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Listen, listen, listen

Listen, listen, listen

Good evening!  It’s the 70th day of my outdoor commitment.  Honestly, it rarely feels even a tiny bit challenging to go outside anymore.  After about Day 40, everything became much more commonplace.  A new groove settled in the brain which supported the action of heading outside to play, to explore, to walk, to look, to learn.

Guess what the temperature was this morning?  Twelve below!!  That’s twelve below zero, mind you, Fahrenheit.  Other locales surrounding us boasted (sobbed?) much lower.  Twenty below.  Twenty five below.  We’re near Lake Superior, which usually mitigates our temperature.  But now the bays have frozen so solid, we’re not so blessed.  It’s darn frigid.

Today is the last day of February, so Spring must be waiting in the wings for Winter’s curtain call.  You can tell by certain signs.  One, the sun warms everything and melts much quicker than in January.  Two, there’s a certain smell in the air.  It’s a smell of moisture, of melting, of change.  Three, your spirit knows.  Your spirit starts to quicken with a sense of anticipation.  You nod your head, remembering that Winter will end.  Maybe not soon.  But it’s headed out.

Dolphin wind chimes on our deck

Dolphin wind chimes on our deck

See the dolphin wind chime on our deck?  I won it as a prize at a wedding shower a few years ago.  Sometimes I forget that it’s there, especially in the wintertime.  It’s not a noisy active chime, clanging boisterously in the wind.  It’s rather quiet, subdued, tinkling occasionally.  Today, smelling the whiff of spring, shoveling the deck, I glanced at the wind chime.  Thought of dolphins.  Thought of my parents in Florida. 

Usually, at this time of year I’d be feeling such restlessness.  An inner insistence that it’s time to escape, to get out of here, to run away from the snow and cold and ice.  This year, it’s not happening.  (That doesn’t mean I’m not going anywhere….it just means I’m not desperate to go anywhere, an important distinction, mind you.) 

Seven to eight foot plowed pile of snow near the bird feeder

Seven to eight foot plowed pile of snow near the bird feeder

There are huge plowed piles of snow surrounding our driveway!  I tried to take photo after photo to show you the immensity of piles.  Nothing quite worked.  Barry said I need some object in the picture by which the observer would measure.  I tried to find a stick (such as the spiral stick to which the bell is attached) but the depth and height didn’t begin to cooperate.  The above snow pile measures seven to eight feet tall.  Want to come visit? 

Speaking of visitors, Barry’s brother arrives from Georgia on Tuesday evening.  They’ll be ice fishing for four days until he departs again.  The poor lad doesn’t know what he’s in for.  We can only pray the fish are nibbling.  When the fish get really hungry, they’ve been known to eat anything.  A local fisherman said he caught a trout once on a hot dog.  Another put down a cigarette.  I kid you not!  Not that I’m supporting such uncivilized behavior…

Leaving you tonight with one last photo.  I became uncivilized with the chickadees earlier.  Please forgive me.  I wouldn’t leave them in peace after delivering the sunflower seeds, quietly moving away.  Instead I internally bargained:  “If you pose for a photo, I’ll go away.”  Finally one brave fella landed and pecked at the seeds.  Hurray!

Brazen chickadee poses for photo

Brazen chickadee poses for photo

Ten inches of snow everywhere

Ten inches of new snow everywhere

I had plans today.  Several plans, in fact.  I had an Artist’s Way meeting to attend.  Things to do, places to go, people to meet.

The weather chuckled and snow fell.  Lots of snow fell.  At least ten inches.  By morning the driveway was filled with lots of heavy white snow.  Too much for my car to navigate successfully without being plowed first. 

Schools were all cancelled.  No work for me today.  Barry went out to put the heater on the tractor for plowing but neglected to charge the battery.  The battery steadfastly refused to start.  Because he’s the proud owner of a four wheel drive 1949 Studebaker, he barrelled through the snow to get to work.  Not before warning his wife of the peril of departing from the unplowed driveway.

Studebaker tracks in the deep snow

Studebaker tracks in the deep snow

It actually worked out well.  I caught up on at least one hundred undone chores.  Enjoyed some beautiful time in the Great Outdoors.  Shoveled snow from the deck.  And admired the way the sun cast shadows against the snow. 

The sun was so bright you had to blink and scrunch your eyes.  You remembered stories about snow blindness.  You imagined a groundhog coming out from a winter den and blinking confused in the bright sunlight.  A shadow!  Is winter departing or sticking around for another six weeks?

My favorite snow shadow photo

My favorite snow shadow photo

Snowstorms contain that ability to shut things down.  To cancel plans.  To prevent driving from Point A to Point B.  Some of our Yoopers with four wheel drive trucks drive nonchalantly in any kind of weather, but the more cautious among us heed the weather.  We use the weather as a sign to slow down, stay home, stoke the fire, and catch up on chores.  Or read.  Or play computer games.  Whatever!

I filed our federal and state taxes today.  Fun, right?  A chore I’ve been putting off as so many other possibilities seemed much more interesting…

Shadows on the snow near the woodpile.  Look how much snow on the woodpile!

Shadows on the snow near the woodpile. Look how much snow on the woodpile!

I’m imagining that other places in the country and world are feeling the loosening of winter’s grip.  Spring is shaking things up elsewhere.  Seeds are contemplating their birth.  Not here.  Certainly not here.

Winter’s still got a gleam in his eye.  He’s not loosening his grip yet.  He’s shaking his big white mane and snow still falls everywhere…

The woods at night in a late February snowstorm

The woods at night in a late February snowstorm

It’s snowing again!  You guessed that, right?  A lovely late February snowstorm to keep us amused and entertained yet again by snowflakes, snowdrifts, blowing snow and sideways snow.

At least the snow (four to five inches so far?  six?  seven?  who can tell when it’s dark outside?)  covers up the icy driveways and sidewalks that kept people praying for upright balance today. 

I waited to go outside until after dark.  About the time the snowstorm built into some intensity.  I stay inside far too often at night.  Only once (after the first night solstice fire) during this outdoor commitment have I ventured outdoors at night.  Tonight insisted upon compliance. 

On went the snowmobile suit, hat, mittens, scarf, boots (you know the routine by now, don’t you?) and the search around the house for the camera.  It’s becoming an appendage.  One doesn’t dare go outside without the camera, for you never know what interesting opportunity lurks behind the next tree or ravine.

Yep, our mailbox at night

Yep, our mailbox at night

Looks like a snowball is being delivered in that mailbox picture, doesn’t it?  I must say it’s interesting to wander around in the dark in a snowstorm.  You can hardly determine that it’s actually snowing with your sight.  Since it’s pitch dark, the only indication of snow is the sprinkling of wet on your face and cheeks.  If you wear glasses, you get a sense of blurriness in the dark as your glasses cover with heavy wet flakes.

If you’re unfamiliar with the terrain, watch out.  I only tripped once, near the woodpile, but did not fall.  I wandered through the snow to the left, to the right, to the back, to the front.  Listened for sounds.  No animals hooting or howling or pawing or scurrying.  Only the sound of distant trucks and the snow pattering like tiny icy pellets.

Tree branches covered with snow

Tree branches covered with snow

The spruce tree branches looked like arms reaching out into the night, long fingers stretching out toward the innocent passerby.  I wanted to capture a photo of that sense of the tree limbs spreading out, somehow communicating.  It’s strange how the darkness elongates everything, especially the imagination!

When I found myself staring longingly at the house, taking photos of the warm glow from within, I said goodnight to the darkness and came inside, shaking snow all over the floor and carpeting.  Goodnight, everyone!

Wanting to open the door, go back inside   :)

Wanting to open the door, go back inside 🙂

Unloading the log truck

Unloading the log truck

Guess what I did outdoors today? 

Stood around for a half hour and watched a log truck delivery of next year’s wood.  My husband inquired, “THIS is your outdoor adventure?”

Answer:  Yes.

For many years Barry has scrounged in the woods, cutting and chainsawing and skidding out logs.  This year we’ve chosen the “easy” route.  We’ve paid for the delivery of wood. 

The one hundred inch long logs now need to be chainsawed to appropriate length and eventually split.  We’re pondering buying or making a splitter.  (I will not be making the splitter.)

As we watched the deft operator handling and stacking the logs, I felt somewhat melancholy.  An elderly neighbor’s funeral was this morning.  She was a woman who loved the woods, spending hours exploring the thickets and ridges.  We met twenty seven years ago when she served coffee and goodies to a young mother with a brand new baby boy.  She shared hundreds of stories about this area before paved roads existed.  She worked at a logging camp.  I truly admired her humor, her wit, her fortitude.  It was sad to say goodbye today, although it’s been many years since she recognized friends and family.

Snow, rain and freezing rain fell today.  A foggy mist rose from the snowbanks at times.  I’m feeling simultaneously happy about our new load of logs, and sad for the loss of an old friend.

Heat for next winter

Heat for next winter

Art, nature, or something else?

Art, nature, or something else?

Day 66 of opening the door & going outside everyday…when suddenly it occurs to ask:  What is “nature” anyway?

You may already have some absolute answers.  You may gesture towards everything non-human such as trees, bushes, snow, wind, deer, ladybugs, feathers, plants and sunlight.  “There,” you say, spreading your arms out wide, “that is nature!”  End of story?

Perhaps.  Yet I’ve noticed that the edges get mighty blurry.  The first example that popped into my thoughts concerned the cup of tea sitting before the computer.  The tea grew on a plant somewhere.  Was that tea plant “nature”?  Or, because it was farmed and cultivated, should it be considered something apart from nature?  The ceramic cup?  Is pottery part of nature, or a human invention? 

Let’s say we’re walking together in the woods and discover a wooden ladder resting upon a tree.  Nature?  Is it part of nature, or alien to it?  Could it be something in-between?  Nature AND human?

If a piece of our human hair falls to the soil, is it now nature or is it trash?  If we write a love letter to the earth and bury it beneath a stone, what are the wishes of our heart?  Rubbish or art?  Gift?  Now a part of nature?

Do you separate the park benches from the trees and snow?  Are the benches artificial and everything else natural?

Do you separate the park benches from trees and snow? Are the benches artificial and everything else natural?

We humans so often want to categorize, to label.  We want to deftly and assuredly define boundaries.  Wikipedia discusses this topic attempting to scientifically analyze it.  Example:  Manufactured objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of nature unless qualified in ways such as “human nature” or “the whole of nature”.

Also this summary:  This more traditional concept of natural things which can still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the artificial, with the latter being understood as that which has been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind.

Hmmm.  OK.  So we humans are not considered part of nature?  Double Hmmm.  Are we separating ourselves from the “natural” world as if we’re somehow different, special, privileged, better, worse?  This type of thinking might help quantify or qualify some concepts, but I believe it also constructs some false barriers between ourselves and the natural world.

A seashell?  The home of a scallop?  Natural.  A wigwam in the woods?  Artificial.  Even though it’s made of bent willow, birch bark, branches, bear skin, cedar, natural ties?  A green natural sustainable home in the woods? 

What about our compost?  The scraps we feed to the deer?  What about art we create out of all natural earth components?  Is a carrot in the garden artificial if we’ve bought seeds in town?  What about a sleigh-ride behind a horse?  Nature or human or some combination in between?  An apple seed planted by Johnny Appleseed…is the tree part of nature or separate from it?

I’ve posted this photo before, but really must post it again for your consideration:

Is this nature?  And at what point did it become nature?

Is this nature? And at what point did it become nature?

I’m sorry (well, not really sorry) to admit that the distinctions between “nature” and “human” are very blurry and indistinct to me.  Those potted plants in the corner seem both very natural and cultivated.  Even this computer links back to elements, soil, water, and sunlight. 

What might happen if we cease to draw such a hard distinction between what is nature and what is not?  Would our appreciation for it deepen or lessen?  What if we started seeing nature in everything we view?  Might we not want to honor it even more?

Underneath pine tree mysteries

Pine tree, what do you think?

How often do we turn to a close friend and ask advice about our lives?  When something troubles us, how often do we seek a listening ear, or perhaps possible solutions to our question, concern or dilemma?

May I suggest that Nature (or the world outside our front door) can be a wonderful friend and trusted adviser?  Here’s how it worked for me today:

I felt  a question troubling me, a problem wanting to be resolved.  I won’t burden anyone by repeating it here, but would like to share the way Nature assisted with an answer to my question. 

Once outside, I attempted to clearly frame the question.  Then I walked randomly ahead, asking the question repeatedly in my inner mind.  Whenever other random thoughts threatened to disturb the concentration, I returned to the query, repeating it slowly again as a sincere question to the Universe.  (God, Spirit or other universal essences were also welcome to reply!)

Then I cast my eyes around the landscape, looking for possible answers to the question.  Some people take this too literally and think that nature will clearly speak and say, “You should go to Cancun this winter” or “You should loan your children money” but usually the advice comes from more subtle clues.

What we’re really attempting to do is to sink beneath the conscious mind’s ready surface answers.  We’re flowing deeper into the realm of spirit, of penetrating understanding.  The answers we’re seeking in nature may have existed in our minds all along, but we were perhaps too busy logically thinking to connect to a deeper level of comprehension or awareness.

Read the landscape metaphorically, not literally.  Let the birds flying in the sky offer direction.  Let the texture of bark teach.  Allow the random scattering of peacock feathers (yes, peacock feathers, courtesy of someone from the Dakotas) to gesture towards an answer that feels right at the deepest level of your being.

Lacy peacock feathers in the snow

Lacy peacock feathers in the snow

Allow nature to guide you, sometimes by bringing you to the silence deep within, or sometimes providing clues.  Let your feet determine the direction they desire to walk.  Your logical mind may want to follow a trail, but Nature might urge you beyond the pine tree, wading in the snow.

Once, a few years ago in Oregon,  I pondered aloud, “Should I be writing now?” and walked across the grass.  Lying on the ground was a small pencil sharpener.  How’s that for a quick answer?

Another time I asked for advice about the relevance of a dream while walking up our road.  Lying in the dirt was a yellow pencil with a picture of Martin Luther King and his famous words “I have a dream…”

Today’s answer proved not as clear-cut, but from within the silence of nature,  a direction began to form.  And by the time the afternoon’s exploration ended, my question was answered.  Nature had provided the backdrop for the answer to come forward to the surface of consciousness, once again.

What a wonderful friend and adviser she is!  Never hesitate to seek her advice.

shhh...listen...winter ferns tell secrets

shhh...listen...winter ferns tell secrets

Shall we dance along with those figures out there in the snow?

Dancing figures in the snow

This is a catch-up post, a summary of yesterday’s outdoor adventure.  After spending Friday night in Marquette after the dog sled races, Bertha and I decided to walk through Presque Isle Park and view the outdoor art exhibit.

First, some of you probably don’t know what a “Yooper” might be.  For anyone who hasn’t a clue…a Yooper is someone who lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U-P, yooper, get it?) .  There are certain folks (not me) who believe that those who live “down below the bridge” in Michigan are tame civilized ordinary folk…and those who live above the bridge are a unique breed of humanity known as “Yoopers”.  You know, more outdoors-y, down to earth, perhaps a bit more eccentric. 

I’m not a native-born Yooper, but our kids qualify (even though they don’t live here any more, go figure).  We’ve been here nearly thirty years but since we came from…below the bridge…we’re still suspect in the eyes of the locals.  We’re almost-Yoopers.  When we’ve lived here another ten or twenty years (or maybe when we die here) we might earn the honor of the title.

But, back to the art show!  Since we enjoy seven to eight months of winter here on the peninsula, the Yoopers have decided to sponsor events like the “Glacier Glide” Outdoor Art Exhibit on Presque Isle.  You have a choice.  You can showshoe, ski or walk around the isle, viewing all sorts of strange, wonderful, quirky pieces of art.

Colorful mosaic lady

Colorful mosaic lady

Bertha and I opted to hike the two miles around the isle.  The blueish jutting ice of Lake Superior surrounds Presque Isle, providing interesting photo opportunities for those brave enough to venture out on the ice.  We stuck to the trail with only minimal slipping and sliding in spots.  There were less art exhibits than we anticipated, but the ones which appeared proved enjoyable.

Bertha walks ahead along the trail

Bertha walks ahead along the trail

We met about a dozen or more other walkers during our hike.  Everyone seemed in fine spirits, enjoying the opportunity to stroll around the isle.  It was snowing lightly and I internally fussed some about the weather.  I didn’t want to drive home in a snowstorm, no, no.  A passerby mentioned “lake effect snow warning” and I attempted to ignore the evil prediction.  Good thing, too, for the drive home later proved quite enjoyable with an almost snow-free lane for driving.  Lesson:  do not always believe weather predictions.

When we first drove on the isle, we saw a deer prancing around rather strangely near the following exhibit:

Barrel-stove deer

Barrel-stove deer

Hmmm…do you think the deer thought this might be a possible friend?  Confused as to why it didn’t move? 

We enjoyed the hike and art exhibit tremendously.  I would like to view it again another year. 

By the way, this is Day 64 of my outdoor commitment.  Isn’t the time flying?  Today I simply wandered around outside the house feeding deer, shoveling, scraping off cars, peering in odd nooks and crannies.  It’s been a fun weekend!

Sled dog with volunteer.  Ready to run!

Sled dog with volunteer. Ready to run!

Even though we’ve lived within a hundred miles of the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run for the past thirty years, we’ve never ventured over to Marquette to watch the annual sled dog races.  Credit this blog and my outdoor commitment!  Yesterday I decided it was absolutely necessary to travel and see the start of the 20th annual race.

If you’ve read yesterday’s entry, you know that my friend Bertha (and some of her friends) already planned to attend.  I wangled an invitation and met them at the Ramada about 6 p.m.  From their 7th floor window we could see the crowds starting to gather.  It’s a rumor that this is the biggest dog sled race event in the Lower 48.  It’s also a rumor that between 6,000 and 10,000 folks often attend.  I have no idea how many folks dressed in their warmest clothing lined the blocked-off streets.  Here’s a crowd shot:

Crowd by theater waiting for dogs & sleds to race by

Crowd by theater waiting for dogs & sleds to race by

You can’t imagine how fun this was.  The excitement in the crowd was palpable.  The announcers got the crowd chanting “ten-nine-eight-seven (and so forth)” until the volunteers released the barking and excited dogs and  they ran down the blocked-off city street with lightening-fast speed.  My heart pounded with the crowd enthusiasm, the roars of approval for the dogs’ prowess, the excitement and the clapping and cheers.

I would have been 100% content if the camera had cooperated fully and captured at least one excellent shot of the dogs and sled driver (known as a “musher”).  However, 90% of the shots ended up blurry, missing either dogs or musher, or otherwise inadequate.  Here is the best (and maybe only) complete dog sled team shot to give you a flavor of how it appeared:

Dogs & sled & driver (all in one picture)

Dogs & sled & musher (all in one picture)

After watching several teams mush down Washington Street, we walked down the road to the bottom of the hill where the trail veered sharply to the right.  Our friend called it “Dead Man’s Hill” as the teams needed to slow down to make a comfortable right turn.  I maneuvered toward the front of the crowd and propped myself against a snowbank to attempt a non-blurry shot.  An older woman began chatting and later shared that she used to be a musher!  How cool was that?  She said she no longer has trained dogs, but raced back when she lived in Maine many years ago. 

Just dogs...thrilled to be running

Just dogs...thrilled to be running

The owners and mushers treated the dogs so lovingly.  I swear, they were treated as well as children (at least it looked that way from an outsider’s viewpoint).  Everyone there cheered the dogs with such enthusiasm and love. 

See all the people descend upon Marquette to watch the races

See all the people descend upon Marquette to watch the races

After the races we ambled back up towards the Ramada Inn.  Some of our party desired cinnamon almonds, hot chocolate, chips and fudge.  As we wandered, I saw a woman with a tiny dog in her shirt.  She leaned forward to introduce the baby-dog to a huge yellow dog.  Aren’t they cute?

Tiny dog meets big dog on the sidelines

Tiny dog meets big dog on the sidelines

Afterward we returned to the Ramada where my friend was spending the night.  She invited me to join them in the jacuzzi.  It was a lovely way to warm up.  Except.  There didn’t seem to be a convenient place to change into my clothes to return to my motel.  What to do?  Bertha suggested I throw on my snow pants, coat and boats over the bathing suit.  Does that sound like a wise idea?  I did!  And drove back to the motel with a wet bathing suit under a snowsuit. 

Only in the Upper Peninsula…   🙂

Ladies & Gentlemen! I’ve left the county and am now in Marquette, Michigan, to watch the dogsled races.  I am so excited to have driven these 80 miles east to the Big City.

It all needed to work out easily.  Luckily, the roads are relatively clear.  Luckily, it’s not suppose to snow much. Luckily, a motel room presented itself when other dog-lovers cancelled.  Luckily, my friend is watching the start of the UP 200 races and invited me to join her.  (correction:  I called and asked her if I could  join her in viewing the race.)

It’s so exciting to be in Marquette!  I was going to write a long chatty blog about the shops, the streets, the people, the beautiful lake…BUT…the library computers are apparently sick or injured and need repair.  The kind librarian-fellow said I could  use this 15-minute Internet Express Station if  I was quick.

So quick it is!  The shortest number of words you’ve seen thus far!  And no pictures, even though I’ve been snapping photos since arriving in town. Besides tonight’s festivities, I’m walking the streets looking for fun or interesting people, views or photo opportunities.

Not only are there dog sled races tonight, there’s also some sort of nature art exhibit out on Presque Isle for snowshoers and skiers tomorrow.  Will report back to you all tomorrow night!

From the Big City of Marquette,   Kathy  4 minutes left!  Signing out!

Snowshoeing book club members find chair in the middle of the woods!

Snowshoeing book club members find chair in the middle of the woods!


Just returned home from our book club meeting.  It’s far too close to bedtime to be writing an intelligent blog.  But will try to do “literary” justice to the experience.

Between 7-12 of us meet about once every couple months to discuss books.  At least we allegedly meet to discuss books.  I would estimate we spend 25% of our time together sharing books and the remaining 75% socializing.  A potluck highlights the evening, of course.  But tonight we did something a little different:  five of us went snowshoeing before the meeting.

We usually take turns visiting each others homes.  Tonight Jennifer hosted the gathering.  (She’s been too busy to attend book club recently, so we were all delighted to reconnect with her.)  We all strapped on our snowshoes, prepared to hike in the snowy woods.

Nancy's wooden snowshoes

Nancy's wooden snowshoes

All of us sported the light aluminum snowshoes except Nancy.  She later announced she would be buying a new pair before the next hike.  Her boots refused to stay firmly in the straps.

We wandered through the very snowy woods for awhile, enjoying the beautiful cedar trees.  No real trail marked our walk, so we occasionally ducked under branches.  Suddenly, to the left, an old chair appeared, sitting covered with snow out in the middle of the woods.  Of course the book club mentality set in and we opted for a photo shoot with our members pretending to read a book.  Jennifer is holding an actual book (and you may wonder how a book appeared in our hands out on the hike?  Actually it is a datebook or calendar, but it served as an appropriate photo prop.)  For anyone who’s interested the snowshoers in the above photo are Sue, Joanne, Nancy and Jennifer. 

The snowy woods through which we snowshoed

The snowy woods through which we snowshoed

At our last meeting in December we rolled dice fast and furiously, attempting to win our preferred wrapped book.  No one knew anything about the books we tried to win.  If you rolled doubles, you chose the wrapped book.  If the next person rolled doubles, she could choose another book or steal your book from you.  This is our traditional Christmas book club fun. 

Thus, this meeting we discussed the books we won in the dice-throwing games.  I won “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” in December and enthusiastically recommended it to our readers. 

We debated for a long time about next club’s selection.  Finally we chose “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck.  I think I may have read it a few decades ago, but it’s a classic.  So will look forward to reading this again for our April meeting.

Let’s hope there’s not enough snow to snowshoe by then…

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