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The last time I drove out to Roland Lake alone, maybe four years ago, I was listening to CDs by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She’s the author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves”, an incredible book of myths and stories of the “Wild Woman Archetype”.
She uses stories to teach, instruct and empower women (heck, I think the stories would empower both sexes!) The CDs came from Sounds True, and I believe they were called “Theater of the Imagination”. Stories like The Crescent Moon Bear, Skeleton Woman, The Three Old Ones and The Fisherman’s Wife sparked such deep feelings and spiritual connections. I thoroughly recommend her works to anyone in love with magical words and stories, in love with the power of stories to wake us up beyond our everyday perceptions.
Today, without any stories in the background (except for the running stories in my mind interspersed with precious silence) I buckled on the snowshoes and began the slow meandering through swamp and woods, keeping the eye alert for treasures of nature.
First, tracks imprinted in the snow appeared. I think I probably failed Tom Brown Jr.’s wilderness survival school all those years ago, because I had no clue as to the identity of the tracks today. I probably failed Tracking 101 (if we’d received grades, which we didn’t), except in the case of deer, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, mouse and bird. Perhaps I could identify a bear track in the heat of summer if it was encased in good dirt and accompanied by scat.
Today’s tracks looked like dog, coyote or wolf. I imagined they were wolf tracks, probably due to the romantic myths dramatized by Clarissa on the CD during the last trip. I pondered the appropriate behavior if meeting a wolf in the woods. Run? Stand still? Growl? Shout? Look big? Avert eyes?
I am hoping some sort of instinct or guidance just happens. You’ll see the wolf, perhaps even eye to eye, and a voice in your head will instruct, “Walk slowly away to the left with confidence” or “Run like hell!” Anyway, that’s my back-up plan. When meeting flesh and blood wolves or bear (as opposed to mythical story-wolves) , something inside will advise the appropriate course of action. If it doesn’t….goodbye blog!
On that rather gruesome note, let’s interject another photo:
I know! Just at the right moment, when a wolf or bear crosses your path, a ladder will appear in the middle of the woods. You’ll calmly walk up, smiling down, admiring the fur and wildness of the beautiful creature down below. You’ll begin writing a story in your head for the next blog as you peer down from the hand-hewn wooden structure.
Speaking of stories, our local Annishnabe (Ojibway) say that many stories can only be shared in winter. Years ago I remember asking about some of the traditional myths and stories to the elders. “No,” one man told me, “We only tell that story in the winter when the snows are deep.”
Because it’s winter and the snows are deep, I am going to share this link: http://www.mpm.edu/wirp/ICW-141.html You’ll notice the first story is about Wenebojo and the Wolves. Wenebojo (there’s many different spellings of the fellow’s name) is a trickster spirit. All sorts of strange and funny and odd things happen to this man. The stories were used to teach the young ones growing up, to instill moral lessons, to give strength and courage. I must admit I was challenged reading some of these stories tonight, but I have faith that you’ll be better able to discern the teachings.
Stories were considered medicine. Instead of going to the pharmacy when you were ill, traditional societies often told stories as a first approach to healing. The magic within them was known to heal, to open, to strengthen. Of course, traditional medicines were also utilized, but I like the idea that a good story can teach us, wake us up, interject a little magic or faith into our dismal spirits. What better time than deep winter?
Another day in the great outdoors along the south shore of Lake Superior. Today I motored inland and upwards towards the settlement known as Herman. I hate to label some of our backwoods areas as “towns” or “villages” as one would often be hard pressed to locate a store, post office or gas station. Some of our communities do have buildings known as “town halls” where gala feasts or jamborees occur at various times of the year, but deep winter finds these halls mostly deserted.
I have several friends who live in Herman and it’s always a pleasure to drive up to visit. Herman is known as the snow belt of Baraga County. In many years it’s common for us low-landers (near the lake) to get an inch or two of snow during a snowfall while a foot or more buries them up in Herman. Shoveling or plowing up there takes more fortitude than down in Aura or Skanee or Bovine. (Please! No rebuttals! If any of you disagree, please buy a plot of land in Herman next winter.)
Herman apparently has 117 inches of total snow this winter. My unofficial and guestimated count down here near the lake averages more like 60-70 inches. It’s been cold this winter, but we’re not buried in snow. It’s often colder up there on the hilltop, as well, according to friends when we compare thermometer readings.
We went snowshoeing this afternoon down by the beaver ponds. But not before four of us met for our monthly Artist’s Way meeting. Every month since last July we’ve been joining together to study “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron. Usually the participants meet once a week for twelve weeks. Because we’re all busy and located at far ends of the Keweenaw we’ve decided to stretch the course for a year.
You discover ways to open creative channels, explore possible blocks to creativity, and dive into new possibilities. It’s been a fascinating seven months thus far. We start Chapter 8 for next month. I highly recommend this process for anyone wanting to grow, to develop the inner artist, or simply to explore more self-discovery. We have at least one seasoned artist in our group who is utilizing the course to assist her in expanding her already talented portfolio.
After a lively near-four hour session (complete with a fabulous orzo pasta and vegetable stew) Catherine and I said goodbye to our fellow artists and pulled out our snowshoes. We drove down to the mailbox a half mile from her house, put on the snowshoes and hiked back to the ponds. No beaver in sight, but we weren’t expecting any at mid-winter.
Driving home near sunset, I glimpsed an orange-pink fiery sky over the bay. Living in between tall poplars and maples in the woods, it’s hard to get a good view of sunsets. I pulled over next to the ice fishermen returning from their shacks on Keweenaw Bay and snapped the following photo:
Look at that violet sky and evening-blue snow…..ahhh….another gorgeous day in the north woods.
I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I enjoyed snowshoeing outside today. Have you ever had one of those meanders in nature where everything seemed utterly beautiful and meaningful and fascinating?
Everywhere my camera and I walked something leaped out of the snow and woods to reveal an alluring angle, an inspiring possibility, an interesting view.
I wondered: is this beauty available all the time and we can only truly see it when we’re not focused on our everyday thoughts, internal conversations and hasty paces?
I paused in front of three tiny spruces and wondered if they were a family of sorts. I peered in all sorts of nooks and crannies of rotting trees. Fierce woodpeckers and other tiny wood-burrowing creatures had hollowed out many a hole. I looked deeper and deeper into these crevices, marveling at the stalactites and stalagmites of the wood-world.
I ambled on the snowshoes in between whipping branches attempting to bring any unsuspecting walker to a standstill. A partridge burst upwards towards the sky, a squawking flutter of wings and panic. I am dying for a picture of a partridge (the reason which will be revealed in a future blog). They move so quickly there’s no time to point the camera’s shutter and capture the feathers in flight. There’s only the noise and the startled thud of your fast-beating heart.
Snow careened across branches and limbs in odd angles. You can marvel for ten minutes at how the snow retains odd shapes against the wood. Look at the following picture:
How does snow do that? How does it hang in such beauty without collapsing onto the ground? How does it remain like that for days or weeks?
I am in awe viewing nature’s art. She is the most fantastic artist. Always changing her designs, always creating anew, always catching us unaware as we stumble across her incredible beauty.
When I returned to the house to download the photos, a moment of disappointment arose. It felt like the pictures couldn’t capture the stark beauty of the morning’s wanderings. The photos hinted at the exquisite song of nature, but didn’t fully encompass it. The beauty was so large it couldn’t be framed in single images, tamed into limited viewpoints.
Perhaps sometimes the beauty refuses to be captured to continue to lure us outside, into the magnificence of nature’s own gallery.
OK, so I admit it. Sometimes it’s rough to open the door and go outside. It’s even rougher to write a blog about something….anything….that might sound the slightest bit interesting.
Every morning I think: there’s nothing interesting to write about. There’s nothing interesting to say. How many more times can I write about bird wings or deer tracks in the snow? Do I have to run the length of the Upper Peninsula searching for entertaining tidbits? What possibly could there be outside the front door which is interesting, funny, challenging, beautiful, awful, wonderful?
Every day something presents itself. Something interesting (at least to me!) begins to wind itself into some sort of monologue. It’s very intriguing to watch one develop a discipline. One plows along ahead, even though every thought, emotion and physical indication may be attempting to hijack the commitment.
Today I shoveled the deck. As you may recall, my husband has been shoveling the roof. The heavy icy snow from the roof then falls down on the deck, and must be re-shoveled down to ground level. New snow has been predicted, so the shovel has been the most popular item in the household this week.
So I spent at least a half hour tossing the heavy chunks of snow downward. It was a beautiful blue sky afternoon. Relatively warm at 20 degrees. Afterward, Barry came cheerfully in with The Announcement.
“You must come up on the roof for your blog,” he said.
Now he knows I am a height-challenged soul. What is he saying? What is he insisting? My first response is: “NO! Absolutely not! I have tried this before and my body freezes in fright up there. They won’t be able to move from the ladder. What are you thinking?”
However, something else inside says, “You need a bigger view. A higher vantage point. You need to look at this daily commitment from a different angle. Come on up. You can do it.”
Who can say no to that voice when it sounds so wise? Shaking in my boots, I climbed that ladder. (I really don’t want to describe the fear that accompanied all this. It was heart-pounding, scary and downright challenging.) The hardest part was planting the foot from the ladder onto the roof without toppling back towards earth….way….down….there…..
But Barry helped and suddenly I was on the roof!! Mission accomplished!! The vista expanded. Through the trees you could even see the infamous Huron Bay!
Can you see the bay? It’s only a quarter mile away. As soon as the trees drop their leaves in autumn, the shiny lake’s surface shimmers through the stark branches. I love it when this view appears. And from the roof top, it’s even more awesome.
I’d like to say I was courageous and mature and stoic, but the truth of the matter was that I reached the top without much dignity. Every step scared me. I began to appreciate even more the shoveling Barry has been doing twenty to thirty feet from the ground.
There is something positive to report from the high vantage point of the roof. I feel something new is hatching. My friend said it takes 40 days to form a new habit, 40 days in which to change one’s attitude and embrace a new commitment or resolution.
It will be 40 days tomorrow of spending time in the great U.P. outdoors. I am thinking….almost….that it’s going to be fine. That it’s time to give the voice “You can do it!” a bit more credibility than the voice which insists it can’t be done.
Day 38 outdoors. (you mean it hasn’t even been 40 days yet??) I have nothing to report. No exhilarating activities, no sprightly skiing, snowshoeing or hiking in the woods.
Instead it was more like: slow step….step…..step. Looking upwards at the trees and branches and listening to birds squawking and calling overhead. Slow step….step….step…..
Yes, I was hurting and still a little bruised after yesterday’s cross-country ski tumble. Nothing too drastic. There’s no huge black-and-blue bruises. Just a few mild slightly darkened bruises. It’s challenging getting up and down, but not devastating. The old tail bone’s still intact. The moans are almost gone. I’m….almost….contemplating the next ski.
So what do you think of the above photo? Aren’t those berries gorgeous? They weren’t taken today, unfortunately. I’m leveling with you….they were taken in Hancock last weekend during Heikinpaiva. (see previous blog from Saturday if you haven’t read about the traditional Finnish mid-winter festival.) I fell in love with the clusters dangling amidst the white snow. Something about red and orange colors with their power to shock us out of our January whiteness. Stunning.
In contrast, please examine carefully the next photo:
Doesn’t look like much of anything, does it? But lean in closer towards that photo. Can you see the sweeping wing-prints of small birds? I love it when the snow reveals bird wings. Etched in the snow, one can almost see the individual feathers fluttering against the ground as the birds meandered and pecked for seeds beneath the feeder. I always feel a sort of tenderness when seeing bird wing-prints. Even these smaller varieties of probably chickadee, junco or finch. A hawk or crow wing-print is like finding gold, and just as elusive.
Speaking of colors of snow, we need to have a discussion. I was talking with a dear friend yesterday who is a phenomenal photographer. She began to share about a certain setting on the camera which adjusts the whiteness. I haven’t figured out where it might be yet, but you go on “menu” and travel around the settings until you find “White Balance”. (I have discovered this in the Sony Cyber-shot manual.)
You aim at something….say, white snow, and the White Balance function measures and adjusts the color tones. If it were operational it would view the snow in the above gray-skied photo and say, “hmmmm, not enough white! Time to adjust!” and wa-la….the bird wings would suddenly appear on a stark white surface which probably more accurately reflects the actual snow.
Except. I am sorry. So sorry. If you all want white snow pictures (such as the top berry-cluster photo) you must find another blog in which the photographer has discovered White Balance or lives in a continually sunny clime. I have a confession. I am in love with Blue Snow photos. My favorite photos all winter are the ones with blue snow!! (except maybe the berry photos….)
I am convinced we live in the Land of Blue Snow. Perhaps it’s just a fairy tale I’m telling myself, but the snow on cloudy gray dismal days does NOT look white. To adjust balance or Picasa-edit them into cheerful whiteness seems somehow wrong. The snow is perhaps not as blue as the photos suggest, but it’s not white either. It’s some magical in-between color. And I love it.
Therefore, I am not searching the camera for the correct settings and adjustments. I am stubbornly clinging to the blue tones. They are somehow making the winter more beautiful, more appealing, more magical. And anything that can make the winter more magical is what counts on these long cold January days. Right? 🙂
Today I went cross country skiing. When the invitation came early in the morning, the thermometer at the post office read 10 below zero. I prayed for a warm up by ski time. Luckily, temps zoomed upwards to about 4 degrees by 1 p.m.
It felt surprisingly warm in the sheltered woods. If you were skiing down by the lake, the wind chill might have proved challenging. Inland, none of us complained of the cold. The terrain was mostly flat with occasional dips and dives to provide a little exhilaration. You could hear the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of our skis as we slid along on the snowmobile trail. Perfect afternoon, right?
Until, suddenly, slip! And I found myself staring upwards through the branches after landing hard atop my tailbone on the icy trail. The sudden pain shot through my rear end, bringing back memories of a junior high tumble which hurt for years afterward. The immediate question becomes: how does one rise? One shifts and shimmies and leans on those ski poles and slowly aims upright.
Nancy and Jane (the good skiers pictured above) fussed a bit, but I was determined to continue. Off we went! It really was a beautiful mid-winter day. The pain lessened and almost disappeared. Until….another fall. Then another one….
Why are some people natural athletes while others of us struggle to maintain grace under sports pressure? One of my earliest sports memories often returns with nightmare-like clarity: I am a six year old in the elementary gym and gigantic fierce boys approach throwing dodge balls with lethal force. Eventually the ball hits you. It always does. Only after the pain of the dodge ball would you be “Out” and allowed to quit. You prayed for the dodge ball to strike while simultaneously fearing the pain which would end the agony of the fear. Yikes! Is it no wonder that some of us remain awkward and challenged in the sports arena?
After about an hour of swooshing and falling, we wound our way back to Nancy’s house. It really was a good time. But now….I’m home….and the pleasant memories are starting to fade. Every muscle in my body aches. I can’t get up off the chair or down again without whimpering. My knee feels like someone tapped it with a sledgehammer. (Another friend just called recommending an Epsom salt-baking soda soak in very hot water. )
You may wonder: will I ski again this winter? Most probably, Yes. The beauty and enjoyment and rosy cheeks usually wins out over the “owwwww, this hurts!”
Roof shoveling day! Time to get the heavy compressed icy snow off the roof-top. Why, you ask? Because neglecting to shovel roofs in this part of the world may result in collapsed dwellings. Those desiring intact homes must bring out the shovels, snow scoops or snow rakes and get to work removing the snow.
Barry’s our roof shoveling guy. Kathy’s the photographer. Kathy gets kind of dizzy, wobbly and nervous up there twenty to thirty feet from the ground, and prefers solid footing underneath. Barry worked hard for about 35 minutes this afternoon while Kathy cheered him on with frozen fingers attempting to catch photos of the blocks of snow careening from the roof. Seventy five percent of the photos failed to capture any snow showers or blocks spraying down from overhead.
It was 8 degrees. I’m assuming all you readers from foreign countries realize these numbers come in the Fahrenheit variety. The sunshine and blue sky makes it look deceptively warm. It was not.
Our roof often needs to be shoveled several times a winter. There’s one-shovel winters, two shovel winters and this year might even be a three-shovel gala season. We’ve debated buying a metal roof (as exists on our garage and shed) but still can’t decide about re-roofing or removing the shingles from the house. Metal roofs are not infallible. Usually the snow slides cheerfully off the metal surface as it builds momentum, thereby eliminating the need for manual labor. But sometimes the snow sticks and requires prodding. Our roof pitch is not designed for friendly snow removal, so we often debate future roof plans as we sit on our deck sipping drinks on balmy summer afternoons. Not today. Today was Shoveling Day.
Another detriment of the metal roof design exists. Sometimes the snow determines to exit from the metal all at one time. A hundred (thousand?) tons of snow slides off and buries any passerbys meandering beneath. We wouldn’t want buried family members or guests, would we?
Barry’s fishing partner actually suggested today that a blog-writer about roof shoveling should be up on the roof doing the work. I am not pleased with this suggestion. Fortunately, he assured her that was not the way blog-writing worked. A blog-writer has the option of waiting down beneath, thinking up entertaining and informative ideas to share with the readers.
Barry has roof-shoveling expertise to share with you readers. He says it’s preferable to shovel after the snow has compressed into icy weights. Then one can shear off an entire block with little fuss or hassle, watching it slide effortlessly off the roof. If one attempts to shovel fluffy snow, it simply doesn’t work as efficiently. However, if one waits too long, the house begins to strain under the snow-load. It’s really a science. One learns the best timing to remove snow from roofs if one lives in the North Woods long enough….
Day 34 of this Outdoor Adventure Series. A couple friends and I were just chatting. I asked for help next time I get carried away with a silly idea….like dedicating 365 days spending time in the Great Outdoors. Don’t they say “moderation in all things?” I must have forgotten….
So, out the door I went this afternoon, once again. The temperature has maliciously dropped into the single digits. It’s amazing how quickly one forgets what it means to experience Cold. In the last several days we’ve lounged near the 30 degree mark. It’s kind of like childbirth. You forget. But when you emerge from the front door at 9 degrees, it all comes back.
I enjoyed playing with the digital camera again. Look for unusual views; snap picture. Then try to figure out if you’ve captured anything of interest. But before you even determine if the last shot of bare branches resembled Zen beauty, the next dried fern arrangement presents itself. Snap! Keep aiming that camera, for there’s something interesting at every turn.
People keep searching wordpress for “how many additional minutes of daylight do we get this time of year?” and guess whose blog they find? This one! As if I have some official tally. (If anyone’s googling this: Centria is not a Statistician. Centria likes to Estimate, to Approximate, to Gauge. Centria even likes to ask readers for insights. Centria knows very few facts; instead she likes gray estimations which may or may not resemble Truth.) However, for the sake of meandering inquirers I’m going to try to find the Official Answer. Hold on five seconds while I check a reliable Internet source and I’ll get back to you.
First, I’ve checked the National Weather Service. They route you to the U.S. Naval Observatory, as naval folks will obviously know these facts. You type in your state and town to determine the hours of daylight for every single day of the year. On January 23rd, in L’Anse, Michigan, we experience 9 hours and 16 minutes of daylight. By January 3oth our daylight hours creep to 9 hours and 34 minutes. For any lazy or reluctant mathematicians, the increasing amount of daylight hours per week at this particular longitude and lattitude is 18 minutes. (Oh, all right, I said 10 minutes at this time of year in a previous blog. My unofficial measuring technique involved when you couldn’t see the garage clearly any more….)
My husband says this means just under three minutes per day. If you happen to be visiting during summer solstice, June 22nd, it’s often light until near 11 p.m. If you don’t believe that statistic, come visit! The National Weather Service says we get 15:52 hours of daylight then. During Winter Solstice’s blackness it’s more like 8:32 minutes.
OK! You random searchers & googlers can count these numbers as Official. Or look them up yourselves at: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/Dur_OneYear.php#skipnav
For less finicky numbers-oriented sorts, all you need to know is this: it’s getting lighter every day. Look at your garage every night and notice the difference. The sun is leaning its angle back towards us northerners. We’re getting warmer now every day. Believe me. It’s true.
The work around our house continues. We’re deep in mid-winter chores. I had to cancel a possible trip to the city tonight, as our wood room still needed to be filled. We half finished it yesterday; today demanded full cooperation.
The newly-stacked wood still feels damp to the touch, so we’ve compiled a separate pile of the older dry wood next to the wood stove. We’ll burn these fellas for a day or two before advancing upon the newly stacked piles.
I have nothing more to say about filling the wood room at this time. You received the entire scoop reading yesterday’s entry. (Except I forgot to share about emptying the ashes and chopping the kindling during the litany of wood-related activities.)
Therefore, you may hear what Henry David Thoreau had to say about his sojourn at Walden Pond in 1845. Let’s peek in his book “Walden” and see if some similarities remain:
Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played-about with stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was ploughing, they warmed me twice, once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give more heat.
…Hard green wood just cut, though I used but little of that, answered my purpose better than any other. I sometimes left a good fire when I went to take a walk in a winter afternoon; and when I returned three or four hours afterward, it would be still alive and glowing. My house was not empty though I was gone. It was as if I had a cheerful housekeeper behind. It was I and Fire that lived there; and commonly my housekeeper proved trustworthy.
If Henry could wax poetically about wood and fire, so can we. I am now tempted to think of the Fire burning in our wood stove as a cheerful trustworthy housekeeper. We’ve paid that housekeeper with our labor, and she serves us well, looking after the house daily during these long gray winter days.