By MIKE NORTON
“April is the cruellest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land -- but he was talking about the way spring stirs us up and makes us feel things we’d rather forget. Here in Northern Michigan, April’s cruelty is the teasing kind. Sometimes she makes good on her veiled promises of warmth and greenery, but just as often she leaves us shivering in the gray dusk wondering what we did do tick her off this time.
But the year rolls on regardless. Sooner or later, spring will be here.
I noticed some of the signs yesterday, while walking out to Leffingwell Point to stretch my legs: a plenitude of birdsong, a smell of dampness in the woods, a swelling of fat buds at the tips of twigs. Change sometimes comes slowly, but it comes nevertheless.
Which got me thinking about other kinds of change in our surroundings. As I made my way through the forest, I could see new evidence of the ways it has gradually been transformed during the quarter-century I’ve lived in Old Mission. Old trails that were once well-traveled have grown faint; several are now completely impassable because of fallen trees, and will probably disappear altogether in another year or two. Deer, once a rarity in this neighborhood, are becoming plentiful. So are other creatures, including the bald eagles who are now a frequent sight along the shore.
In some ways, this is because the place has gradually healed itself from the depredations of a century ago, when so many forests were cut down and wildfires raged across the region. But it’s also because of changes in the human population of my neighborhood.
This was once a place of large families, whose children ran and laughed and played games in these woods, where wood was gathered for fireplaces and berries were gathered for pies. The children are old now. They return only rarely to this place of their childhood, where they sit on benches gazing at the water, wondering why their own grandchildren can’t be persuaded to look up from their video games long enough to love it as much as they did.
When we speak of changes in the environment, these aren’t the changes we usually consider. We talk about disappearing wilderness, endangered wildlife, and those things are certainly a serious concern in many parts of the world. But in my landscape, there are other signs pointing, however tentatively, in a different direction.
Walking to work this morning, for instance, I could hear the pilings being driven into the ground nearby for the new Hotel Indigo along Traverse City’s Grandview Parkway, the first new hotel built here since the 92-room Cambria Suites was built in 2009. And I have friends who’ll be rolling their eyes, saying “Just what we need. Another hotel in Traverse City.”
But here’s an interesting factoid: even in this prosperous tourist town, there are actually fewer hotel rooms today there were 10, 15 or 20 years ago. A decade ago, this was because many resort hotels were being converted to timeshares and condominiums. Today, others are being reopened as apartments for senior citizens. Still others have simply been leveled and turned into parkland or open space.
Change happens. But it isn’t always easy to find a meaningful pattern, and far more difficult to use that information to make accurate predictions about the future.
Which brings me back to spring. Last year we had temperatures in the high 80s by March, and everyone was wondering if we were seeing a drastic shift in climate. Now we’ve got snow in April and we’d all be willing to settle for a few days in the middle 50s.
Me, I’m going for a walk.