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Mr. or Mrs. Bear scored a hit the other night. We think it’s the same rather large bear that Barry saw a couple weeks ago at 3:50 a.m. He (or she) swiped the bird feeder. We awoke yesterday morning to this sideways view.
Someone suggested it might be a raccoon. But Barry thinks a raccoon wouldn’t have enough heft to bend the pole at such an angle. I think he’s right! Definitely, it was a bear. (We’ve seen similar behavior over the years in regards to the bird feeder and compost bin…and once we actually saw a huge black bear pawing in the compost.)
Today’s outdoor activity involved splitting more wood. However, I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just say we finished the un-split pile behind the house (six sessions thus far) and now we’re ready to move to the huge pile in the driveway. Sigh. Seems like most of my outdoor adventures in June will involve some sort of wood splitting.
Since we won’t be talking any more about wood splitting today, can I just show you some leftover photos from the “end May” folder on this computer? Photos not yet posted, but perhaps interesting to some folks.
The above photo depicts our friends Bertha and Bob’s horses. They were casually munching grasses and weeds in the field yesterday while we lingered at their house enjoying a great potluck dinner. One of the horse’s names is Dawn. I believe that’s the white one. I may have even ridden her years ago. The other horse may be named Ben. I am ready to stand corrected on that name. They are good friendly horses. It would have been lovely if they wandered closer, for a better photo opportunity.
The woods green up daily. When you look beyond our deck, the forest is starting to take on its impenetrable green hue. Look at the growth on the spruce! Who knows, they may even double this size before the growing season ends.
Finally, a garden plant. From our perennial garden, facing the north in front of our house. It is the primrose plant. Sweet with the morning dew, it beams its red beauty into the world. Hoping you’re enjoying all the lovely blooming flowers this season…and hoping bears aren’t knocking down YOUR bird feeders!
Today’s outdoor adventure: Climb a mountain. Yes, I know we live in Michigan. No, we don’t have the Rocky or Smoky Mountains nearby. But we do have…the Huron Mountains! And today was the perfect day to gather with seventeen friends and scale the rocks for a panoramic view of our beautiful landscape of Lake Superior and the forests of Baraga and Marquette counties.
The mountain of choice for this last weekend in May: Bald Mountain. The real Bald Mountain. Locals have been climbing a smaller nearby hill for years and calling it Bald Mountain. Who knows how the two peaks got confused. But they did. Whenever someone says, “We’re climbing Baldy” it usually means the closer shorter hill nearest to one of the logging roads after Big Erick’s Bridge.
You simply can’t give directions to anyone about how to get there. You can direct someone to Big Erick’s Bridge, but beyond that you need a local guide. You follow two-tracks and then turn off onto grassy side roads and wander up among rocks until you reach the top. Then you stare breathless and amazed and congratulate yourself on living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. That’s what happens.
About five vehicles caravaned out to the base of the mountain after meeting at our friends’ house. After several of us tucked pants in socks and sprayed with lethal tick spray, we ventured upwards. First, we passed a tranquil mountain beaver pond. Beautiful, don’t you think?
Then we admired the columbines growing trail-side. The stones jutting up along our path, over which we walked carefully, attempting not to trip. (OK, we tripped!) The hardy blueberry plants with their bell-like white flowers. The bright blue sky overhead. What a wonderful afternoon to be out in nature, perhaps panting a bit as we aimed our steps higher toward the summit.
The highest point in Michigan, Mount Arvon, measures between 1,979 and 1,981 feet(depending on which on-line source you believe) and the mountains in the nearby Huron range have a few feet less altitude, but grander views. Nonetheless, these hills are mountains in Michigan! They are the oldest rock (granite) outcroppings in North America. Small ones, perhaps, but still towering crags over our rather flat state.
Years ago, four of us camped up in a nearby mountain with our six month baby boy and three dogs. (One of the dogs was ours.) My husband carried our baby in a front pack and we kept him safe zippered in our little tent. What I remember most about the hike was that he lost his pacifier during this little adventure and discovered his thumb. And didn’t lose the taste for that thumb for a couple years after that. The adventures young folks have in their twenties…
Little rock cairns dot the mountain. You can utilize them in your climb, keeping you moving in the right direction. One of our friends even placed another rock atop this cairn before we left. Just to prove we were there, I guess.
For the triumphant hikers there were treats: cherries, green grapes, walnuts and almonds, trail mix, sausage and cheese. Assorted beverages. We munched, sipped and admired the view. The wind blew a little chillier on top of the mountain than in the valley, but no one seemed to mind.
All too soon it was time to descend. A potluck awaited us at our friends’ house. It was one of those afternoons when you lament, “Why don’t we do this more often?” I am feeling grateful for the opportunity to climb a mountain today…
Before we get started with the saints, guess how many days I’ve spent time outdoors for this commitment? Yes, for those of you steadfastly counting, it’s been 160 days! Does that qualify for sainthood? (NO, just kidding!)
Last night Barry and I pulled our Buick into the Bishop Baraga Shrine parking lot. The Bishop, who hasn’t really yet been declared an “official” saint, but whose 62 presumed miracles in his lifetime have qualified him for consideration, is memorialized in a sixty foot high shrine overlooking the Keweenaw Bay. A thirty-five foot high hand-wrought brass statue of the “Snowshoe Priest” complete with cross and snowshoes towers above the traffic down on US 41, along the red rocks.
We’re not Catholic, and I haven’t pulled in that parking lot in maybe twenty or twenty five years. But last night, with the sun shining so beautifully behind Bishop Baraga, a photo opportunity presented itself. I was surprised to see the aura around his statue when uploading the pictures. Maybe he really is a saint!
Whether or whether not he might be a saint, I do admire the man for some things. He had a big heart. He cared deeply for many of the native folks. He walked hundreds and hundreds of miles on snowshoes! That alone qualifies him for sainthood, in my non-Catholic opinion.
Today, still thinking about the Bishop, I decided to wander down to a small Catholic church near Zeba, on the Keweenaw Bay. The church honors another “almost Saint” named Kateri Tekakwitha. Her serene peaceful countenance shines out from above the door of the church, which is no longer used as a worship site.
Kateri has always fascinated me. Many devoted followers, from all faiths, religions, and spiritual beliefs, have intrigued me. She was born in 1656 in New York, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior. At age four, her mother died of smallpox. She was disfigured on her face by the disease, which leads to the question: where are the smallpox scars on her picture? Let’s look closer.
Nope, no scars. Perhaps that’s one of the miracles. I have always felt a fondness for Kateri because, on my grandma’s grandma’s grandma’s side of the family (maternal side) we’re related to natives from New York. Perhaps the Finger Lake area. That would probably be an Algonquin tribe, but there’s no accurate records. My grandmother’s mother died of the influenza of 1918. Perhaps she descended from the Mohawks. Perhaps we’re related to this saint. Stranger things have happened, right?
If the Pope won’t decide that Bishop Baraga and Kateri Tekakwitha are saints…could we nominate them for Outdoor Sainthood? Bishop Baraga is my outdoor snowshoe hero (I would probably have more snowshoe heros if there were names attached) and Kateri used to rise every morning before 4 a.m. and wait in the bitter cold for the church doors to open. She died at age twenty four. She was the first native to be declared a “Blessed”, whatever that might mean, and is a patroness of the environment and ecology, along with St. Francis of Assisi.
Since I know absolutely nothing about sainthood, I would like to suggest that perhaps our two local almost-saints simply had really big hearts. Big hearts full of prayer and joy and sharing and beauty.
Make a wish! Did you ever play that game as a child where you blew from the bottom of your lungs at that dandelion puffball, hoping, hoping, you would blow away every last puffy seed? If you blew away every single seed (not a single one remaining, thank you!) then your wish would come true.
Of course, 99.9% of the time you couldn’t blow hard enough in one long breath to remove every last seed. So you lingered afterward, either looking for another one to try, or figuring out how to do it better next time.
Is that plant wishing it could grow beyond the confines of that brown glass bottle half-buried in the woods? Or is it content to simply be there in the forest, only knowing the sun dimly through the reflection in the glass above its head?
Is the raven missing his feather? Does he even notice it’s gone, dropped on the needles beneath the white pine where he lingered earlier this spring? Does he wish it back? Or is he soaring on the currents of the wind above the Huron Bay, his talons outstretched, prepared to land on that branch, his black feathers hot in the May sun?
Is the birch bark tendril wishing to return to the comfort of the tree bark wrapped in white round and round and round that birch tree? Or is it content to ornament a spruce branch? Is it wishing it still papered itself like skin around its mother or does it thrill to be free?
Does the wave dream of the moments when it swelled and rocked deep in the middle of the bay, long before it separated itself into the word “wave”? Does it wish to gently feel again the bellies of sleek whitefish, silvery trout, flitting herring? Or is it content to wash against the shore, now feeling the grains of sand and rocks, now turning over on itself?
Or is it only humans who wish and dream and pray for things to be different than they are? Is it a gift or curse that we sometimes long for change, for healing, for difference, for new creations? I suppose it is both. In our wishing, let’s not ignore the beauty that surrounds us in this moment, a whole perfect beauty that shines forth in the reflection of our ponds every single day.
Life can change so quickly. One minute you might be driving along backroads admiring the white and pink blossoming trees. The next minute disaster might strike and the world changes forever.
Last Wednesday, May 20th, the trees and plants and wildflowers and animals and landscape near Pinery Lake and the Indian Cemetery (perhaps about ten miles from our house) caught fire in the sultry 93 degree afternoon with 20-30 mile per hour winds blowing hot and fierce from the southwest. Low humidity reigned. Every fire danger warning blasted “high alert” and “red flag warning”.
My daughter and I, lounging in her apartment in New York City, heard about the “Pinery Lake Fire, 2009” within minutes of my husband, who lounged at home. (Well, he may have been planting the garden or accomplishing something more productive than lounging.) We heard it echoed across the virtual Facebook world. He received a phone call from locals.
A fire in nearby Ishpeming, which eventually burned 33 structures, commandeered much of the local fire-fighting force, so when the Pinery Lake fire started, our area was short-crewed. It was so smoky when called in that the first fire-fighters couldn’t find the origin. The spotting plane, which ordinarily would have nailed it, was hard at work in Ishpeming. My husband said it took one to two hours for the fire fighters to zero in on the flames.
The fire burned 685 acres before it was contained two days later. The only structure the hungry fire devoured was a trailer/deer camp. It roared through our Pinery Lake Ski Trail and burned hot across the Indian Cemetery, destroying several spirit-houses which cover the graves of ancestors from our local Ojibway (Anishnabe) tribe.
Today I wandered into the edges of the burn, very cautiously. There are warnings that unburned crowns of trees may collapse in the wind, and smoke still smolders in hot spots. I wouldn’t recommend casual strolling in a fire-burned landscape.
For one thing, the washing machine now churns in the basement attempting to remove the smell of the charcoal-ash aroma which permeates everything from the tennis shoes to the sweatshirt. I had to submerge in the bathtub and scrub my hair. For another thing, it’s dangerous. (Yes, well, I only wandered a short way into the burn.)
It’s eerie in the burned woods. An echo or hollowness seems to exist, as if the sudden vacuum of emptiness doesn’t know what to do with itself. Birds sing all around, probably from the areas where leaves still gleam green and wave in the breeze. One wonders how the birds can still sing so sweetly in the midst of so much destruction. Carcasses of tree stumps rise everywhere. There’s a hush. There’s sadness.
I wandered in a little too far, perhaps, and suddenly witnessed smoke rising in the distance from a hot-spot on the ground. Time to high-tail it out of there. But before leaving, I noticed something green and fuzzy emerging from the ashy soil: New life.
Remember the little man-like bud perched on his branch in late April? Today we’re going to be honoring his growth. Perhaps having a coming-of-age celebration for him. We’re even going to be boldly announcing both his nickname and Latin baptismal name.
But first, a second picture of his flowering a few weeks ago. Doesn’t it feel like we’re sitting together slowly turning the pages of his family photo album? Let’s see how Junior has grown!
Yes, there he was in early May in purple seed-like glory. (Why are we calling him a male? He may be a she. Maybe, as a plant, he’s both. Perhaps a botanist could enlighten us. But for the time present, let’s stick with the male metaphor. Get it? Stick? Pun intended!)
You can smell the most heavenly scent beneath the blossoms. Oh wondrous! One can feel downright giddy on the scent of wildflowers wafting their perfume through the woods. One wants to capture the fragrance in a bottle and spray it on during nights when the full moon shines over the Huron Bay. That’s how beautiful the fragrance is.
OK, are we ready for the scientific name? Pen handy? Write this down and memorize: Sambucus cadandensis. That’s Latin for you. In modern-day English we call this the American Elder. Or Elderberry. Or Common Elder. The Audubon’s Field Guide to North American trees describes it in less romantic terms. Sturdier terms. It says: Large shrub or small tree with irregular crown of few, stout, spreading branches, clusters of white flowers, and many small black or purple berries. It goes on to describe height, diameter, leaves, bark, twigs, fruit, habitat and range.
I am sorry we don’t have a berry photo to share. Last August I wasn’t thinking of the tree as part of a year-round photo album. Instead, let’s zoom out so we can view a family of elderberry flowers enjoying a Tuesday gray afternoon in the north woods of Michigan.
Like all of us, elderberry trees do grow old and pass on. I wasn’t sure how to say that delicately. But, our luck, the several elderberry trees on our property have blossomed in their glory before toppling over into the soil to become memories for those of us who loved their fragrance, their berries, their blossoms. I am hoping this one won’t die, but as the area succumbs to drought more regularly, the swamp-loving roots dry up and…well, you can witness what happens:
The book says: This common, widespread shrub spouts from roots. Elderberries are used for making jelly, preserves, pie and wine. Birds and mammals of many species also feed on the berries. The bark, leaves and flowers have served as home remedies.
Yep. I know that’s true, especially the part about birds eating the berries. We’ve had a race for the elderberries every year and the birds always win! They’re flitting around the berries half-drunk in the sun before I remember that they’re ripe and sweet and ready to make into some jam. Jam sounds good, doesn’t it?
Finally, are you ready for the tree, the whole tree and nothing but the tree? Here it is! American Elder or Elderberry in her spring glory!
Philandering robin-husbands, that is.
We are ready to pull out our hair. Remember that robin who kept pecking at the basement window at the end of April? Well, he’s still at it. At least once or twice a day, he tries to two-time his wife.
He attempts to mate with the basement window over and over and over again. (This is not the faithful robin partners who hatched the babies from yesterday’s post. They are a good married couple. No, we’re talking about the Basement Robin.)
For awhile, thanks to my mother-in-law, I pushed a couch up against the window. He stopped for a few weeks and fell in love with a “real” robin and began to build her a nest. But the minute I returned the couch to its original position in the basement, he started again. I re-blocked the sliding glass door with the couch for another week. He stopped. Finally, I moved it away, and, sure enough…the robin daily re-appears for his daily philandering.
We just grimace these days when the robin begins his daily hammering. We don’t speak too highly of his behavior. Frankly, he irritates us. I know you could turn this around. Instead of looking at him as “unfaithful” we could instead look at him as faithful to his first love. His reflection. But we just want him to get on with his life.
Not only that, he’s made a huge mess of our downstairs doorway, the wall, the downstairs window. Someone is going to have to clean up this mess, eventually. And that someone is probably going to be…me.
I just don’t want to clean it too soon. Need to wait until he’s done with his wanton behavior.
This afternoon we realized the result of his philandering unfaithful behavior. THE NEST. His BABIES. Oh my goodness. The nest measures only about two inches high. Because he’s been so delinquent, the nest was not properly constructed. The poor babies are practically falling out of their decrepit home. It’s quite sad.
They kept singing and chattering beneath the deck on and off all day. The mama and daddy did deliver worms. And the unfaithful robin only knocked against the window later in the evening, when the day’s feeding chores were finished.
Who would have thought robins deal with philandering? Not me!
Oops! I may have erred scientifically about the motive behind this robin’s pecking at the basement window. Please view the comments to read what flandrumhill has to say about male robin behavior. He may be a family man after all…
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance… (So sayeth Ecclesiastes in the 3 King James Bible, if you care to read the next 18 stanzas.)
I was thinking about this yesterday. Mostly because I wanted to stay home and rest after all the traveling. But the morels might still be mushrooming. So, no matter what a person wanted, it was off to the mushroom-hunting grounds yet again.
When you live close to nature, you realize She’s the Boss. It’s her time table or forget it. You pick mushrooms when they’re ready. You watch all the flowers bloom for several months. You harvest in abundance during late summer and early autumn. You witness the trees in their blazing glory. Then you watch and watch and watch and watch and watch the snow fall for the other eight months.
In the man-made world we can sometimes forget that Mother Nature is the Boss. We think we can walk into a grocery store and buy, say, asparagus, twelve months a year. Fresh raspberries? We think nothing of popping them in our hungry mouths in February. Tomatoes? Of course we’ll eat ’em year round. (Even if they taste like cardboard? For some of us the answer is–Yes.)
When you live close to the earth and the garden and the wild plants you pick and eat everything in season. When the morels poke their heads toward the sunlight, you saute them in butter or olive oil and cook (for at least 8 minutes for all wild mushrooms, or so the rumor goes) for only three weeks in May, max. If you’re lucky.
When the lettuces grow tender from their sprouted seeds, you eat lettuce. Lots of it. Lettuce for lunch and dinner. You’re eating it steadily before it bolts and turns bitter when the sun burns hot in mid-summer. Green beans? Save a couple weeks in late August to become the Green Bean Queen. Or King. You eat green beans until you’re dreaming of them, if you aren’t dreaming of zuchini or beets or cucumbers fresh from the vine.
An advantage of this eternal timing is that things are spaced out. You’re not pounding acorns into flour at the same time the peas grow fat and plump on the vine. You’re not sweating over canned tomatos when the tiny wild strawberries sweeten your lips. The disadvantage is: sometimes it feels like feast or famine. It’s either all snow or all harvest or all flowers blooming. And I guess we better appreciate it!
And guess what else it is time for–
Here is the Upper Peninsula Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to shovel snow and a time for wildfires to burn, a time for deer hunting season and a time to pick off wood ticks. A time to watch the Northern Lights and a time to stoke fires and a time to swat deer flies and no-see-ums and a time to eat wild thimbleberries and a time to…. Well, I’m sure you get the idea! :)
OK, I’m home. What an exciting time in La Guardia Airport yesterday. I realize it’s an “indoors” experience, but thought you all might want to know. If you decide to fly out of La Guardia, leave some extra time. I arrived two hours early. Good thing. The security line snaked all around inside the building. Behind the check-in, around by the Dunkin’ Donuts, all the way back around, wall-to-wall people snaked toward the TSA folks in their official uniforms so they could scrunch up their faces and study our identification and boarding passes.
I said to the security guy (when finally we peered face-to-face): “Busy day?” and he shook his head, No. Not busy??? No, he said, when it’s busy the line goes way outside.
Fortunately, hopefully, we all made our plane to wherever we were going.
I had another blog ready to write. Honest. All about the first day outdoors back in the beautiful Upper Peninsula! The words were ready to spill themselves forth onto the computer. But then I decided to scroll through the photos of the NYC trip, and really really wanted to post a handful more before wrapping up the trip and filing it in Memory’s folder.
Hope you don’t mind… The photos insisted upon their rights. They cajoled. They begged. And I finally succumbed to their snapshot pleadings…
I tried to post the following photo five times from Kiah’s computer. It always appeared turned sideways or upside down, and it seemed impossible to re-arrange it. It’s part of a statue down in Battery Park dedicated to the immigrants who settled in this country. The statue is amazing! I photographed little sections of it, as the individual faces and expressions seemed equally powerful as the larger statue. Here is one, hopefully upright:
So the Internet refused to work last night after I returned home. The Marquette Public Library announced brazenly that it closed at 6 p.m. on Friday nights. Therefore, even though yesterday’s blog had been written early in the morning, a challenge existed how to post it. I called Kiah and begged her assistance. Would she please post? She agreed. Yesterday’s blog came to you courtesy of Kiah’s willingness to post.
What possibly could be wrong with the darned computer? It looked like a discouraging weekend. How to post blogs, how to get caught up on computer time, how to play Scrabble on Facebook with my son? Oh the difficult questions of life.
Until we discovered a plain brown box next to the mail. “What is this?” I asked Barry. “Don’t know,” he replied, “it showed up in the door one day.” I unwrapped it, and guess what it was? A new Internet ethernet system, courtesy of the phone company (our Internet provider). Apparently we’re blessed with an upgrade! So we scrambled to figure out how to hook Wire A with Port B. It still wouldn’t work. But later, after sitting out on the deck (having my outdoor experience at 9:30 p.m.) we finally figured out why it might not be working. Success!! Memorial Day weekend could now proceed smoothly, with Internet properly working.
And for you faithful readers who salivated so lovingly over the radish photo from the Green Market in…well, whatever part of the city we were in that afternoon…OK, you can view the asparagus photo. Tonight we grilled whole asparagus on the grill. It was yummy. We even ate outside, although it wasn’t as warm as one might prefer. But it IS Memorial Day weekend! Maybe I’ll post more grilling photos as the weekend progresses. Hurray! Summer is here! (yeah, right, maybe not in the Upper Peninsula…but it’s coming closer every day!)
Recipe for grilled asparagus: Buy fresh asparagus. Organic if possible. Cut off tough bottom ends. Drizzle well with virgin olive oil or brush with a pastry brush. Heat grill. Put asparagus on sideways (horizontally, not vertically. Otherwise you’ll lose the asparagus in the bowels of the grill.) Cook for 6-10 minutes. Cook until crisp, el-dente, or cook until the asparagus melts in your mouth. Use a knife and cut off a small portion to determine when the proper moment has arrived. The asparagus will be tenderly browned and oh-so-good.