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A chilly pre-dawn, and we are heading north.

We feed the critters and let the dogs run a bit before tucking them back in where they will wait for their good friend, Katie, who will visit later today.

Michael is driving.

My husband wants to ski, but it will be a working mini vacation for me, holed up in the hotel he found for us.

With my laptop and Wi-Fi, I can work almost anywhere, so why not a cozy room with Lake Superior lapping outside my window?

I doze in the front seat in the dark morning, under my coat for warmth.

When I wake and pull the coat from my face, the brightness is blinding. It’s a crystalline blue morning.

We’re traveling up the northwestern corner of our state and through rolling hills and picturesque farms.

The barns in this countryside are quaint, though not the wonderful stone dairy barns of Wisconsin we will see later today.

One section of several miles was planted thickly with windmills, like giant, white pinwheels slowly spinning in unison in the clear, blue sky.

Up close to Rockford, the land flattens out again, and just now a bald eagle flew right over our heads!

Here we are in Wisconsin, and we take a break.

The further north we go, the more snow we see, sometimes covering the lightly-iced rivers, parts of it still running under the pane of ice.

We pull into a little village of gas stations, chain restaurants, travel stores, and snow is piled in high peaks at the edge of the parking lots.

Do you remember when we had enough snow in central Illinois that we had to do that, too?

The grocery store parking lot would always lose peripheral spaces to the mountains of snow pushed by plows.

We kids would clamber up these hills while the “bag boy” (“Help out with your groceries, ma’am?”) would load groceries in our car under the watchful eye of our mother.

Climate change is real. I am old enough to see it in big and little ways.

If you aren’t, you should ask your parents and grandparents about snow.

We reach our destination around 5:30, and I feel like we are at the top of the world, where the ice meets the sky.

If you look up on a map to find Fitzgerald’s in Eagle River, Mich., you will see what I mean.

We are at the northernmost point of an isthmus in the U.P.

Our room is cozy, but not fancy. Our window looks out on Lake Superior, but instead of lapping water, we look out into the hills and valleys of frozen waves. It is stark and beautiful.

Our room is adjacent to the hotel restaurant, featuring smoked meats and simple vegetable dishes.

I asked for pickled veggies, and they came to our table in a canning jar — crisp and extra tart.

I had to wait for my whitefish bahn mi to gentle the vinegar, but it was an excellent companion to my meal.

If you come, you’ll want a reservation. It’s a hopping place for the edge of the world.

You might find a seat at the bar, but don’t count on it.

We walked around the little town before dinner.

It was quiet, and most houses looked closed up for winter, with undisturbed, two-foot drifts piled on the steps to the front porch like soft peaks of whipped cream. We passed cozy log cabins closed up tight.

Later, in the dark of evening, we walked along the snow-crusted beach but couldn’t tell where the water met the sand and so stayed well back from the frothy frozen hills and valleys.

The stars were spread brightly across the blackness, and who could imagine a greater loneliness with an empty town behind us?But when we turned around and hiked back to the hotel, we found our snug room awaiting us, and loneliness faded.

Tomorrow, on to the slopes.

Hike in beauty; trek in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in The News-Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican and at Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of this newspaper.