If I close my eyes, I can see the delicate beauty of the ice-ensconced tree branches, hear their crackling and popping like roasting corn.
I am 9 years old. It is a winter’s night on the lake where my grandparents live in Muskegon.
“Are you wearing a hat?” my mother calls to me.
She has cranked open one of the long bank of kitchen windows facing the circle drive. Through it, the high-pitched and rumbling laughter and clusters of conversation from my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles disrupt the night. The comforting aroma of after-dinner coffee drifts; my siblings and cousins are playing with their new Christmas treasures in the great room.
But my mother can’t see me from within the soft yellow light of the kitchen. I am walking across the circle drive, near the orchard. It’s wonderfully dark and private here.
I yell back that I am wearing a hat. It’s the purple one my Aunt Peg knit for me as a Christmas gift. As I pull it further down over my sandy-blond pixie cut, I hear the window crank closed. They all look cozy in the warmth of that kitchen light.
But I choose to be outside. Here it is still and dark…and magic.
Fireplace smoke thick with burning Santa wrappings lingers in the crisp air. My red vinyl boots and swishing black nylon snowpants allow me to trudge through the foot of freshly fallen snow that I decide is whiter than an angel’s wings.
I stop. I am tempted to flop onto my back and whisk a snow angel into the perfect whiteness. But my mom might not want me to get all wet right now.
Looking back, I see deep, even snow holes from my steps. “Rabbit holes,” my gramp calls them. This is a heavy, wet snow.
I try not to, but I grin.
I am the first of my siblings or cousins to walk in this new snow. Tomorrow they will whiz down our hill in their new red sleds and build snowmen and maybe an igloo, but nobody else can make this new snow’s first tracks.
Stone steps wind down the hill to our dock. Taking one measured step at a time instead of my usual bounding gait, I arrive at the bottom.
I stand on the dock. I listen. Is there anything more magical than a winter’s night on a lake?
My nose is running. I forage through my jacket pockets and find a rumpled tissue. After a few wipes, I return it to my pocket. Inhaling deeply, my lungs burn like 4th of July sparklers. If the scent of this night was colored it would be blue and white — lake and snow.
Haaaaaah, I exhale, haaaaaah, and watch crystal puffs that my breath forms evaporate into nothingness.
Blys have outlined their empty boathouse with tiny white lights. So have Christensens at the point across from us. I love twinkle fairy lights.
The houses and cottages surrounding the lake, like ours, sit atop steep hills. Each boasts mostly wire, some real, Christmas trees at the bottom of their lawn near their seawalls. With the fresh snow, it looks as though the lawns extend across the lake; lawn and lake become one.
Hundreds of red, blue, green, yellow and white fat bulbs glimmering on the trees remind me of jelly beans. They seem to glow brighter than usual tonight. It seems quieter tonight, too. I stand on the dock with my eyes closed in a stillness even the breath of a bird would disturb. I open my eyes. Moonlight reflecting on the snow makes it appear bright as day. A zillion stars blink at me.
I am a part of it all — the lake, the moon and stars, the dark, the quiet. And it is a part of me.
“Silent Night, Holy Night” thrums through me.
Snowplow headlights blasting across the circle drive above me invade the calm. Now I hear the scraping of the plow as it careens down our private drive. It clinks against a brick as it shoves the heavy wet snow. Gramp will be mad. It heads back up the pine tree-lined drive, the headlights fading, scraping sounds fading in the distance.
A huge cracking roar erupts, then groans. It is the lake ice expanding and shifting, my older brother told me.
Tomorrow my older brother and a few of the neighborhood boys will shovel a square on the lake where all the kids can skate. My grandparents’ is the place to skate on our end of the lake. First, the boys will venture out to check the thickness of the ice. It can’t be too close to shore or it will be too thin, but not too far out either. Then they’ll shovel a large square, snow banks serving as the border and a place to sit. If it’s snowing, my sister and I will be charged with taking turns to sweep the snow off the rink with a broom.
When it’s time to come in from skating, someone in each house will ring its bell —various sized bells hanging near doors clang at different timbre and tones to call us in from playing. The bells echo across the lake. Each of us knows the unique sound of our bell.
I hear my aunt, uncle and cousins climbing into their station wagon. Others will be leaving soon too. As I climb back up the steps to the house, before I am within sight of the circle drive, I stop.
It is Christmas: I should really make a Christmas Angel.
Tempting fate, I plop onto my back and whisk one to perfection.
Another not-so-small wonder in my winter wonderland.
Michigan native and author Kim Delmar Cory lives in Lansing.