Deep in the woods, life beats beneath the frozen still of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula.

By Lauren Sieben
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Whitefish Dunes State Park
Andy Merkel

The polar air burns my nostrils. For a moment, nature’s all-encompassing silence swallows me at Whitefish Dunes State Park—then comes the crunch.

I’m clomping along in snowshoes a few feet behind a local, Rich Dirks. He’s one of the volunteers who helped create this snowshoe path. We wind through a dense pine forest that was once a commercial tree plantation in Door County, Wisconsin. In summer, beachgoers flock to this region’s rocky Lake Michigan waters. But it’s February, and the lake beyond the edge of the woods looks more like a skating rink than a vacation oasis. We trek on through the snow.

Then Rich begins to steer me off the path. I hesitate, eyeing a Dead End sign ahead. The midday sun peeks through the pines and snow-capped hemlocks, striping the landscape. Isn’t this what we came to experience? But I follow Rich, a silver-haired guide with the physicality of an athlete and the jovial spirit of Santa Claus. We clip past the sign. Each satisfying crunch of crampons pierces through the crystallized ice on the snow as we forge a new trail.

Then we arrive at our impasse, and I start to hear why we went rogue. A creek before us, babbling and alive, flows into Lake Michigan, resisting the stillness of winter—even a few days after a bone-chilling polar vortex. The water seems like a miracle. This must be why some people like winter, I think. The mundane realization just now starts clicking for me after a lifetime spent loathing the Midwest’s harshest season.

The stream is proof of life when everything else lies dormant, water pulsing between snow banks and framed by trees dusted with white powder. I’m in awe; maybe even a little in love.

For once, I’m pulling winter’s bounty closer instead of pushing it away. I stop fidgeting with the hand warmers tucked into my mittens. I post up by the creek for a minute, digging my snowshoes into the earth and following the bubbling water with my eyes. I admire the way it moves, while the rest of the world is frozen.