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Hey, what do you know, it’s the last day of August!
And you know what that means when you wander outside around these parts?
It means that apples are loaded upon the trees, apples upon apples, weighing heavy upon the branches, dragging them down toward the earth.
We don’t have any apple trees nearby our house in the woods. We’re in a “new” part of the forest which hasn’t been inhabited by people too much. The apple trees lie in orchards in “old” parts of this land, parts of the land settled by old-timers who have long since passed on. They’ve left the shining orbs of apples behind; and this year they are hanging ripe and heavy on almost every gnarled tree.
I actually grew up among an apple orchard. In the backyard of our house in Yale, Michigan, grew a dozen noble apple trees. They were getting old even then, back in the 1960’s. We built sandboxes and tire swings beneath their mighty branches and climbed high in their limbs, attempting to reach the skies. (My brothers climbed higher than I did; I quaked in the lower branches closer to the safety of the ground while they dangled ‘way up there near the clouds.)
I recently have been reading a book sent by a dear blog reader friend named Sahlah (or Dawn). It’s called “Peace at Heart: An Oregon Country Life” by Barbara Drake. The author talks about how she samples dozens and dozens of wild apples. She records the taste and look on a chart…I was in awe of this upon reading the way she discriminated between the hundreds of apples, noticing their differences and similarities, their sweet and sour, their tang and twist. It made me want to begin sampling these apples today. But no, it’s still too early. The apple-juices are still coming ripe on their twigs; let’s wait til September or early October to sample their sweet fruit.
I wandered among the apple orchards for a half hour today, lost in the sound of singing cicadas (well, maybe that’s what they are), enjoying the last half-way warm day in August. The ground lay littered with pine needles and the birds sang a quarter mile away. There is a hush one hears and feels in woods like these; it silences you.
The silence lies so enchanted you forget to dream of apple pie or apple crisp.
Instead your eyes notice a spider web spun perfectly between in a tree. You marvel at its perfect symmetry, attempting to capture it gleaming in the sunlight.
Later will come a time for baking the earth’s offering of apples, for tasting the cinnamon and struesel. For now, we wait.
The juices continue to ripen as our sun turns toward its equinox…
It’s happened before. At least two or three times over the years, a hummingbird has flown through the open doors and attempted to feed upon the bright orange hoist which hangs in the middle of the garage. Once inside, the hummingbird flies up and cannot understand that flying down and out the door might lead to freedom.
Barry moved his boat outside today, and left the doors wide open for awhile. He commented to me, while in the garden, that a hummingbird was flitting back and forth at the top of the ceiling, frantic, needing to feed, trapped.
A little while later, while inside on the computer, I heard a knock on the door. It appeared to be Barry. I opened the door with a joke, “Hey, you don’t need to knock, come right in!”
The seriousness on his face stopped me in my tracks and I looked more closely. He held a hummingbird in his hands and was attempting to get it to feed from the feeder. Instead, it lay inert and looked pretty much dead. He handed it over to me and I put my hands over the tiny beating heart-body and sent it love and energy and prayers. Please, hummingbird, heal. Please, hummingbird, live. Please, hummingbird, stretch your tiny wings and fly.
We sat for a long time, the beating heart of the silent hummingbird and the hand which held it. I kept putting the sharp tiny beak against the sugar-water. Finally, she drank. If you looked closely, it looked like she was spitting it out, then sucking it back in.
She opened her eyes.
She rested a lot longer.
Finally, she fluttered her tiny wings. She drank, spitting out the liquid, drinking again. She stood on her tiny feet and stretched and looked around.
The suddenly, with a huge burst of energy, she soared heavenward, up, up, up, toward the spruce tree! And settled on a branch of the spruce tree, squawking loudly, the loudest hummingbird squawks you’ve ever heard.
I smiled and went inside, giving thanks.
Here are some more pictures ‘way back from another past life: last Friday. Back when Scot and Karen and Doug and Gabe and Keely and myself drove a half hour out to Point Abbaye at the end of the peninsula, bouncing up and down on the sandy two-track. The day was rainy and owly. Look at this wave:
Point Abbaye is a rocky peninsula that juts way out there in Lake Superior. Not as far as the Keweenaw, but still out there. There is no electricity out this far, no year-round houses. Just the rocks and the lake and the wind. It’s a place to meet the elements and feel their special gifts.
The extended family has returned home to the Thumb of Michigan now; our little house resumes its silence. We had such a great time with the crew. Barry has said (at least ten times) what a great time he had. And Doug is now only a hop, skip and a jump away up at Michigan Tech. What a gift!
Now, if we can just keep those hummingbirds out of the garage…
Today is a very sad day.
My dear friend and former co-worker died this morning.
It’s a day awash with tears, and the drenching rain (2.60 inches since it started early Friday morning) mirrors the tears. The skies are weeping because the earth misses Mary’s presence already. The heavens may be rejoicing, but the earth weeps.
Because I spent most of the outdoor time today mourning, shall we return to yesterday?
Scot, Karen, Keely and I decided to try the fine sport of letterboxing. It’s a pastime (like geocaching which is apparently done with the aid of a GPS) where you follow Internet clues to discover a waterproof box hidden in nature. An on-line friend suggested that I try letterboxing ‘way back last spring when she first read this blog. Because the only hidden treasure in Baraga County was posted at the Canyon Falls, way out of my usual path of travel, I decided to wait before following the clues.
Yesterday’s trip with family proved to be the most opportune moment. We put Keely in charge.
Here is the website you can visit to learn all about letterboxing, and perhaps discover hidden treasure near you: http://www.letterboxing.org/
This box was hidden by someone called The Dragon back on July 11, 2003. Here is the website where you can see all the clues we followed, attempting to find the hidden box: http://www.mathdragon.net/letterboxing/MI_boxes/canyon_falls.htm
The first of the clues read:
Bench to left.
The clues continue:
Tree with roots showing on the left.
I won’t lead you through all the clues, but we followed them diligently, aiming for the hidden letterbox at the end. Finally we reached the last clues:
Right 15 paces to giant log.
(Lying parallel to the board – perpendicular to the boardwalk)
Crevice in the top of the giant log
Under a fallen tree and leaves and twigs.
Let me tell you, this was the hardest three minutes of the treasure hunt! We looked. And looked some more. And still couldn’t quite locate the box. There was no way we were going to leave without finding it! And finally, yes, digging under a few leaves…there it was in its camouflage.
We opened the box to discover some more instructions:
However, the best was yet to come! You open the little index-card book and there are all the people (most who stamped the book with their special rubber stamps of perhaps an evergreen tree, or a wild bear, or a dazzling sun) with their hometowns and some penned words of interest or wisdom or fun.
I had brought some colored ink and a set of tiny stamps, so we all added our names and a few words and a colorful stamp. (I even put the address of this blog, just in case anyone might want to read our in-depth story about our day.)
It was such a fun time. I discovered that there is one more letterbox somewhere in Baraga County, behind a local cemetery, and one day might decide to attempt to find it as well.
In the meantime I am thinking about death today. And wondering about the “hidden treasure” which may have met Mary today. While the rest of us are still on the path, following the boardwalks of life, looking at the roots and rocks and waterfalls.
Blessings, dear friend, wherever you may be tonight.
The things you sacrifice when you have to write a blog for 365 days. Honestly.
The rest of the family is sitting around the table (except for Keely who is peering over my shoulder) laughing and sharing conversation. I need to get back to them! So you guys aren’t getting that many words tonight. I am truly sorry.
So guess what we did today? We headed out to the Canyon Falls on the Sturgeon River. In the pouring rain.
Luckily, just as we arrived, the rain began to drizzle. We followed the trail along the river, ooohhing and ahhhhing about this and that. We liked some of the red mushrooms. One of them even looked like a Laughing Buddha, but it didn’t come out properly with the camera.
Our nephew and his roommate, Gabe, were attending orientation at Michigan Tech this morning, so they didn’t join us on our hike. We actually had a very exciting Treasure Hunt. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear the details. There’s just too much to discuss. I’ve actually gleaned three days worth of outdoor adventures from today’s explorations. (It is not cheating. I will still go outdoors every single day. But will spread the fun out over three days of outdoor adventures…)
We stopped at the gas station and grabbed a cup of coffee (some of us wanted the flavored creamer) before our hike. Just think! Our small town of L’Anse will have its very own coffee shop by this autumn. Truly. Some of us are very excited to see if they have real espresso and lattes and cappuccinos. We can only hope. It’s time our small town had a real coffee shop!
It’s interesting to walk in the rain. Especially when you’re getting wet, and there’s not enough rain jackets for everyone. However, it was lovely that it began to drizzle rather than pour during our walk.
Excuse me. Doug and Gabe were just getting ready to leave, so we needed to hug and program phone numbers in his cell phone. His mother just said, “See you at Thanksgiving!” and I got tears in my eyes, thinking about them not seeing one another until then. (In the midst of all this laughter and talking, the phone rang and our son Chris called saying goodbye before going on a hiking trip with his girlfriend near Los Angeles.) I am suddenly feeling very nostalgic and missing the kids very much…
Back to our hike:
We did have one small problem on the hike. Karen and I are moms. You know what that means. It means that we don’t want our loved ones to dangle too close to the edge. We’re adamant about this. Loved ones are often more adventuresome than moms. We cajoled, “Please, stay back from the edge!” The loved ones wanted to explore…
This has been a problem since I was a young mother. The kids and husband always wanted to push the envelope. In other words, they want to look over the edge. I would get weak in the knees and queasy. “GET AWAY FROM THE EDGE!!” I would insist, louder and louder.
Today really wasn’t too bad. No one got THAT NEAR the edge.
And that’s good, because last week someone fell off the edge. They didn’t have a mother telling them to stay back.
One should always have a mother in that role. Honest.
Another family member has become a Yooper. A resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
It’s my nephew, Doug. He’s attending orientation tomorrow at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. And, lucky us, he traveled up north with my brother, Scot, his wife, Karen, and sister Keely.
Tonight I am coming to you live from the Cyberia Coffee Shop in downtown Houghton after hours and hours and hours of outdoor adventures. I am soooo tired. But will attempt to type faithfully, upload photos and stammer out a narrative.
We ate a rather nice meal sitting out on the deck at the Downtowner Bar and Restaurant watching the sailboats and power boats and talking about Mount Ripley and winter skiing. Doug already seems to know more about the Keweenaw after one day than I do after thirty years. (Well, maybe not, but that kid sure knows a lot!) His roommate, Gabe, seems like a nice fellow and I’ve promised to call them when I’m up in Houghton. Maybe we’ll even come back to this coffee shop some morning in between class. Or perhaps we’ll meet for lunch. I am SO thrilled to have an extended family member this close.
After a leisurely dinner in which we sat next to other friends, we wandered downtown to watch…are you ready for this?…the band “Wolfgang” play for the Thursday night concert series. And guess who plays bass guitar in the band Wolfgang? You guessed it, I’m sure. My husband, Barry.
The streets in downtown Houghton have been torn up for most of the summer. They have been digging up the old street and replacing it with brick. You have to maneuver through a series of detours to make your way around the city. It’s been challenging. The concert series was probably intended to keep folks in the downtown area.
Wolfgang plays classic rock ‘n roll. It’s fun to listen to them. A lot of the time they play bar gigs or weddings, so I don’t have an opportunity to hear them that much. It was especially fun to sit on the curb between Scot and Karen, swaying to the music and sometimes singing along. Keely bought some fudge. It was a lovely warm summer evening; a novelty in the Copper Country this summer.
Yawn… Oh excuse me. It’s really past my writing time. I would drink some real high-potency coffee just to make the hour-long drive home, but that would truly interfere with sleep. So I am nursing a decaff iced coffee americano or something similar. I am still thirsty. But you probably don’t care to know those kind of details, so we’ll return to a photo of Scot and Keely:
We’re planning a hike to the Sturgeon River Waterfalls tomorrow, if it’s not raining cats and dogs. If it’s drizzling lightly, we’ll go. We may even do more sightseeing around Baraga County…trying to figure out where to take guests…and which places might make a good outdoor blog!
It is this kind of summer night which sustains us through the long cold winters. Memories of twilight wearing shorts and short sleeves, moving to the beat of good music, spending time outdoors with family and friends.
Ahhh, we are blessed…
The prairie dog pokes its head up above the ground, scanning the Keweenaw Peninsula for interesting tidbits. You can hardly discern his eyes or mouth, but his hair looks like Einstein. What a white robe he wears! What an interesting creature! Who would have thought this kind of creature exists around these parts?
Up floats the rare Huron Bay starfish from the watery depths. Look at the yellow shine on that starfish! Look at the face in the center! What a beach find. A find of the century. What do you think it means?
Yesterday this ancient fossil of the first swimming creature in Lake Superior appeared. Can you tell its resemblance to the mighty lake trout? Perhaps the leaping whitefish? The pouting burbot? The lurking sturgeon?
The day after the wedding. The chairs lined up in a row, empty. The radio sings “Eleanor Rigby”…picks up the rice at a church where the wedding has been…all the lonely people…where do they all come from? The chairs don’t answer.
Fleeting view of a rare albino mosquito! What a day! Watch out; you’ve heard the rumors. If a rare albino mosquito bites you…well, I don’t want to even write it down.
Local satellite searching for sounds of extra-terrestial activity in deep space. Shhh! I hear something, don’t you? Elvis songs beamed from space? “You’re nothin’ but a hound dog…cryin’ all the time…”
Wonder what I’ll find on tomorrow’s outdoor adventure??? You guys think I’ve been doing this too long?
Oh no! It’s after dinner, and I haven’t any outdoor blog idea…or any photos to share! What should I do?
Obviously, hop in the car and drive down to the Eagle Pond. One could walk, but there’s the problem of those waggy-tailed roaming dogs who live in between here and there. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want their tongue-panting sweet-lipped noisy jumpy company. I wanted….shhhh….quiet….sitting beside the pond until the Mind is as still as the reflection of trees on the water.
Well, the Mind never did get that quiet. However, the camera lens began to wander here and there, up and down, around and around, seeking some interesting views. It wanted to see some deer lapping water from the still pond, or perhaps an eagle diving low, or maybe even the reflection of a dragonfly against the blue depths. Never mind what it wanted.
Instead it saw:
The question is: what is that pink lifeboat the slugs are marooned upon? I carefully leaned forward to gently prod. Seemed like a pink mushroom. It rested very close to the water. The slugs seemed happy.
I brought a dry purple cushion to sit upon next to the pond, considering that it rained gustily much of the morning. Can you imagine how soaked you would be if you lowered yourself unwittingly upon that wet green moss? You’d be headed home in two seconds flat, and just think how wet your car seat would get.
Just before heading home, I discovered a new path in the woods. It was an animal trail, probably a deer trail. I imagined the deer coming down to drink in the early pink morning skies. Perhaps the beavers or otters splashing around. Chickadees singing overhead. Kind of makes you want to get up at 6 a.m. and sit cross-legged in the dawn, doesn’t it? Kind of? Almost?
I almost always forget about Monday afternoon.
Monday afternoon is the day my friend Janet turns into a radio personality and hosts her very own live radio program on 88.1 FM WYCE out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She’s got another on-line name and her listeners know her as “Lee”. (Guess I’m not the only one with more than one name…)
It’s an independent community radio station that streams on the Internet and plays the MOST interesting eclectic music mix. At least on Janet’s day (oops, I mean Lee’s day). She sends the music out to all of us on Monday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. You follow the link to WYCE and then press “Listen Online” and then (if you have a laptop) you can bring it outside near the garden and have a genuine outdoor experience while listening to your friend play cool music that wafts and pounds and surfs on the breeze.
One of the first songs she played today is fast becoming one of my favorites. Go to YouTube and listen to The Littlest Birds by the Be Good Tanyas. Don’t just listen once. Listen at least three times. Then you’ll be hooked and will find yourself cheerfully singing “The littlest birds sing the sweetest songs…” And they do. Just ask the garden beans. Or this spider.
My, the harvesting time sped by this afternoon with the music playing on the laptop. The carrots needed thinning, and now they’re producing some decent-size orange carrots. A half dozen cucumbers are ready to eat. The basil shimmers and smells great. And Barry’s first tomato is almost…I repeat almost…turning the slightest tinge of yellow-orange. He may get a tomato after all before frost!
Even with the marriage of beans and peas intertwined together in among what was supposed to be solely beans, we’re still getting lots of beans. We think they’re called Rattlesnake Beans. They sport purplish lines which disappear when steamed or sauteed. They taste delicious. Very tender, fresh, bursting with flavor.
It was an at-home cozy afternoon where the temperature feels like bathwater. Do you know that feeling? It’s like the temperature reaches that oh-so-perfect place. Just right. After a discussion with my son in San Diego today, we’ve agreed to disagree which temperature feels oh-so-perfect. He thinks 68 degrees. For me, 78 degrees feels sublime. Like bathwater. And that was this afternoon.
Wasps keep finding their way into the house, like unwanted house guests stopping by to linger and buzz. I’ve a reputation as a wasp-rescuer, and will help them escape back to the outdoors. This didn’t work out last summer when I kindly moved a wasp out of the way while cleaning green onions. The persistent wasp returned to the green onion and stem and…YIKES!…stung me badly as I attempted to clean the onion. It wasn’t pretty, especially as red lines later began to climb up my arm and eventually a doctor very worriedly prescribed antibiotics. Still, I continue to rescue wasps.
Even the jeans swayed in the breeze, dancing to Janet’s music. I love the way you can live in the middle of the woods and still connect with the world beyond the trees and the plants and Lake Superior. Don’t we have a great life? Don’t the littlest birds sing the sweetest songs?
Once a year we make our annual trek past Big Erick’s Bridge, down the Triple A two-track sand road, and out to the Yellow Dog Plains to pick wild blueberries. Today was the day.
The sun was shining and the temperature slowly warming into the 60’s. You have to drive really slowly down the logging road to reach the blueberry-picking land. I drove out there, and apparently drove too fast, according to the passenger. I was bouncing along at 25 miles per hour (over pit-run boulders, according to the passenger who is piping up in the background as I write). The passenger drove home at a leisurely 15-20 mph. We high-tailed it safely through a couple wash-outs which covered the road with murky rainwater. We probably met about fifteen other vehicles during the course of the adventure: a regular traffic bonanza!
Here’s what you have to do as you’re creeping along and another vehicle approaches: you slow to a near standstill, hugging the shoulder of the road. You have to watch to make sure you’re not about to drop off the side into mud, or run into boulders. The larger vehicle preferably gives way to the smaller vehicle. Since we were driving Grandma’s old 1995 Buick, we were kindly given the right-of-way quite often.
Congested area? Who put up that sign? This is one of the most remote areas in the state of Michigan!
One of our several stops this afternoon was at “Eagle Rock”. This jutting protrusion of rock which overlooks the Triple A road is a Native American sacred site; Keweenaw Bay tribal members hold ritual fasts here during the spring and fall. Kennecott Minerals proposes to build a copper and nickel mine in sulfide ore in the vicinity of Eagle Rock and this mine has been a controversial subject in the community for the last several years. When sulfide is exposed to oxygen or water, it becomes acid and many folks are afraid of irreversible contamination of the land and water back here on the Yellow Dog stretch between Big Bay and Skanee.
It was peaceful to sit on the rock and breathe the fresh air and feel the cool late-summer breeze. It was not-so-peaceful to imagine a time when this area might be filled with mining trucks and possible pollution and lots of people. On the other hand, our county hovers between 20-26% unemployment. My fervent desire is that people can find jobs, but in a manner that will not desecrate our natural environment. I added that prayer to Eagle Rock and we ventured down toward the blueberries.
OK, we didn’t pick five quarts of wild blueberries like our 93 year old neighbor and his son. Maybe if we didn’t have all those grape-sized cultivated blueberries (tiny grapes, anyway), we would have hunkered down for a long while between the pines. Barry and I each carried a sour cream-sized container and filled them up. After a short while, we smiled at a quart of wild blueberries. And looked at each other. Ready to go?
But first, look at this find. Do you know what it is? You are looking at the underside of a shining copper-colored insect shell. It lay hidden among the blueberry plants and I turned it over to discover this strange-looking “face” peering up out of the copper. You really can’t tell how copper-colored the shell looked: it shimmered in the sunlight. The upper part of the insect’s body was black and smooth. It felt like Magic.
So was it worth it to travel forty miles for one quart of wild blueberries, a sojourn on Eagle Rock and the sighting of a Magic Beetle?
OK, here’s the local scoop: when you’re born from this Upper Peninsula land, hatched from the soil, you’re considered a real “Yooper”. If you’re from someplace else, and happen to settle here, you’re somewhat suspect. And if you’re from downstate Michigan you’re likely to be called the dreaded “Berry Picker” or, worse yet, a “Troll”. (A Troll is someone from beneath the Mackinac Bridge.)
So we’re Berry Pickers. Even though we’ve been here these thirty long years. We’ve raised two young ‘uns who are bona-fide Yoopers, even though they’re living elsewhere out there in San Diego and New York City. THEY belong, even though they’re not here. We’re fringe Berry Pickers or Trolls or heaven knows what other names…
Then again, I’ve decided I like the name. Berry Pickers. It has the ring of down-to-the-earth around it. It has the ring of jams and jellies and berries on morning cereal. It has the ring of sitting in the midst of blueberry bushes, or strawberry plants, or raspberry fields fingering the luscious ripe berries. It has the smell of summer surrounding the title. It feels of hot beating sun, tangy ripe aromas, afternoons spent outside. We…I mean I, am definitely a berry picker.
Barry is a reluctant berry picker. His back tends to hurt him, hunched over in the fields. Sometimes he’ll accompany me. (And maybe tomorrow we’ll head out to the Yellow Dog Plains for some wild blueberries to sprinkle over our grains and into pancakes, you never know.) Most of these pictures were taken two or three days ago when I was invited to pick in a friend’s cultivated plot. Oh, treat! The berries look as large as grapes.
I decided to make some jam. Not just your regular jam. I am experimenting, trying to create a no-sugar recipe, based on local Mennonite jam which advertises it’s sweetened with white juice concentrate. So I bought some fruit pectin and some frozen white grape juice. Time to try to create some jam, without an official recipe, as I’m mostly boycotting recipes these days in exchange for creativity.
Here was the experiment. Take two cups of raspberries, then add two tablespoons of white grape juice concentrate. Stir and boil. Then add 2 t. of pectin or sugarless sure gel. Mix the pectin with some cold water before adding and stirring in the frothing boil. Scrunch your brow, attempting to determine if it’s jelling. Finally, remove from heat. Stare at it for awhile longer. Let it cool in two half-pint jars. Finally, cap and put in the frig. The next day, take it out and sample. HURRAY!! It jelled. However…it’s not very sweet. Next time, perhaps, I’ll add a little brown rice syrup or agave syrup or honey (you could add a tad bit of sugar if you’re not prejudiced).
Summer is waning now. Autumn nips at our heels. Someone suggested a possible photo for today’s blog (before the temperature soared to 62 degrees): us in our winter coats and hats. But, no. We won’t go there yet. The calendar still insists it’s August.
Here is a photo from last night, just as the sun descended beneath the horizon. Not that we ever see the sun set. When you live in the middle of the woods, it’s necessary to imagine it.
Isn’t the cloud lovely? It was a pink-tangerine evening…