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I am one day behind in reporting outdoor experiences. The letter to Mother Nature yesterday took precedence to actual occurrences. So we shall re-wind the tape, back up, and pretend it’s yesterday.
Here’s what happened yesterday. I stopped by the empty beach and took photos. Then suddenly spotted The Bog. The Bog across the street from the Beach. What’s a lady to do? Obviously, tramp on over into the bog and take a look.
Bogs, as everyone knows, are mostly unapproachable without waders. Boots, at the least. I wore sneakers and jeans. Why not attempt to enter? Would the bog let me in?
The answer was: Yes! And No. It let me in for about ten feet. I followed ridges and jumped from high spot to high spot. But then it seemed like too much work to advance further, so I decided to peer down and see what treasures the bog contained. A friend of ours referred to this bog as one of the “most unique bogs in the Great Lakes”. Wonder why?
There are rumors that prize wild orchids grow here. Flowers and plants rarely found elsewhere. I am so curious about the identity of the above plant! My “Michigan Wildflowers” book refuses to identify it. Here is another view, in case anyone else knows the Secret Identity:
I saw a deer bounding into the fringe of woods which surround the bog. Glimpsed birds chattering and calling. Would have loved to wander deeper and deeper into the depths, but alas. A rainstorm was gathering. Thunder grumbling. Time to go home.
So I drove home, and upon reaching our porch spotted this moth. It seemed to be missing part of its wing. I apologize, but needed to prod it, seeing if a damaged-wing moth is capable of taking flight. The answer is YES. The moth fluttered up to the sky.
Now we’re caught up to today. But let’s continue the Weird Creature theme. I went picking raspberries and thimbleberries down the road. In between stuffing my mouth and filling a yogurt container, found this fungus-like mushroom-like creature growing on the soil:
And, finally, a Spider.
It was eating a raspberry. It looks like Miss Muffet sitting on a tuffet. I have never known that spiders are lunching on our raspberries and thimbleberries before we get to them. I had to prod this one, as well, to see if it was alive or dead. Answer: definitely alive. It’s a good reminder to wash our berries before eating! But I paid no attention and continued to stuff the delicious berries into my mouth…
Dear Mother Nature,
Some of us are a little disturbed. It’s July 30th today and we are wondering…can you send a little warmth our way? Just heat up the summer a bit more? Pretty please?
Our beaches are empty. The picnic tables look lonely. The temperature so often stays in the 60’s and barely ventures into the low 70’s. We’re dreaming of some hot weather. Just a few days. Before the summer ends.
Can we strike a deal? How about five days with temperatures above 80 degrees? (That is, if you can’t spare any more.) Did you see how we so nicely handled those fifteen below zero days? We didn’t even sulk, or complain (too much). Some of us even went outside! Don’t we need something to balance out our long cold winters? Some heat waves? Some days when we let the fans whir the air around the muggy house? Can’t you take pity on us? Winter will be back soon. Give us some summer.
The kids in the Upper Peninsula want to go swimming. The garden plants dream of heat and sun. The zucchini and the beans look oh-so-sad. You’ve been kindly sending rain. Today you blessed us with over a half an inch of rain. A couple years ago we begged you for rain so fervently. And now you’ve complied. But, could you turn up the heat? Even a 79 degree day would feel heavenly.
Someone around here started a fire this morning. At the end of July, for goodness sakes. Only a small fire in the woodstove with a couple pieces of firewood, but this is against all official rules and regulations of summer. This shouldn’t have to happen!
Here’s our dream: to wear a sleeveless shirt and shorts a half dozen times before the first frost. Please?
OK, OK, Mama Nature, if you crank it up to 90 or 95 degrees, we MIGHT complain. We’ll try not to. We’ll think of February. But we might get a little fickle on you if we’re really sweating. But then again, maybe we’ll go to the beach. Maybe there will be fifty people there! Maybe little kids will be swimming and families will be grilling hotdogs and hamburgers and frisbees will be flying…
80 degrees. That’s all we want. For a few days, at least. What do you think?
Sincerely and with Love,
Some Upper Peninsula Friends
Well. It’s time to report back to you today about Day # 221 of the outdoor commitment. Yes. And, truly, there’s not much to say.
Here’s what happened outside: after work and running errands in town and having lunch with a friend, I came home and lugged the new laptop out on the desk and wrote a blog for another site. About (and I suppose this does not surprise any of you) “Did you remember to meditate while brushing your teeth?” Then Barry and I picked pea pods in the garden for a Szechuan tofu pea pod stir-fry. Later we leisurely ate outside on the deck, enjoying good garden food. Ahhh…the joys of a simple times outside.
I didn’t even pick up the camera today, so there are no new photos. The above photo of dusk along the Huron Bay occurred during a visit two nights ago with our company. The following photo (taken yesterday morning on the way to Little Mountain) has a small story attached.
Amy, Daniel and I were driving leisurely through Aura in our separate vehicles. First we witnessed a partridge couple crossing the road. Then…what could they be? Wild turkeys? Or…could it be?…sandhill cranes? Yes!
I leaped from the car, and conferred with the visitors. Should I try to get a photo? Even without the zoom lens? Someone must have said “yes” because I proceeded to scurry through the mostly-open field dotted with trees, attempting to photograph the four majestic birds. Forget the fact it was private property. Forget the fact that the birds were backing away rather quickly, alarmed at the human apparition attempting to reach them.
I never got close enough to get a really good photo. The photo below is what the actual picture looked like before the computer’s crop function accomplished its good deed:
My friend Catherine could tell you lots of information about sandhill cranes. They nest in her fields each spring. She knows so much about these birds. I only know that they look beautiful, and seem elusive. And would like to see them up close. Perhaps you have to earn that honor.
This is probably enough for tonight. Will leave you with a photo taken near the strawberry fields a week or two ago. I believe they’re fireweed which grow abundantly around here. If we could get a little closer up (for example, perhaps cropping the photo) we could determine if they are actually fireweed or purple loosestrife, which has a bad reputation. Loosestrife is an invasive plant, so they say, and should be rooted and disowned and scorned. I don’t like the sounds of that. How ’bout we appreciate all the plants on this planet, even the invasive ones? Why declare war on plants?
On that note, a peaceful goodnight to all.
What? you say. SNOW? Wait a minute! This is summer! What is a snow picture doing in this blog? It can’t be snowing in the Upper Peninsula in July!
Although some of our local folks are grumbling mightily about the chilly weather this summer, don’t worry, it hasn’t started snowing. Yet…
Settle down for a story. This photo was taken by my daughter back in early December. We hiked up Little Mountain, south of L’Anse, on a cold winter day. She was staying with us for a few short weeks and we wanted to enjoy the outdoors and experience some of the local sights. We trudged up the trail, happy that the snow measured only a few inches.
We reached the top of the mountain (and ok, you guys, no comparison to the Rockies or Smokies. These are Michigan mountains after all. You might choose to call them ‘rocky hills’ with more accuracy.) Then we began to wander around, looking here and there, admiring the view. I sat down to meditate for awhile and she snapped this photo which she titled “Hidden Meditation”.
It was on that hike, that very hike, that the idea for this outdoor commitment and blog incubated. It was such a lovely day and I mused, “Why don’t I do this more often? It’s really pleasant outside, not that cold, and look at how wonderful we feel spending time outdoors…” You know the rest of the story.
Today, our guests Amy, Daniel and I hiked once more up Little Mountain to its panoramic view of Baraga County.
There is something about reaching the top of a mountain. As we neared the summit, we ceased talking. Silence settled comfortably among us. A sacred sense of reverence filled our awareness.
Each of us wandered off to view different landscapes, to feel the energy of the mountain. I fell into the silence of meditation, as if seven months had not passed.
It felt like the mountain was meditating.
And the silent climber could sit still and meditate with the mountain, if he or she chose.
The mountain told stories of rock: granite, quartz, slate. The mountain tossed the mane of her flowered hair as the wind blew ragged through the pines. The wind moaned and muttered around the crags. The mountain’s jewelry was sumac, buttercups, daisies, blueberries.
The mountain takes the long view. No short judgments. She assesses the landscape before she makes a decision. And her decisions might take eons and eons.
Branches lie scattered all around. Trees are always losing limbs in the wind and weather on the unprotected mountaintop. Perhaps lightening has seared them off, but more likely the wind blows away that which is unsecured, weak, tentative.
Humans being humans we try to interact with the mountain in our own ways. While some of us choose to meditate to hear her silent voices, others of us build rock cairns. Rocks lie atop one another, marking the ascent of previous travelers. There is also Rock Art. Men and women have knelt and sketched their name in stone, scratching the surface with a sharp instrument. Someone had scratched “Dan ‘n Me” on one rock, which seemed apropos as another Daniel now walked across the stones.
But my favorite almost-invisible stone was a face grinning up at us, from a modern-day human perhaps delighted by the mountain hike, the expansive view, the endless sky, the bays of Lake Superior:
If you have a chance to meditate atop a high hill, or mountain, please do so. You will not regret the time spent in silence, feeling the wind on your cheeks, the rocks hard and etched with lichen, the scent of summer wildflowers close by.
Guess what? We have company! My dear friend Amy Carr is visiting with her partner, Daniel. We hardly ever have company. It’s such a delight.
Amy is actually doing dishes right now, while I sit and leisurely write a blog. What kind of friend is that? Maybe she should come and live here…
We’ve had quite a day.
Amy and I left Daniel at home playing his guitar (before Barry got home from work) and drove slowly out to the Mouth of the Huron, talking all the way, catching up on this and that. We had a mission: see if the blueberries were ripe. The chances of the wild blueberries being ripe were 25%. I swear. It’s been a cold summer, and the blueberries were probably still yearning for sunlight and hot to ripen themselves into a deep rich blue color, sweet enough to add to pancake mix or eat by the mouthfuls.
Do you think they were ripe? Do you think we had a chance to pick a handful or container-full or bucket-full?
It was indeed a miracle. The blueberries and huckleberries teased blue through the green leaves. We knelt in the sandy soil and found handfuls. Each of us secured a plastic container and began to fill it with shiny dark berries and shimmering lighter blue berries. I can’t remember which ones are huckleberries and which ones are blueberries. They taste equally good!
We stopped with enough for our pancakes tomorrow morning. Plus enough for Amy to munch before bed.
After our blueberry picking stop, we drove out to the beach. The Mouth of the Huron is one of the most beautiful undeveloped places in our “neck of the woods”. We used to camp there every summer, which is another story, for another day. Amy and I had not seen one another for two years, so we had lots of catching up to do.
There is something special about pausing by the lake, perhaps reaching out to touch the cool waves lapping at the shore, to squish your bare feet into the sand. We sat for a long while on the sandy beach, allowing our hands to move through the sand in a semi-circular motion. Amy grew up near Lake Superior’s beaches, and it’s a homecoming for her to feel the sand, admire the rocks, squint against the horizon to see Point Abbeye, the Huron Islands and the misty distant Keweenaw Peninsula.
Time to get back to our delightful company! It is such a pleasure to spend time with old friends. (Amy and I met each other when she was but 16 years old and I was an “old” woman of 26. She was reading William Blake in the church foyer and I was so impressed we became fast friends.)
The Pow Wow has ended for another year.
All that remains are the memories.
Memories of little boys eating popcorn, beautiful girls in pink dresses, men with eagle feather staffs, women in jingle dresses and buckskin.
Every time I close my eyes, images rush in. Solemn-faced natives stare out from the Mind’s eye. All these hours later, the Pow Wow stays at the forefront of consciousness. The drum-beat continues in my heart. The Pow Wow goes on, even though I am now at home ready to do dishes, to finish cleaning the house for tomorrow’s company, trying to write this blog.
My friend Denise showed me how to ask folks to take their photos. If you read yesterday’s blog, you know how hard that was. But by the time these two little girls happened by, I was a pro. “Can I take their picture?” I asked their mom, and she smiled, nodded, seemingly pleased. The girls spread their smiles for the camera to capture.
Then there were little boys, with their shy grins. This one’s ribbon shirt showed that someone cared for him. Someone lovingly sewed the ribbons on his shirt, teaching him his culture through this tender gesture.
The vendors sold everything from traditional Native American jewelry to books to beads to turtle shells. I did not buy anything. Here is the part of the blog where I apologize to my daughter. Kiah, I am sorry. I could not find the beautiful native jewelry you wanted. If you were there, walking along the dirt road, peeking into the many vendor’s shops, you may have discovered something you loved. But I am not a jewelry-person, and to discover that extra-special necklace or earring or bracelet for you proved impossible. I am so sorry… the dream-catcher (was it a necklace?) from last year will have to do…
Today I came early and listened to a native guitar player singing in the arena before Grand Entry. Sipped coffee. Waited for my friend Susan to arrive. And arrive she did! We watched Grand Entry together before eating a bowl of corn soup. We talked and talked, catching up on at least a hundred subjects before it was time to go home.
The rain drizzled and poured and drizzled and stopped. All weekend. The rain continued to do its rain-thing and the people tried to stay dry beneath the tall pines which surrounded the campgrounds. Umbrellas came up, and umbrellas went down.
It’s beautiful in the campground in the early morning, before everyone is awake and around. There’s a few campfires burning, but the tents generally remain still. You can walk around the dirt road which encircles the campsite, around and around, feeling gratitude and love for this sacred gathering.
It’s a special event. Until next year, then…
The Baraga Pow Wow started last night.
Hundreds of folks gathered to listen to the Native American drums, to dance in the arena, to pray, to socialize, to gather together as families, tribes or nations.
Have you ever heard the drum beat and the call of the singers? If you have, it stays with you forever. The eerie cry in Ojibway (or whatever language your Pow Wow brings) wakes up something deep inside of us. Something which has been sleeping, or missing, or gone. You can hear the drum beat and suddenly you’re carried back to some ancient memory of the land, of another time, of another language which beats deeper than any words or syllables.
Eyyy-Eee! The singers shrill and the Manido looks down from the sky and shrills back its eagle cry. You stand quivering by the Pow Wow arena, wanting to dance, longing to dance, and when the announcer says, “Inter-tribal!” you can enter the arena and your feet hit the soil like the drum beat. Up and down you pound the drum of the earth, around and around. If you dare.
I have a long history with the Native Americans, the Anishnabe, here in this area. ‘Way back in 1987 I heard the drumbeat for the first time, and it awakened slumbering embers within. Back in 1988, I danced in this arena, feeling the wind in my hair, returning to a Time before my conscious mind was born. For about seven years I attended ceremonies and lodges with these people.
Every year, now, I return to give thanks to that which has helped me to awaken deeper to who I am. It’s a time of deep appreciation, gratitude and honor.
It was hard to come this year, with a camera, and take photos. Very hard. My native friend, Denise, had to hold my hand and go ask the people permission for me to take a photo. Don’t know why it was so hard. Some people believe that when you take a photograph, your spirit can be stolen in that photo. There’s all sorts of etiquette and protocol involved. I didn’t want to be stealing any spirits, or to be disrespectful in any way.
So Denise took charge.
It really wasn’t hard. No one said “no”. My main source of irritation (don’t really want to go into this right now, but here’s the gist) is that my camera’s zoom has gone kaput. OH NO! This may involve the purchase of a new camera, and after buying a laptop computer this week…that’s financially challenging, to say the least. Thank goodness for the “crop” feature on the computer. Otherwise, you’d simply be viewing dots on the horizon, which may have barely resembled humans.
Today it was fun to spend time talking with friends, listening to the drum, watching the people in their multi-colored regalia. You can eat fry bread or wild rice soup or an Indian Pizza. (I bought Denise one after she so kindly asked folks to pose for photographs.)
There’s more photos to show you (and tomorrow’s outdoor adventure may involve the Pow Wow again) so stay tuned until tomorrow for more pictures. Hopefully everyone will have the opportunity to attend a Pow Wow at some time. Stand very silently and let the drum beat mirror the beat of your heart. Something very precious may awaken with you.
Shhh! Can you hear the drums now, out the window, down the road? They’re calling for you…
Another blog about singing outdoors. How many of you have actually opened your door and belted out a song recently? A good tune with lyrics like “Summertime and the livin’ is easy…” or even “If I were a rich man…” or “Dream a little dream for me…”
Show of hands? Well, I haven’t sang outside all year. Not a single song. Maybe a hum or whistle on walks, but nothing which resembles a complete song. Which is probably a good thing, unless I’m way back in the woods or swamp. Because it’s always been a bit challenging to carry a tune.
Last night, however, music aficionados in Baraga County were able to listen to the White Water family stringband from Amasa, a town two hops and skip down the road near Crystal Falls. Do listen to some of their clips especially some of their popular folk songs like The Log Driver’s Waltz and Windigo. Unfortunately, you can only listen to really short clips of their songs.
At least a hundred or two hundred folks gathered, mostly wrapped in blankets, as a cold fog moved in over the Keweenaw Bay. It added a mystical edge to the songs. The voices of Dean and Bette Premo, and their college-aged daughter Laurel weave together to create fabulous harmonies. (Their son, Evan, another member of the band who plays the stand-up bass, and his new musically-talented wife Mary will join them next month for another concert down in Crystal Falls.) They play all sorts of instruments such as the fiddle, the guitar, the hammered dulcimer, the mandolin and the banjo.
They sing tunes about people who lived and settled in the Great Lakes. From the Native Americans to the loggers to the Finnish folk…their music tells stories of those who have known these trees, these winds, this Keweenaw Bay, this fog.
The audience knew all about the fog, so a song could have been written about our evening.
Dean did note, “I was thinking only in the U.P. could you have an audience in blankets and sweaters and kids swimming in the Keweenaw Bay!” (I did not glimpse the swimmers, but have no doubt they existed.)
Here is what I saw:
Years ago, when our son Christopher and their son Evan were attending the University of Michigan, Bette called up looking for a ride for her son down to Ann Arbor. It never worked out because Evan was transporting his upright bass which wouldn’t have even fit in Chris’ tiny car.
They have been playing at the Aura Jamboree since the kids were small, and we’ve watched them grow up. Every year they kept getting better and better! I think they’re one of the treasures of the Upper Peninsula.
P.S. After writing this blog, I think it’s time to sing at least one song outside. So that’s the assignment for this weekend. Just have to decide what to sing…and where…
It’s all about the Journey. Not the Destination. Right?
Today’s mission: to walk through the cedar swamp and reach the lake.
Could it be done? Would it be possible to actually navigate through dense undergrowth, across swampy streams, beneath whipping branches, around massive trees lying in dozens of different poses?
I tried last Sunday and failed.
Would today prove a success?
Time: 9:30 a.m. Left note on table telling working husband my destination, in case the swamp claimed me as its own. Began to meander through the rather tame maple, poplar, ash, spruce and oak woods that we call “our own”.
Oh look! A wasp nest in that tree. How close dare I get to snap a photo?
About ten or twenty minutes later, the aforementioned swamp presented itself. Time for the challenge! Time to bravely attempt to penetrate its depths. Can’t you almost hear the loon calling? The ducks quacking? Don’t you really want to see them? I certainly did. Time to enter the enchanted forest…
A damp and quiet hush exists in the cedar swamp. Light shines irregularly, illuminating only what it desires. If you’re not careful, you trip. And stumble. And mutter beneath your breath.
If you’re careful, you walk slowly and dance almost imperceptibly with the landscape. It blocks your way with sixteen fallen trees; you move rhythmically to the right or left, staying aware, trying to determine the flow of the hidden path.
The lake wavers in and out of vision. You know it exists up ahead. But how to reach it? How to reach it without a soaked leg? Without falling into a stream? Without your clothes being torn to shambles by knife-like branches?
“It’s about the journey,” you say, insistently to yourself. To the swamp. To whoever might care.
But because part of you is remembering the importance of the Journey, and the way the mind can deceive us into thinking only the Destination has value…you stop and breathe and truly start to notice all the bits of beauty around. And the cedar swamp IS the most beautiful place in the world, just on its own. It’s truly enchanted. It only wants us to see its green and ragged world, its shadow and sunlight, its impenetrable delight.
Look! Down on the ground. A fish skeleton gleams up in its shadowed whiteness.
And because you’re truly present with the cedar swamp, suddenly no longer caring if you reach the lake or not, guess what opens up? The lake! Suddenly, there you are. It’s still a little challenged to view it in its entirety, and a cattail swamp filters the view, but, hey!, it’s awesome. You made it. I made it. We made it.
The Mind has a big problem, in that it often then says stuff like, “OK, we’re here. Let’s go now.” You just have to roll your eyes when the Mind says things like that. You must then, painstakingly, either ignore the Mind or simply just sit down on the bank and relax and breathe and give thanks for all your blessings. Just sit and let your awareness open up more and more and more. Until, suddenly, you know it’s time to go home.
So back through the cedar swamp you walk, looking, looking. Listening, listening. Feeling, feeling. And still more marvels present themselves as you slowly travel back through the woods.
I am still amazed at this tiny mushroom-like creature growing on a log. Have never seen one before! Isn’t life filled with miracles, each and every day?
OK, an outdoor adventure can’t get any more fun that this.
You guys are with me now, in the woods, with a flurry of mosquitoes buzzing around.
Seriously, you are!
I have taken my new laptop outside into the woods and am actually snapping photos and writing this blog while simultaneously having the outdoor adventure on this Day #214 of the Outdoor Commitment.
Do you want to know where we are?
We are nestled in one of the kids’ old forts. You can tell that because there are wooden boards pounded down and set nicely between the trees. One of the boards lies covered with spruce needles and green moss so thick you know it will soon belong to the soil again. There’s a stone which lies in the middle of the fort, and a broken coffee cup. I’m afraid the coffee cup was mine, and has a story attached to it. More later.
Back to the marvels of the wireless world which allows a laptop computer to travel into the woods! I’ve never been able to do this before. Before I was attached to the internet-world via a cord and electricity. This may have been a good thing.
But now the worlds are One. The computer and I are listening to the bird song. Such a shrill calling from overhead! The computer urges not to get any blood on its keys, from swatting hungry blood-filled mosquitoes. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Which makes one want to type rapidly, in case rain showers decide to soak the computer. And then there’s the challenge of this hard bench…oh it’s not too comfortable. But it provides back support with a sturdy spruce. If I settle down into the dried leaves, the back might be challenged.
Off, ye mosquito! Slap!
Ah, yes, where were we? In the time to upload that photo, the mind has wandered into reading emails and…sigh…not being particularly present to the Outdoors and the Fort. Except for the mosquitoes. This is the disadvantage to being too highly wired. One’s attention perhaps isn’t on Where One Is.
Since we’re flitting all around, it’s time to share the Story of the Cup.
Pardon me. Slap! Slap! Slap! Such an bloody adventure today.
Back to the cup. Years and years ago (far too many years to count) I wanted to quit drinking so much coffee. Time to oust the java habit. (WOW! Loud thunder!!) So I came outside beneath these trees and talked to the Universal Powers that Be. Asked for assistance in breaking the coffee habit. Left a coffee cut to demonstrate sincerity.
Well…looking at this cup and smiling right now…looks like something was broken! Cracked right in half! The name on the cup says “A Walk through Dreaming Meadows”. And, truly, the Powers that Be must have assisted for I am really in good relationship with the Java these days. I like to drink some, but not too much.
This place holds such good vibes. Memories of little children playing here. Our earnest son with his hammer pounding and building this fort in the woods. Our daughter (almost four years younger) running behind in delight, following wherever her older brother led.
I’m not sure if it’s spruce needles falling or raindrops, so will sign off now. Thank you all for joining me for an afternoon adventure in the fort. We’ve never been so close. HOWEVER, will probably not be lugging this computer around every day outside. That simply wouldn’t be right.
Must go now, as soon as I scoot that tiny yellow insect off the computer screen…