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Floating on reflections

Floating on reflections

This post is really about an indoor adventure.  But since our indoor adventures sometimes mirror our outdoor adventures, they sometimes require announcement.

Here is my announcement:  starting tomorrow morning, November 1st, I will be writing my first 50,000 word novel.

Did anyone choke on his or her coffee at that announcement?

I hope not, for it is most assuredly going to happen.  We hope it’s going to happen.  We’re pretty sure it’s going to happen…

Life reflects itself on many surfaces

Life reflects itself on many surfaces

This novel-writing month is happening courtesy of NaNoWriMo.  (I dare you to say this really fast at least ten times!)  Here is what the folks at NaNo say about this process:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2008, we had over 119,000 participants. More than 21,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

Yellow leaf in mud puddle reflections

Yellow leaf in mud puddle reflections

Starting tomorrow morning I will now be maneuvering between TWO commitments, at least for the month of November.  Writing between 1,600-2,000 words a day on a novel AND going outdoors and writing a nightly blog.  Does this sound crazy?  Yes, it’s crazy.  Lets not forget two part-time jobs and a trip to San Diego mid-month to visit my son. 

Wet reflections in wind shield with leaf

Wet reflections in wind shield with leaf

You want to know what the novel is about?  Hmmmm…..  I don’t know.  I have a rough idea, a baby idea, a tiny plot.  But who knows what will come out of the typing fingers tomorrow morning?  You can start writing a love story and end up with a murder mystery.  A historical piece and end up with fantasy.  Fiction and end up with truth.  Or, probably more accurately, you start off writing fiction and end up with a reflection.

Reflections that leave you wondering "what...?"

Reflections that leave you wondering "what...?"

Just wanted to let you know that my attention might be a little preoccupied this month.  Knock  me on the side of the head if you ask a question and I don’t answer.  If I forget to read some of your blogs with as much diligence.  If I start writing outdoor adventures that sound a little…strange.  You guys keep me “real”.  Please.

Red reflection

Red reflection

Actually, I think we need our outdoor times even more when we’re deeply involved in indoor activities.  We need to breathe fresh air, to exercise, to walk slowly in the weather, to clear away the cobwebs words string in our minds.  Don’t you agree?

P.S.  I raked leaves today.  Not once, not twice, but three times!  Usually Barry is running his little lawn tractor around, chopping up leaves.  But this year our grass is too wet for efficient chopping.  Hopefully it will dry out before snow.

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The miracle of a buttercup on October 30th

The miracle of a buttercup on October 30th

“Tis the season when the leaves blow madly out of the trees.

The wind sings and the leaves fall.

The earth gleams lush with a yellow carpet of golden leaves, interspersed with bright red of maple, lavish green of birch, dusky- orange of oak.

The skeletons of trees remain, silhouetted against an autumn sky.

Grey skies and skeletons on the horizon

Grey skies and skeletons on the horizon

So you look up in the late October sky.  Watch out!  Duck!  There’s a leaf flying in your eye!  Swat it away and look up again.  Look at the skeletons of tree limbs on the horizon.  We are now at the time of year when the trees become bones.  No wonder we celebrate Halloween.  The world is filled with bones of trees everywhere…empty of colorful leaves…skeletons against the sky.

Self-heal in the ditch

Wild basil in the ditch

It is indeed a miracle to discover a flower blooming at this time of year.  Everything looks so sparse.  So empty.  And then, in the oddest places, blooms a flower!  How could this happen?  It is as if the Universe kindly and gently speaks to us, saying very quietly, “You will find my miracles even in the darkest days of your life.  There I will bloom.”

Sky and branches

Sky and branches

A Native American friend once said, “Even in the deep of winter you can dig beneath the snow and find green medicinal plants.”  Even when we think the world is stark and empty and void, plants grow beneath the surface, beneath the obvious, available for those with faith.

The gift of goldenrod

The gift of goldenrod

I always gasp a little, glimpsing the unexpected flowers.  To imagine that they exist even after the hard edges of frost browned most of the landscape.  These flower-children have been hiding in ditches and protected areas.  They offer the world new hope in these days of freezing.

Double-pronged in the sky

Double-pronged in the sky

The wind blows and the rain spits and it’s 62 degrees at mid-afternoon.  Barry and I sit on the deck before dinner, perhaps the last time this season.  I sweep leaves off the deck, unto the lawn below.  Later I rake up some of the leaves (although he will mow the majority of them with his lawn tractor).

The wind keeps blowing fiercely, sending dozens of leaves to their winter resting-place.  It’s almost impossible to photograph their final plummet.  You snap picture after picture, but only photograph dots in the sky.  The wind also shudders the leaves on the grounds, making their autumn whispering sounds as they blow around in circles in the driveway.

But wait!  One lone leaf drifts downward.  Can we capture it? 

Another miracle, indeed.

Leaf, cloud, blue sky

Leaf, cloud, blue sky

Make a wish.  Open your hand. If you catch the leaf, your wish will come true.

🙂

Deer or rabbit scat

Animal scat (Does a bear go in the woods?)

Pardon my French.

The time has come on this blog to discuss something which City Folks never talk about.  Are we ready?  If you’re not prepared to discuss…natural functions…please click over to another blog as quickly as you can.  (You can come back here tomorrow when we’ll talk about more civilized subjects.)

When you live in the town or city or suburbs, one flushes the toilet and wa-la!  The daily “eliminations” flush down the drain, never to be thought about again. 

When you live in the country or the woods, one can not completely forget one’s toilet.

“Why?” you ponder.

I shall tell you.

It’s the Secret of the Septic Tank.

Access to the Septic Tank

Access to the Septic Tank

Here comes an explanation for you city folks.  A septic tank is a huge underground tank into which descends one’s eliminations.  The natural products mix with water, breaking down.  The water filters out of the tank and the excrement (excuse me) settles. 

As the years pass by merrily, the septic tank continues to fill.  Every few years, one must telephone the septic guy and request pumping of the build-up.  Sometimes too many years pass, as one attempts to forget one’s daily…pardon me again…shit.

Perhaps ten years has passed without a second thought!  Suddenly one Remembers.  One can’t call the septic tank guy in the middle of winter. He has to shut down as soon as freezing weather arrives. If the tank plugged up in the winter  that would be an unimaginable horror.  Because one must then dig beneath several feet of snow and frozen earth, attempting to locate the elusive hole and bucket out 750 gallons by hand!  So one attempts to remember in autumn.  Except THIS autumn it’s been raining raining raining, making it almost impossible for the septic guy to back in toward the tank and begin his pumping chores.

One's husband and septic tank guy at dark with flashlight

One's husband and septic tank guy at dark with flashlight

The septic tank guy arrived at 7 p.m. last night.  It was already dark.  The husband placed planks to help the truck back up without getting stuck.  He shined lights and flashlights to help the operation.  The wife (me) stood around with a camera, flashing the septic tank guy with photographic illumination as he worked.  “It’s for my blog,” I explained smoothly.  “Any one ever take pictures of you cleaning the septic tank before?”  Surprisingly, he said Yes.  Although perhaps he looked at me a little oddly.

The septic tank truck which hauls away your human eliminations

The septic tank truck which hauls away your human eliminations

Surprisingly also, this was not a smelly job.  I thought it might be more polite to title this blog, “This is a smelly blog” but that simply would not be true.  It was a clean job, a fairly simple job.  Except, of course, if you ask my husband who had to dig down four or five feet to reach the elusive hole.  He probably thinks this was a pain in the…  well, anyway.  I didn’t have to dig.

That which takes it away

That which takes it away

The motor on the truck whirred as the juices were sucked upward.  Barry and the septic tank fellow chatted, catching up on everything that has happened in the last ten years since our previous pumping.  We all decided to remember to pump again sooner.  Maybe in four or five years.  We must write it on the calendar!  Someone has to remember these things.

I quickly grew bored with the pumping festivities and began to play with flash photography.  Hey, look at those branches!  Hey, look at that shadow of the moon! 

Hey look up in that spruce tree...

Hey look up in that spruce tree...

So there you have it.  A perfectly shitty blog.  I will try to be more polite for the rest of the year.  But couldn’t avoid telling you about this outdoor adventure.  Hope you all…enjoyed it…

Four red leaves

Four red leaves

There arrives a perfect autumn afternoon.  Warm, near 50 degrees.  Check.  Not raining.  Check.  Partly sunny.  Check.  No swine flu or sickness. Check.  Nothing much to do.  Check.  A friend wants to go hiking.  Check.

So you dig out your backpack and camera and an extra jacket, hats and mittens and head for Little Mountain.  (For all you new readers, Little Mountain is a Michigan mountain.  It doesn’t count as a “real” mountain.  It’s a rocky crag which juts up above L’Anse, a lovely little steep-ish hill with a panoramic view of Lake Superior and endless trees.)

Here's where we start

Here's where we started

Bertha and I sloshed in on a rather wet trail, narrowly avoiding getting our feet soaked.  We chatted away as if we hadn’t seen one another in months.  Which we hadn’t.  How can four or five or six months slip by just like that?  Especially since our last words were “Let’s get together again SOON!”

We used to work together, half a lifetime ago.  OK, it wasn’t that long ago.  It only seems like it sometimes.  We spent our youth (by that I mean our 20’s and 30’s) hanging out together quite regularly.  These days we try to meet for occasional walks where we try to condense months into a couple hours.

Bertha atop the mountain

Bertha atop the mountain

Here’s the best kind of friend in the whole world.  You ask her if you need to bring anything.  She says no.  She says she’ll bring some wine and we’ll have a toast to friendship and mountains and sunny autumn days.  And when she arrives, guess what she has?  Red pepper hummus.  Cut up vegetables.  And two of the healthiest yummiest cookies on the planet (with pumpkin seeds!)

Zee hummus!

Zee hummus!

So we sit and talk and the sun heats us just so wonderfully.  And then that sun dives beneath a cloud bank.  We both dig in our packs, looking for little gloves to keep our fingers warm.  We solve all the problems in the universe.  We sip our wine.  It’s a glorious afternoon.

I wander off to take photos of red leaves and lichen.  She scoots down the hill and sits quietly.

Lichen

Lichen

Bertha in silence

Bertha in silence

The sun moves across the sky, ducking in and out of clouds, playing its elusive game of hide and seek.  We munch the last vegetable and sip the last of our wine. 

What the other side of the mountain looks like

What the other side of the mountain looks like

We promise, “Let’s do this again SOON!” and head down the mountain.

Time to go home

Time to go home

I’ve been to the mountain three times this year (well, maybe four times, but I can’t remember when the fourth time might have been.) The first was last winter with my daughter Kiah.  We climbed up in the snow and admired icicles along the way.  That was the moment the idea for this outdoor commitment and blog incubated.  We had so much fun on a cold snowy day that I said, “Why don’t I go outside more at this time of year?  Maybe I should make a commitment…and write a blog…and…!!!”  That’s the way ideas get started, you know.

The second time was an adventure with Amy and Dan when they visited at the end of July.  Click here to read that blog.

Hopefully all you readers have an opportunity to picnic on top of a mountain soon!

Well, bring the computer outdoors, then!

Well, bring the computer outdoors, then!

It’s a pity when you can’t tear yourself away from the computer to go outside.  Such a pity.  You’re sitting in front of the computer staring glassy-eyed at Facebook or WordPress or Gaia or whatever computer program with which you’re currently hypnotized.  You can’t leave.  What if someone else comments?  What if you get a few hits?  What about all those things you need to be doing on the computer? 

You stare some more.  You think, “I really should go outside.”  Just to get the energy going you post your status on Facebook, “I really really need to tear myself away from this computer and go outside and enjoy the magnificent 52 degree afternoon. Please send energy  to do so–right away!’

Because a few of your Facebook friends are blog readers or simply care, they comment back.  Now, of course, you really can’t tear yourself away.  What if someone else comments?  You’re stuck.   You know you should go outside but you’re stuck like glue to the computer.

Long shadows at dawn when you rushed out in your pajamas w winter coat and boots

Long shadows at dawn when you rushed out in your pajamas w winter coat and boots

So you comment back.  And they comment back.  And then there is another email coming in.  And maybe you should check your blog again.  And then go over to another site and check and see what craziness is happening over there.  And maybe head over to check the news to make sure your kids are still safe in San Diego and Manhattan, and don’t forget your parents down in Florida and your in-laws in Georgia, and what about all those friends across the world to whom you’re connected via the Internet?
Dawn, October 27th

Dawn, October 27th

Earlier this morning I left the computer-world and scurried outside in winter coat, boots, hat and mittens to the shock of…wait!…a rather warm morning.  What had happened to freezing?  It felt almost luxurious.  And there was the Sun!  The amazing sun was showing off in the sky.  We haven’t seen the sun in so long we forgot it existed.  Immediately, I became giddy.  And remained giddy all day.  (Thanks to the sun and a couple cups of coffee.)

Possibly tamarack trees in the bright sunshine framed by blue sky

Tamarack trees in the bright sunshine framed by blue sky

So in between dawn and dusk I spent some time running errands in town.  Delivered this, banked that, banked some other stuff, grocery shopped, visited two friends (Hi there you guys if you’re reading!), and then sat down with my laptop at the coffee shop to drink java and wait for my visit with an 88-year-old friend.  So you can ascertain this was a computer-filled day, can’t you?

Oh, oh.  Looks like there are some outdoor chores to do.

Oh, oh. Looks like there are some outdoor chores to do.

So finally this afternoon, nearing the witching hour of  6 p.m., realizing that the outdoor adventure had not yet happened,  with the help of Facebook cheerleaders, I tore myself from the friggin’ computer and headed outside prepared to look for interesting Things in the woods.

Except.  Suddenly my husband’s words resounded in the memory, “Hey, Kathy, if you go outside could you rake some leaves?”

Oh.  Yeah.  Right.  Raking to do.  Sigh…  Go find the rake, and get to work.

Leaf-raking job

Leaf-raking job

So I raked.  And thought about Facebook comments, WordPress comments, Gaia comments, emails, group notifications, weather forecasts and other Internet communications.  Was I fully in the outdoors today?  

…probably not… 

Except for a magical moment with the sun sank into the forest and the light gleamed at just that beautiful angle.  Suddenly I was right there.  Not in computer land.  In outdoor land.  Completely present for this sacred moment of the day.

And then it's dusk

And then it's dusk

But then I decided to bring Miss Ellie (the laptop) outside on the porch with a cup of  tea.  Just to see who might have commented or emailed.  You know how it is when you’re attached to this computer world, perhaps a little too much.

Don’t you? Or am I the only one?

Scary leaf ghost

Scary leaf ghost

Yep.  Nature is getting ready for Halloween.  You can see the little leaf-creatures and rock-creatures and bark-creatures putting on their costumes and dressing up.  Everywhere you look a face peers up from the earth or down from a tree or in stones at the beach.

You must try to look appropriately scared when a face appears unexpectedly in the woods.  Try not to say “Boo!” Just wish the little creatures “Happy Halloween” and continue on your walk.

Grandfather Bark

Grandfather Bark

Once you start looking for faces in nature, you see them everywhere.  (I especially love to collect shell faces on the beach when visiting my mom and dad’s condo down in Fort Myers Beach.)  You simply have to keep your eyes open.  The trees love to put on masks.  Oh, and yes, I must confess.   I did tweak Grandfather Bark’s left eyebrow just a bit and place Ghost Leaf on a black plastic background.  But that was the only tweakage of these faces!  Honest, cross my heart.

Just look at that Halloween costume!

Just look at that Halloween costume!

Sometimes you can see faces peering out of rocks.  Rocks with actual holes are very exciting, but sometimes hard to find.  Look closely at the following photo.  Do you see a sideways bird eye?

Eye in the rock?

Eye in the rock?

Then we have the more contemplative costumes.  This leaf is a little shy.  Doesn’t want to dress up too crazy or wild.

Whimsical fellow

Whimsical fellow

No Halloween in the woods would be complete without footsteps.  We experienced a moment of, well, nervousness, yesterday in the deep forest when we saw dozens and dozens of these:

Wolf footprint in the woods?

Wolf footprint in the woods?

There we walked, along a trail far from civilization, surrounded by wolf foot prints.  Rather fresh wolf prints.  We didn’t act nervous.  We only made one comment concerning wolf packs.  We took a deep breath and continued on, perhaps listening a bit more acutely for the sound of animals. We didn’t jump too high when we heard snow falling from the branches.

Until suddenly we spotted a footprint next to the wolf print.  Trick or treat!!  Silly us.  It was probably a dog print, melted in the snow to look bigger than it actually was. 

Probably.   Near Halloween you never know.

Footprint filled with leaves

Footprint filled with leaves

On Halloween night will we hear the owls hooting and screeching, the coyotes yipping down by the bay, and the leaves rustling in the wind?  Will the mice come trick or treating?  Will someone come and steal an hour of daylight from us?  (Or will they return an hour that they stole last spring?  Hard to keep track!) 

Jus remember this when you put on your costume this year:  nature is already dressed up and peering at you all around.  Don’t Be Frightened!!

 

I know some of you must have been worried.  You perhaps had a sudden premonition that something must be wrong with Kathy over at Opening the Door, Walking Outside.  Perhaps you fretted.  Frowned.  Momentarily thought about me.

Thank you.  It’s all OK now.  We’re back home, safe and sound.  We’ve taken off our sopping wet clothes and we’re celebrating a dry house, safety, knowing where we are!  After a very very hot bath, I’m sipping jasmine tea and attempting to decompress from this afternoon’s outdoor adventure.

Ready for a story?

The mud puddle we couldn't cross

The mud puddle we couldn't cross

It may be a long story with a slew of photos.  Here was our mission, should we choose to accept it.  Our friend Cathy drew a detailed back-country map with directions to reach the Rock Cut.  The Rock Cut is way back in the bush, down crazy logging roads.  You can’t reach it unless you have directions with mileages written on it.  You turn here, you turn there, you say a little prayer, you turn the wrong way, you consult your map, you plan on spending the night in the car, you ask your husband if you can build a debris hut of leaves INSIDE the car if you’re stranded.  He says, no, we’ll be walking if the car dies.  You sigh and say another prayer.

So we have the infamous map.  Thank goodness.  First, we head off the wrong way.  Bouncing along rough graded roads with Grandma’s 1995 Buick.  You see, we couldn’t take the 1949 four-wheel drive Studebaker.  It has no odometer.  We needed the odometer more than the four-wheel drive.  Or so we thought.

The Map.  The Precious Map.

The Map. The Precious Map.

We headed off down the wrong road, turned back, followed the map even more closely.  Up into the higher elevations we climbed.  The rain gave way to snow.  Yep, it was snowing up there in the high country.  Pretty soon there was snow on the ground.  Pretty soon the road began to look slightly challenging.  We hit a couple somethings (maybe rocks, maybe holes, maybe minor wash-outs).  The car moaned.  We moaned.  We only hoped we could discover the elusive Rock Cut SOON.

So we finally reached the Big Impassible Mud Puddle.  See first photo.  We might have made it, but we didn’t want to get stuck.  Our map suggested it was only a mile to the Rock Cut.  We set off through the rain and snow and mud on foot like troopers.  We had traveled all this way; we would not retreat.  We would forge ahead.

Checking the car to make sure we didn't have troubles

Checking the car to make sure we didn't have troubles

Except.  We couldn’t find the Rock Cut.  We looked and looked, climbing up roads and down roads.  You can imagine how we felt.  While we are looking for the Rock Cut in this blog, let’s take time out for a History Moment.  To explain what the Rock Cut might be.  And why we wanted to see it.

picture_huronbay_1890s_rockcut2

Here is the brief history.  In the 1890’s several Detroit business fellows joined together with plans to create a 42-mile wilderness railroad from Champion to Huron Bay.  They aimed to haul iron ore to the bay, from whence it would be shipped across Lake Superior to the Sault.  The terrain, however, proved most forbidding.  It was preferable, at that time, to construct grades at no more than 3-4%.  The engineers of this project utilized grades up to 8%.  (For you non-engineers, that means very steep grades.)

This little project became known as the Million Dollar Railroad.  They built the railroad (with up to 1,500 workers at one point) and then constructed a huge wood ore dock down on the Huron Bay.  And guess what happened? 

The project failed.  Here’s where two stories come into play.  I don’t know which one is true.  The local legend says that the locomotive made it downhill to the bay, returned and could not climb up the steep  8% grade near the Rock Cut.  Other sources say that the trains never even ran at all.  It was a failed venture. The company spent $2 million in four years and went bankrupt.

The Rock Cut is a place where they dynamited an almost-impenetrable wall of rock and workers carried away the debris in wheelbarrows.  For all you history buffs, check out more information here or here.  (The first site is rich in information; the second site has great old photos.  Look under Photo History Pages, Huron Bay.)

One of the last remaining railroad tracks

One of the last remaining railroad tracks

Just when we were about to return home (and I already had the title of the blog:  Our failed trip to the Million Dollar Railroad) Barry decided to hike up a hill.  And hurray!  He discovered the elusive Rock Cut.

The Rock Cut!  Site of the Millon Dollar Railroad.  Finally!

The Rock Cut! Site of the Millon Dollar Railroad. Finally!

Later we discovered the sign on a tree.  The Boy Scouts put this sign up many years ago, to help challenged souls like ourselves find the way to the old cut.

What do you know?  There IS a sign.

What do you know? There IS a sign.

And, finally, Barry snapped a photo of me.  Maybe to prove we were there.  We have to let our map-friend Cathy know that, despite our crazy detours and challenges, her map actually was correct.  And we have returned safe and sound.  We didn’t have to spend the night in the woods.  The car still runs. 

Even though the Million Dollar Railroad didn’t make it, we did!  🙂

Yep, me and the Rock Cut.  Jeans, socks & boots are soaked.

Yep, me and the Rock Cut. Jeans, socks & boots are soaked.

Bear Lodge

Bear Lodge

If this was a blog without a commitment, I would not write today.  I would leave the sweat lodge blog from yesterday up for two, three or maybe four days.  To give more people the chance to read it.  Because it doesn’t feel like it was an “ordinary” blog.  It doesn’t feel like it was one of those everyday blogs.  It feels like the rocks and fire dictated it.  I would prefer to honor the spirit of  the mystery of the sweat lodge ceremony and leave it up at the front for days and days.

But this daily blog commitment supersedes such a desire.  So a blog shall appear.  But if anyone hasn’t read yesterday’s blog about the Sweat Lodge, please click here

Red leaves atop spruce branch

Red leaves atop balsam branch

Most of these photos come to you courtesy of yesterday’s walk along the beach and in the woods in the pouring rain.  Today’s outdoor adventure was this:  helping Barry measure from here to there in his new garage addition.  Holding on to the “dumb” end of the tape measure.  Listening to pronouncements like “102 and 3/4”.  And then more pronouncements:  “Oh no!  This one is 102 and 5/8!”  (Kathy frowns in agreement; yes, this is bad news.  No, this is good news.  And where should we put the tape measure now?  And “Do you still need me?”)

Yellow

Yellow

And that’s it.  I still don’t want to be writing a blog tonight.  But a promise is a promise.  Fifty seven days to go.  I will leave you with a fish head.  Please turn away now if you don’t like to view dead animals!  This one has a very wise eye.  A hollow wise eye.  It was washed up between the rocks and perhaps died recently.

Fish head

Fish head

Goodnight all.  Blessings to you all when you do want to do things, and when you don’t.  Good luck discerning the best choice!

Fire

Fire

Today rain wept from the leaden sky.  Rain pounded sideways, drenching.  The great Lake Superior roared.  Waves splashed with fury against the rocks along the Keweenaw Bay.  A walker needed to step oh-so-carefully on slippery rocks.  Place feet consciously, pause, take step, place foot again.  It was a treacherous rain-sodden walk.

Sweat lodge memories have been nudging the back of my mind recently, memories kindled a couple of decades ago.  When I was invited to attend sweat lodges with local Anishinabe people here in the Upper Peninsula.  It’s a long story which involved a lot of strange dreaming in my life.  At one point I dreamed a voice said, “I want you to learn about the Native American people.”  The story took a lot of twists and turns but eventually I was invited to attend sweat lodges and ceremonies.  This lasted about seven years back in the ’80’s and ’90’s.

Rock and waves

Rock and waves

The first time I entered the lodge and sat in the darkened womb of Mother Earth, I almost wept.  It was a feeling of remembrance, of returning, of being completely safe, of being held in the embrace of an ancient culture and spirit.  Something deep in my soul remembered this sacred ceremony.  It was a ceremony of prayer, of steam, of connection with the Infinite.  It helped me to remember who I was in a deeper sense than just a little white girl who only understood white culture.  It was as if the spirit of my great-great grandmother from a native tribe in New York whispered in my ear, “Wake up, Kathy, and learn to be truly alive.”

Sweat lodge rock

Any one else see the spirit-woman on this sweat lodge rock?

In the following years I probably attended two or three dozen lodges (a handful of these were conducted by respectful non-natives).  Hot lodges, cool lodges, challenging lodges, easy lodges.  They were all deep ceremonies of prayer and healing.  We witnessed prayers come true, healings happen, mystical occurences, quiet prayers, deep connections.  I cannot share what happens in lodges, because I promised to keep that sacred, but each experience offered a spiritual gift to the participants.  Some of the gifts involved learning how to grow up, learning how to let go of ego’s relentless attachments (um, still working on that!) and learning how to surrender.  It was like the church of my childhood in many ways, although in other ways in was very different.

Cedar over water

Cedar over water

Three people died in a sweat lodge in Arizona recently.  My heart breaks thinking about this.  Immediately I imagined that lodge, imagined the heat, imagined the suffering.  So many of us want to know more…how could this happen?  You feel perhaps the terror and disorientation of the weakened fasting participants and your heart clenches in sorrow.  I, too, have fasted before a sweat lodge. This feels very close to the marrow.

And yet, another feeling also comes in. Some people hear of this horrific incident and condemn all sweat lodges.  Thinking perhaps they shouldn’t exist; not understanding.  Not understanding the sacred nature of this, a ceremony which has existed for hundreds or thousands of years.  Perhaps thinking of limiting or restricting the ceremony.  And that also makes me sad.

Stone for fire

Stone for fire

I think of how all religious and spiritual ceremonies and groups and churches can be fraught with challenges, how good-meaning folks can screw up, how some folk aren’t perhaps so well-meaning.  How we need to be alert and aware with both our mind and our heart.  How we must be careful.  How we must listen to our deepest heart.  There are no easy answers. 

Another reflection in another mud puddle

Another reflection in another mud puddle

Today I stood in the pouring rain, stared out over a churning lake, and thought about fire, rock, lodge and medicine.  Said a prayer for the people who died.  Said another prayer for the sacred sweat lodge.  Asked permission of the ancestors to write this blog.  The rocks said, “yes.”

Wriggling earth worm

Wriggling earth worm

C’mon now, ‘fess up.  What did the earth say to YOU today?  What stories did she whisper in your ear?  What tales did she share? 

Were they romance stories?  Drama?  Historical fiction?  Murder-mystery?

When you took your walk down country roads, down busy city streets, in suburbs, on trails, through impenetrable bush…did you pause to notice the stories all around you?

Did you see leaves of many colors, each one with a wordless teaching?

Initimacy with rain-soaked black leaf

Intimacy with rain-soaked black leaf

Did you leave the thought-world in your head for a few moments to stay present with the calling crow, the rustling trees in the wind, the crackling-dried autumn flower arrangements along the road?

Did the earth tell you it loved you?  Did you reciprocate? Did your patch of earth look healthy, strong, resonant?  Was it weak, littered with garbage, belching with factory smoke?  Perhaps a combination?  Did you think how you might share her stories, or help her in some way?  Could you even see her as a sacred essence, or was she relegated to a “thing” or “object” in your mind, not worthy of personal stories?

Smell those apples.  Breathe deep!

Smell those apples. Breathe deep!

What gifts did the earth give you today?  Any apples?  Squash?  Carrots?  Any wool, cotton, wood, herbs?  Did she give you fresh air and a home, heat or air conditioning?  Did she shower you with gifts from across the world like coffee, bananas, grain?  And did you pause in gratitude, your heart suddenly realizing the immensity of this gift?  Did tears rise in your eyes?

The blackest of cones (or some cone-like object on a low bush)

The blackest of cones (or some cone-like object on a low bush)

And the mysteries!  You can’t take a walk, can you, without finding something of interest?  Even while visiting  the depths of Manhattan last spring I noticed how Mother Nature flouted her treasures, her tresses, her beauty.  Something unusual or unique presented itself around every corner, in odd nooks and crannies.  I love that we’re surprised every single day.  And that her story never makes us yawn.  Not if we keep our eyes open and aware. 

Looking down into the curling cylinder of birch bark

Looking down into the curling cylinder of birch bark

So what did Mama Nature share with you today?  Did you spend some time in her sunlight, her rain, her heat, her snow, her wind?  Did you shiver or bake?  Did you keep your eyes wide and interested?  Did you talk to her in your mind (or maybe even out loud!)?  Did you lay on the grass?  Swim in a lake or ocean?  Climb a tree?  Walk down a road?  Catch a falling leave?  Bicycle?  Just think of all the different things we did outside today!

And, if we didn’t or couldn’t go outside, just think!  There’s tomorrow.  We can go exploring tomorrow.  Just don’t forget.  Don’t let tomorrow get away from you, too.  Even a space of fifteen minutes breathing the crisp autumn air can revive you down to your tippy toes and take away tension and stress in your back, your arms, your heart, your head.  Do try it!

Follow the trail which presents itself.

Follow the trail which presents itself.

P.S.  I am SO filled with joy tonight!  Our friend Reggie from Grains of Sand blog made the front page of WordPress.com today!  My greatest wish is that some of my dear friend-bloggers here find their blogs highlighted.  There are so many wonderful blogs written here, and it’s such a great feeling of excitement to be featured.  Hurray, Reggie!  We’re cheering you on from the sidelines and happy to hear that your home in South Africa is being featured.  (And I know the earth is silently singing, Thank you Reggie for all the blogs you write about us.  Thank you for caring!)

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