By Tom Jordan
On January 1st of this year the temperatures across the Midwest dropped to levels so low that nearly every city in every state issued severe warnings and were forbidding residents from engaging in the traditional Polar Bear Plunge. About 200 people at Jacksonport shrugged off those dire predictions of thermal damage, ignored the wind chill cold of almost 30 below, and plunged headfirst into the nearly frozen waters. To say the residents of Door County are a hearty lot would be like saying that a Grizzly bear can be a tad aggressive. We play golf when it’s a balmy 30 degrees and cross country ski, no mater how low the temperature because, c’mon, the trails are groomed.
The first winter my wife and I spent here as full-time residents was the year of the Polar Vortex. Remember that? Each night on the news the weather forecaster would show how all the unbelievable cold was swooping down from the north. That same forecast was given night after night after night. It lasted for months. We went well over a month with every day below zero. I got photos of the famous ice shoves…in March.
It was the winter when I took my first photography class up here. The instructors, Dan Anderson and Suzanne Rose were complete pros, not just with the incredible quality of their work, but with how they handled the weather. They acted like it…was…no…big…deal. Over the course of several days we traveled from Bjorklunden to Cave Point, Sturgeon Bay to the lighthouse at the ship canal. On that Sunday morning at the lighthouse it was 15 below zero. But because the temperature was so cold, the mist coming off the lake as the sun was rising provided some amazing photo ops.
But that why I love it here in the winter. Because it is simply, and dramatically, beautiful. And every few minutes the vista will change. The sun might sneak behind a cloud over Lake Michigan and shoot golden-red rays skyward. Or the Steel Bridge will be the backdrop for a gigantic ship heading to Bay Ship Building for winter repairs. Every day at Cave Point is like being inside a crystal palace with the sun shining on the ice as it clings to the branches. Of the trees and bushes. And on a rare day, when the circumstances are just right…you get hoar frost, one of the most dazzling tools in Mother Nature’s paint box.
And on your way up the Peninsula to take in Gills Rock or the Anderson Dock, it’s nice to know there are some places open year-round to accommodate your winter cravings. Grab a cup of coffee and a sweet at Door County Coffee in Carlseville . They are open all year and the coffee is fresh, hot and amazing. Czarnuzca Soups in Ephraim can warm the coldest day with the hottest, most robust soups around. BaysideTavern in Fish Creek serves up one of the best burgers I’ve had…anywhere. The White Gull Inn has an unreal coffee cake and the BEST corned beef hash. And you can ever get Swedish Pancakes at Al Johnson’s and…not…wait…in…line.
Years ago, when my wife and I decided to make Door County our year-round home, a lot of our friends questioned our sanity. They had settled in Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada…even Mexico. To them, warmth was found in the temperature, not in the souls of friends and neighbors sharing a common bond and a common cause; collectively surviving the harshest of element in a Door County winter.
I post a lot of my winter photos on Facebook. And the comments I get from my friends who are spending their lives on a warm beach are almost always the same: “Okay, now I see why you live there. Thanks for sharing.”