precious photo of you and Aadi! Now on to future challenges 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Carol, I remember reading that post in the past, and in re-reading it, I’m just as taken by the beauty of your writing and the message there. I especially love the first and last lines of one section: “I continued to work spinning straw into gold” & “Easing the suffering of others again and again.” Those are the very words I think when I think about all you do…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mandy, thank you so much for not being offended by my response to your earlier comment. I was worried about that this morning. Thank you also for always seeing other’s strengths.

          My past partnership is something I’m still working through and it’s not something I often mention (bearing in mind the old adage – “if you can’t say something kind, don’t say anything at all”). I hoped that the prior post would suffice as a way to put it to rest once and for all, but the holidays reopened memories I would rather be able to forgive and forget…

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Oh gosh, Carol. I can’t figure out what I would have been offended by. Maybe that’s a good thing, lol. There is something about the holidays that brings things bubbling back to surface. Maybe we let down our guard then since the air is filled with good cheer, leaving us more vulnerable. There’s nothing like a good dog to make one feel safer and a little less lonely 🙂


  3. It’s interesting to consider how material objects can come to hold such sentimental value. I once had a North Face backpack that I got used and took me with as I traveled cross country several times over by car and Greyhound bus in my early twenties. Around that time I also had an ’80 VW Rabbit that was yellow with pinstripes. That 100,000+ mile car made it up the Rockies (barely) and all the way from Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, New York and Oregon to name a few states. I long, too, for a home one day off the beaten path.

    My best to you, your family and your boots in the new year, Carol! I can’t wait until your book is finished, btw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing these stories about your travels, Jeff. I love hearing about your treasures of the past 🙂

      I send my best wishes to you and your family, Jeff, and I would be truly grateful if you would be willing to read a draft of the book sometime in the future…


  4. Carol, such a lovely story. Very beautiful. The sadness for lost times, lost spaces and the importance of working towards a different world for the children yet to be born resonates with me. It shows that the spectres remain, and perhaps by acknowledging them, we can contribute to a different world? I hope you have a lovely 2015, Carol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such lovely insights, Nicci. I think you’re right about acknowledging the challenges we face (or predicaments as Sylvia calls them) as the first step toward taking actions to promote change.

      Thank you for always sharing thoughtful posts and comments. I’m so grateful that we have had an opportunity to dialogue on deeper levels during 2014. I hope you and you family have a wonderful 2015 as well.


  5. Carol, I am always captured by your stories. This one is no exception. I look forward to whatever you are writing about in your book. Blessings to you in the year ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carol, your story could be one of a hundred I know from here in the Slocan Valley in southeastern BC. Fortunately so far we’ve managed to hold off the developers and Slocan Lake is still one of the last pristine lakes in our lovely province. Thanks for sharing your memories so eloquently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good to hear from you, Sean! I’m glad to hear you’ve been able to preserve some of BC’s beautiful natural resource areas and I’m grateful for your kind words.

      (When I saw your comment, I wondered if you would be interested in posting “Mohawk the Starling” on this blog as a guest author. It’s such a lovely and important story.)


  7. You’ve led such a fortunate life and lived in such interesting places. It is funny how we can find good bargain clothes – I’d never have thought to look for a heavy winter coat at Victoria’s Secrets. Being able to look out on water and mountains is a blessing too. One I’m grateful for now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a blessing to live in beautiful places, isn’t it, Skywalker? You are right – I have had a chance to live in many interesting places – all had some aspects that were both beautiful and disturbing 🙂 (I never would have noticed the coat in the catalogue but for the picture on the back cover that I saw when I was putting in the recycle pile. I never would have opened it otherwise…)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A precious reflection, Carol. I love how you begin and end this journey back in time with your boots, which you love and have taken time to refresh for future travels. You’re a beautiful writer and an inspiration.


    1. I so appreciate your thoughtful comments, Susan. Your writing is an inspiration to me, and I look forward to reading your “soon-to-be-blockbuster novel”. 🙂


  9. I know I’m coming to this a bit late, but your post reminded me of those nights in Rock Springs, the small farming town of my childhood, and the heavy snow falling in tangerine streetlights on the one road through town…

    Liked by 1 person

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