Give Me the Sporting Life is the entirely true
story of my introduction to the world of Upper Michigan winter
raising seven children in the Chicago suburbs and becoming
empty-nesters my husband and I decided to build a home on the shores
of Lake Superior in Upper Michigan.
I was totally unprepared for the unusual (to me) recreational
activities that Upper Michigan residents, called Yoopers,
Because we made our move in November the deer hunting season frenzy
was my first shock. I discovered that to most guys it’s
at least as important as the Christmas and Hanukah holidays.
Off these hunters go with bags of rotten apples and cabbages, lots of
beer, and a bunch of good old boys to sit in a blind all day no
matter what the weather, and then at night, to whoop it up in
“camp.” (To me, camp is a place Boy and Girl Scouts
go in the summer for a week and learn to tie knots, and build a fire
by filling a teepee made out of twigs with dried leaves.)
wives of these
soon to be inebriated hunters get equally excited about deer season
because they also go hunting, a bloodless hunt most of time—for
bargains. Instead of the “blind” these hunters head
for Marquette or Green Bay and the malls. In the evening they
don’t go to “camp,” but to the hotel restaurant and
pool. Now that’s definitely my kind of hunting.
hunting season is quickly followed by Snow (notice the capital
letters). Moving from where there is rarely more than six
inches of snow on the ground at any time during the entire winter to
the mountains of snow most Upper Michigan winters bring was quite a
shock. Of course snow means freezing weather and the sudden
appearance of little outhouses on the all lakes. Why were there
outhouses on the lake I wondered? Yooper friends told me they
weren’t outhouses at all. They were fishing shacks.
I thought about that. “Why would anyone want to sit in
what looked like an outhouse in the middle of a frozen lake to fish
through a hole drilled in the ice?” I asked.
really are biting in the winter, so the ice fishing is great!”
my new friends explain. No way, I though. Buying your
fish at the nice warm market in the winter is what is great.
Call me suspicious, but I’ll bet the real reason guys actually
spend time “ice fishing’ is to get out of the house.
They want to get away from spouses with the annoying habit of asking
them to do a few of the “honey do,” chores that are on
every wife’s list. These chores might include replacing
some ceramic tiles in the kitchen floor, or solving the major
plumbing problem caused by little David who flushed several potatoes
down the drain of the toilet. But probably the most important
reason men go ice fishing is that it’s another golden
opportunity to do a little drinking. After all, you do have to
keep warm, don’t you? And we can’t forget the male
bonding that goes on when the drinking begins. That’s
what I think about ice fishing.
lot of Yoopers and tourists think that down hill skiing is fun.
Sliding down a very steep hill or mountain with a pair of very long
slippery sticks clamped to your shoes so that when you fall (notice I
said when) you will turn your ankle or brake your leg for sure, will
never be my idea of fun.
spite of my distaste, (to put it mildly) for downhill skiing, I
thought I might enjoy cross-country skiing. Our home is within
walking distance to a cross-country groomed ski trail. At
different times, two of my new Yooper friends offered to take me out
and give me a lesson. They even had skis I could use.
Both were very athletic women who really enjoyed the outdoors.
The first teacher was sure I would catch on real fast. “I
love to dance,” I told her, so I’m sure I’ll be
good at gliding. That was the most important thing to learn,
she’d told me. Because I exercise and do the Nordic Trak
I was sure I would master cross-country skiing with very few
problems. Sadly, once I got on the trail, I didn’t glide
once. I was afraid to let the skis glide. I didn’t
want to lose control and fall, which I did, often. My friend
had to stop skiing herself and stay close to me. She could tell
I needed every bit of her attention. My worst moments, during
my first cross-country skiing lesson, were when we came to the
I was on the easiest trail, my friend assured me. “But
there are HILLS,” I screamed, doing little creeping hops up to
the top of the giant three foot high hill, knowing that somehow I was
going to have to slide down and LOSE CONTROL AND FALL ON MY LONG
STICKS AND PROBABLY TURN MY ANKLE OR BREAK MY LEG. Since that
day, my first instructor has never suggested giving me anymore skiing
lessons. In fact, she never talks about cross-country skiing at
second instructor was also sure that I would learn in no time.
(I guess she hadn’t talked to my first instructor.) She
also had to gave up her own skiing because she kept having to help me
get up. I didn’t break a leg or sprain an ankle, but I
nearly had a heart attack when I saw the very long downhill slope,
with CURVES that she expected me to glide down. This hill was
at least four feet high! I actually did glide down this
I had no choice; gravity took over. Was I happy? Did I
love it? Was I going to buy skis? No, No, No. I was
still shaking an hour after I was in this friend’s house and
had drunk two cups of very hot coffee. She also has never
offered to give me another lesson. With the money I was going
to use for skis I bought a lovely leather jacket. The state
stopped grooming the cross-country trail by my house. (Do you
think one of my instructors told them about me?)
haven’t tried sledding, except right outside my door. It
was fun even though I had to go down a little hill. I don’t
think I’ll ever take a sled up to a BIG hill though.
First, you have to walk up a slippery steep hill dragging a big
sled. Second, you have to slide down a STEEP HILL.
skating in the U.P. mostly means hockey leagues. These leagues
keep the arena in our town on a very tight schedule with little time
left for just regular skating folks. This shouldn’t be a
problem because there are lots of frozen lakes in Upper Michigan, but
they don’t freeze smoothly, at least not any I’ve
That takes care of ice-skating.
admit I was
thrilled when my husband and I were asked to be spotters for a dog
sled race. We just stood at a spot where the dog sled trail
intersected another trail or road and made sure the dogs didn’t
go the wrong way. It was fun, in spite of the cold.
This was something city folks just don’t get to do. What
struck me most about the dog sled races though was that the dogs wore
booties, booties that came off. I must have picked up
I’m sure they lost lots more all along the trail. I
wondered why the dogs needed booties if they just came off. You
can see how sports minded I am.
opportunity to try snow shoeing in the Chicago area, so when several
Yooper friends, who apparently had not spoken to my cross-country ski
instructors, asked me to go I was delighted. I actually had
snowshoes (my husband’s) and didn’t have to borrow
anyone’s. These shoes, which look like tennis rackets,
are attached, with laces, to your shoes. Folks, I couldn’t
believe it but there are even hills in snow shoeing. I did
manage to go down these hills, but with great difficulty and with as
much grace as an elephant on a tightrope. Being the great
sports person I am, I also lost my balance many times. However,
I decided a couple of very important things because of my falls.
First, I was finally sure that snow shoeing and all skiing sports
were the invention of orthopedic doctors with very large mortgages
and/or alimony and child support payments to make. Secondly, I
realized you should NEVER GO SNOW SHOEING WITHOUT A FRIEND. You
need one to help you to get up when you fall. It’s
impossible to get up without help. After while, my snowing
friends suggested I take off the snow shoes and walk on the road
while they continued down the trail. That was fine with me.
It was a lot more fun and safer. I met my friends later for
can be no Yooper discussion of winter sports without the
word—snowmobiling. My husband promised me I would love
snowmobiling. I believed him. I climbed on the back of a
two-man sled with him and put my life in his hands and my arms around
his waist. It was night, which meant it was dark. The
helmet that he had borrowed for me was too big. No matter, off
we went, engines roaring, with friends on other sleds, down some
bumpy forest trail. Of course snowmobiles have headlights to
aid with visibility, but that didn’t help me because the helmet
that was too big for me had flopped down over my eyes.
bumped along, branches I couldn’t see whipped at me on every
side. Bumps I was not prepared for nearly bounced me off the
machine, and not knowing when one was coming I was afraid to let go
of my husband long enough to pull the helmet back so I could see.
This was my introduction to snowmobiling. On our next trip my
husband turned over our sled on a hill. Since then I only
snowmobile on nice sunny days. I never ride on frozen lakes and
I don’t go faster than twenty-five miles an hour. Also,
as you already know, I don’t do hills.
can tell none of these winter sports really did it for me. But
I’ve found one I have truly come to love. It’s
looking—yes, looking—looking at the serene beauty of
winter in the majestic forests that surround us; looking at the
sparkling, pristine, pure white snow while the sun beams down from
the bluest sky I’ve ever seen; looking at patterns made by
graceful waves of drifted snow in the open areas, looking at the
marshmallow mounds of snow that act as fences along the roads,
sidewalks and driveways and that coat practically everything else so
that all is made anew, fresh, and clean.
out the window from the safety of my home and watching the howling
winds swirl blinding snow and whip Lake Superior so fiercely that
huge angry waves crash down and are quickly turned to ice.
While “looking,” I have come to see, in a way not
possible in any metropolitan area, man’s limitations and the
raw power of nature. Native Yoopers may take these things for
granted, but I am Chicago transplant, and to me there is no winter
sport that can compare with “looking,” at the winter
beauty of my new home.
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