Megan SwoyerOn a chilly morning not long ago, my husband and I set out for Alpena from our cottage to check out some shops and art galleries, and pick out some wall paint for our bedrooms.
Walking the downtown streets, we started to feel those winter doldrums lift. It didn’t hurt that we stumbled upon a delightful little lunch spot tucked into the Center Building, which includes restaurants and a wine- and cider-tasting facility (Thunder Bay Winery). Boy, the cherry-spice wine was good!  I inhaled the heavenly scents of homemade pizza and the heady aroma of various wines — was that cinnamon, almond, chocolate, vanilla, coffee? Why don’t we do this more often, I asked?

After lunch and browsing the used record, bike, and antiques stores downtown, we checked out a nearby coffee shop — the old-fashioned kind with folks of all ages gathered to chat, read, and play checkers,  and where a creaky old floor added to the charm. I felt as light as the steamy coffee vapors that faded into the air around us. Light, in its many forms — light conversation, a light-filled ambience, and a feathery giddiness over simply being with my husband exploring new things.

Winter outings, especially at light-filled wineries, restaurants, and coffee shops, is a sure tonic for coping with an endless string of dark days. What a fun exploration! But it wasn’t over.

After the friendly paint-store stop, my husband made me guess where we were going next. The plan had been (or so I thought) to shop for a sofa, but he turned the car toward the outer edge of town. After about 10 minutes of winding roads, he pulled up to a sign that referenced Misery Bay. I had tried to find this remote spot with my son back in 2020, when we were told this location was a perfect place for spotting eagles, herons, and other birds. My son and I had tried to get there twice, but never found it — the Maps app failed us “miserably,” we said to each other, laughing, as we ended up in neighborhoods and backyards.

We parked the car and immediately hit the trails, which were surrounded by beautiful scenery. When we arrived at the bay, we quietly looked out to expansive water, inlets, and a little island, all edged with pine trees and hardwoods. Classic Michigan.

Enter stage left: a heron! I grabbed my camera’s zoom lens quickly and, as I was photographing that great blue beauty against a wintry sky and forest-green tree tips, into view came a bald eagle! We wached the majestic creature glide above us and out over the bay. The giddiness of the day continued!

Extensive reports have been written on the association between one’s exposure to nature and health. Medical studies reveal that we all absolutely need to explore new things, hit the outdoors, and bask in nature’s bounty for our well-being. Exploring new territory has an impact on improved cognitive function, mental health, brain activity, blood pressure, and even sleep.

In this issue, we offer several suggestions for turning up your light absorption and exposure to nature. From checking out the annual Michigan Ice Fest along Lake Superior and exploring snowy Sault Ste. Marie’s offerings to schussing down the slopes of Mt. Holiday near Traverse City or Shanty Creek near Bellaire, we’ve got you covered.

You won’t find specifics about Alpena in the following pages just yet, but stay tuned! We’re still debating on how many of its best-kept secrets to write about in a future issue

Well, maybe I’ll reveal one surprise: The aforementioned Thunder Bay Winery Spiced Cherry wine is aswirl with spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. And it’s best served warm!

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