Fight the Chill - Fire Up THe Grill

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For Michiganites, January means different things to different people. For some, it means tuning up the skis and heading to a resort for a few days of carefree fun, frolic, and compound fractures. For others, it's off to Florida to bask under a cloudy sky on a 45 degree day, then send smug postcards to the people they work with back home.

But for most of us, it means walking up an icy driveway from the mailbox with our Stupid Winter Hats perched on our heads and skidding past the back door on one heel, clutching a handful of smug postcards from our coworkers in one hand and doing the "windmill prayer" (Oh God, Oh God, Oh God...) with the other.

But we Michiganonians are a hearty lot, and we try to make the best of the situation. A January afternoon breathing warm flower-scented air and gazing lovingly at the orchids at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens can remind us of all the abundant glories of nature, even while it revives that deeply hibernating case of hay fever. A couple of hours at the Multiplex spent pretending that we are 10 foot tall blue guys living on Pandora will help us forget all about the weather outside, as well as troublesome real-life issues like the despicable actions of powerful corporations willing to despoil an entire planetary ecosystem for profit.

Well, at least it will help us forget all about the weather outside.

But my favorite way to ward off these Ann Arbor winters is to grab a beer, patty a couple of burgers, and fire up the barbecue. For me, nothing recalls those wonderful idyllic days of summer like sitting back in a lawn chair and gazing at Whitmore lake through a savory shroud of sizzling sirloin smoke.

OK, but before I am able to enjoy my seriously sibilant celebration and suds, I have to shovel a path through the snow to get to the grill. Then I have to knock a crust of frozen crud off the vinyl grill cover and take it off really carefully so it won't crack from the cold. And sometimes I have to chip a little ice from around the edges of the lid of the grill before I can pry it open. Of course, my stack of lawn chairs is always frozen solid, so I have to take a hair dryer and an extension cord out to melt one free. And instead of board shorts, sandals and a tank top, I have to wear a hoodie, a ski jacket, jeans, long johns, two pairs of socks, boots, a wool scarf, and a Stupid Winter Hat. With luck, I can usually make do without the whiteout ski goggles and snow shoes.

But other than those little details, the whole deal is just like a cookout in July!

Sitting by the grill in January, the things you see on the lake are actually a little bit like what you see out there in the summer. Instead of ski boats towing squealing kids on tubes, there are snowmobiles towing squealing kids on saucer sleds. Instead of fishermen sitting in in big shiny bass boats and drinking themselves stupid on Jack Daniels, there are fishermen sitting in snug little ice fishing shanties and drinking themselves stupid on Jack Daniels.

You know, for a guy who started out in Hawaii, I have to admit that after 35 years in Michigan I kind of enjoy all this winter stuff. I like snow, I like ice skating, and I don't really mind talking to someone on the street while our words freeze in the air and clatter to the pavement. I've learned to lean into the season and truly embrace the idea of being a Michigaroonie.

Of course, it would be kind of fun now and then to have the chance to write a few smug postcards...

A note from the author - Please don't bother to write and tell me "It's Michigander." No, it's not. Male geese are "ganders," so Michiganders would just make a lot of racket and crap all over your yard.


Copyright © 2010, Michael Ball

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