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Now that the outdoor commitment has ended, I’ve started a new blog.

Please visit upwoods.wordpress.com and read Lake Superior Spirit.

Thank you for all your support!!

Peering down at a birch tree

Pardon me, Mr. Tree.

Are you up for a discussion?

Have any advice for us humans?  Anything you want to share with us?  Any words of wisdom?

Peering up at a birch tree

Should we be looking up at the sky or down at the earth?  Optimistic?  Pessimistic?  Realistic?  Which direction should we look? 

Close up bark

Should we look up close?  Is the answer in the details or in the wider view?  What do you think?  Please don’t just stand there with your branches blowing in the wind.  Whisper some secrets.  Tell us the Secret of Life.  Please.

The language bark speaks

Ahhh,  so that’s the language you speak.  All the swirls and hieroglyphs.  Are we suppose to understand what you’re trying to say in your tree-ness?  What ancient Egyptian-like language are you speaking?  Do we need to get quieter, Mr. Tree?

Lean a little closer to read this message...

You are saying something, aren’t you?  Something deep.  Something profound.  Something miraculous.

What is it? 

Bear claws?

Oh, yes.  I hear you now.  You say to us, “You are barely scratching the surface”.

That is your message to us tonight.

We will go deeper tomorrow.  Look deeper. Look wider.  Keep our eyes wide open. 

Please continue to teach us with your bark and leaves and roots and seeds.  Help us to look beyond the surface.  Help us find our own tree-nature hidden beneath our feeble twig-language.  Help us learn to bend without breaking in strong winds, how to let go of our leaves when the time comes. 

Thank you, Mr. Tree.

 

Face of El Cabrillo

Face of El Cabrillo

I’ve named the above rock.  Meet “El Cabrillo”.  El Cabrillo, meet the blog readers. 

El Cabrillo lives in the Tidal Pools at the Cabrillo National Monument Park in San Diego.  He was staring up at the walkers traversing on the backs of his brothers and sisters along the pools.

I spotted him immediately.  Forget looking for anemones and crabs and seaweed.  There was a face in the rocks!  We could return home perfectly satisfied.

Chris and his girlfriend

Chris and his girlfriend

Oh what a lovely day!  I spent the night at a motel in Little Italy.  Up at 5 a.m. once again (forced myself to lie abed until the late morning hour of 6) and then explored the streets.  Ate a breakfast Panini and coffee along India Street before sitting in a courtyard to write 2,000 words of the novel along with the most delicious coffee in the Universe.  Well, good coffee anyway.

We attended another farmer’s market and then picnicked near Balboa Park under eucalyptus trees.  I wondered why there wasn’t any grass beneath our feet.  The kids explained that planted grass needs watering; therefore, many places remain grass-free. 

Later in the day we ventured to the Cabrillo National Monument park.  It was so cool.  I loved it.  First we viewed the skyline of San Diego and the hundreds of white sails on the ocean.  I won’t show you this view because the little Sony Cybershot refuses to do justice to wider views, to skylines.  So forget the sweeping panoramic views of the magnificent ocean.  You can look at closeups instead.

Seaweed in the tidal pools

Seaweed in the tidal pools

I kept gushing, “Oh this is wonderful!  Oh, isn’t this great?” as we explored the tidal pools.  Chris said, “I am a little underwhelmed, Mom.”  But later after we viewed the crabs and fish and anemones he changed his mind, I think.  He may not have been overwhelmed like his mama, but he was impressed.  And so was his girlfriend. 

Curved tidal pool

Curved tidal pool

You wouldn’t believe how slippery the rocks were.  I mean they were slippery.  You had to pray you wouldn’t fall into the underwater world of those sea creatures.  Some of us less agile folks had to crawl along the rocks, placing the feet very carefully.  You wanted hands to help you jump over pools and seaweed-covered slime.  You thought to yourself, “How old am I anyway?  At what age should you stop clamouring over slippery rocks?”

Christopher and his mama

Christopher and his mama

Some nice volunteers gave us advice about the creatures in the tide pools.  They showed me a little green worm, a magnificent find!  They shared the names of the amazing sea-beings.  I would have called the following sea creature an “urchin” but the kind lady explained that it was an anemone.   Isn’t it cool?

Anemone

Anemone

Another exciting thing happened.  A woman gave me a new name.  She was attempting to coral her three children into a cave for a photograph.  “Grace, Grace, come on in the picture!”  she kept saying.  And then she turned to me, who was standing three feet from her and gasped. “Oh no, I thought you were Grace!  I am so sorry.”  “It’s OK,”  I said, and we both looked at Grace who was crawling on some nearby slippery rocks.  “Guess you have a new name now,” the woman told me, “Your name is Grace.”

OK, I’ll take it.  My new name is Grace.

A bird who doesn't feel well

A bird who doesn't feel well

Grace (the real Grace) and her sisters approached a nearby black bird who refused to move.  They finally stood about a foot from the bird before the park volunteers urged them away,  “The bird isn’t feeling well today; please leave him alone,” the volunteer kindly explained to the sisters. 

When we got in the car, Christopher noted, “You talk to a LOT of people.”  Yes.  It’s true.  I am fascinated by people.

Hope you enjoyed the tour of the tidal pools.

Love, Grace

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!

I had some unexpected company today on my walk.  You know how you’re kind of meandering down the road, thinking about where you might go and what you might photograph…when suddenly…two half-way large dogs are barrelling toward you barking feisty with a gleam in their eyes and jumping all around.

Meet two of the neighbors.  Let's call them Brownie & Whitey.

Meet two of the neighbors. Let's call them Brownie & Whitey.

Not only do they leap up onto your rain pants, they also lick and nuzzle and prance.  Then they proceed to follow you wherever you go.

You, of course, are not sure you want the two dogs to accompany you.  At least not in the beginning.  You think they should stay in their own front lawn, thank you.  You have big plans to travel waaaaay up the ravine in the woods.  These plans do not include panting galloping dogs.

Meet Brownie.  Oh look at that face.

Meet Brownie. Oh look at that face.

You say sternly, “Sit!  Stay home!  Go home!” and wave your arms wildly in the direction of their little house, but they blithely ignore you.  So along they come, jumping and panting wildly and joyous to be exploring the woods.

The first time you try to take a picture of…say…a delicate wildflower…forget it!  One dog nuzzles and jars your camera. The other knocks your arm and almost sends you sprawling.  Guess it’s not a day for taking pics of wildflowers.  It’s a day for the dogs.

Awww, doesn't he look calm and obedient?  Don't be deceived!

Awww, doesn't he look calm and obedient? Don't be deceived!

You vary in between wishing they would just go home, please, and isn’t this a novel experience?  You point out interesting sights to them, but they leap into the pond and splash water in all directions.

Isn't Whitey having fun?

Isn't Whitey having fun?

We wandered for a good hour through the ravines (maybe those photos shall be posted tomorrow, including the elusive slug).  It was interesting.  The quieter I got, just meandering without much mental thought, the quieter the dogs became.  We all became reflective.  Enjoying the afternoon.  Happy that the rain ceased to fall.  Although, seriously, perhaps the dogs wouldn’t care two whits if it was raining or dry.

Brownie in a more reflective pose

Brownie in a more reflective pose

Do you wonder their “real” names?  It’s been so many years since we’ve had dogs.  Our first dog, actually our first “child”, was a black lab back in the late ’70’s.  It’s name was Buck, or Bucky, if you felt endeared to him.  He was a “chowder-head” like these two, galloping around with too-big feet, licking crazily, jumping up in all the wrong places.  Our second dog may have been half-coyote.  She was a brown and white beauty named Tasha who howled when the moon was full.  My grandma was so horrified by the thought of part-coyote lineage she suggested we get rid of Tasha when our baby was born.  We, of course, felt hurt by the mere suggestion of such indignity.  We were only in our 20’s.  Our kids better not have any half-coyotes around any future grandchildren. 

Whitey gnaws on a branch, just for fun

Whitey gnaws on a branch, just for fun

Back to today’s story.  I started up the road toward our house.  The dogs followed.  No, this behavior needed to stop, now.  I knocked on the neighbor’s door.  No answer.  Knocked again.  No answer.  The dogs were apparently coming home with me.

I must admit to getting a little bit grouchy at this point.  Dogs, go home!  NOW!  They jumped up and licked happily.  I decided to ignore them, in hopes they would turn around toward their own happy front yard. 

Eventually, Brownie did.  Sigh of relief.  But Whitey was coming home to live.  No turning that one around. 

I hatched up a brilliant plan upon arriving in the driveway.  The keys were in the car.  So I jumped in the car, turned around and sped back down the road.  Whitey ran in hot pursuit.  Until…finally…he ran out of steam and collapsed in the woods. 

I turned around and came home, smiling happily, thinking:  Ah ha!  What an outdoor adventure!  “This blog is going to the dogs…”

Dying leaf in dried-up algae pond

Dying leaf in dried-up algae pond

I feel like I’m on a small emotional roller-coaster the last couple of days.  One minute happy and joyful and buzzing…the next minute kind of sad and cranky.  The above leaf picture described my mood as of Friday afternoon.  (By the time this is published later tonight after a dinner with friends maybe everything will be fine again.)

Two nights ago I felt a little overwhelmed about our rather large wood pile that needs to be split, hauled and stacked.  But last night I tried to “play” with the work and turn it around into a fun chore.  It actually worked.

The bugs are out and crazed and sucking blood and biting.  Nothing unusual for June around here.  You put a log in the splitter, swat at a mosquito, take the log off, scratch your bite.  Oh well.  We all expect this at this time of year.

Mosquito eating lunch

Mosquito eating lunch

It’s been a cold spring.  Our garden vegetables are very very slowly poking their heads above the soil and leafing out.  Peas, lettuce, spinach, onions, kale, collards, beets, green onions and carrots sit in the garden wishing for rain.  They have to settle for cold sprinkles from our hose.  They’re not happy about it, but have no choice if they wish to drink some water.

One to two inch pea plants emerging in garden

One to two inch pea plants emerging in garden

Do you ever wonder if Nature herself gets moody?  I think she perhaps she does.  That’s when the hurricanes and tornados roar through and whip us around and mess things up.  When the Earth gets fussy, perhaps It quakes.  Swallows entire towns as it shakes and shifts.  One minute Nature is hot and then she’s cold.  She weeps buckets of tears on us sometimes, and then coldly withholds her rain making the poor pea plants suffer.  Sometimes she freezes us with ice-cold snow and bakes the tropics.  What an emotional lady, do you think?

Then again, Nature is probably neutral and we’re the ones telling stories about her motives.  She’s just shaking herself, blowing up the winds, shifting toward and away from the sun. 

Maybe the “truth” lies half-way between both stories.  Maybe she’s more than scientific, but less than our fanciful tales.  Maybe she does feel emotions, or responds to the emotions and thoughts on this planet.  Who knows?

Maybe this goose family has a clue…

Canadian Goose Family

Canadian Goose Family

P.S.  writing this blog always makes me happy, strangely enough.  Maybe Nature is happy about it, as well.

It’s too easy to leave the door shut, to stay inside during cold winter days here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s too easy to stoke the woodstove with dried maple and linger near the window reading books, checking email, putzing on various projects, writing blogs on Gaia.com, doing work, cooking healthy dinners.

At other times in the year it’s easier to walk briskly up the road, wander in the woods or hike along a nearby river. But in November each year something inside me clicks shut and the door stays closed and the energy moves inwards towards warmth and inactivity.

But not this year! I swear it, not this year. (I know, I’ve said this before. Every year there’s a new vow to force myself off the couch and into the wild & woolly outdoors, but you know….there’s always some excuse to make the indoors more appealing. I’m sure many others have experienced similar failures of motivation.) But this year a new incentive surfaced.

And you’re looking at it! (What? you ask, there’s no pictures here. What am I looking at?) You are looking at the incentive in the form of a new blog. This blog will have the power to pull like a magnet. It will.

Starting next Sunday, as the Solstice arrives, I will begin writing a daily blog complete with daily photo about what’s-outside-the-front-door. The blog will insist upon it. It won’t allow bedtime to come without fulfillment.

We shall explore the outdoors here. Although the Mind says, “oh what’s interesting out there anyway?” and “what a silly project” and “no one wants to see pictures of snow and trees” and “It’s going to be way too cold!” we’re out to see if the Mind is wrong. We’re ready to investigate and see if there’s something interesting in these-here woods.

My goal is to stretch this beyond the Winter, into the flowering of Spring, the bursting greenery of Summer and the golden-red-orange Autumn. The goal is 365 days. 365 days of blogging! 365 days of opening the door and walking outside every single day. While this may not be feasible, let’s see how many days can be accomplished.

I’m not a seasoned photographer, so this part of the experiment requires some learning. Blog-readers (if any shall exist) must be patient.

So that’s the overview. That’s the promise. That’s the pledge. As background, I live in the middle of the woods with my husband, twelve miles from the nearest “little” town of 1,500. The entire county hosts 8,000 at last census. We’ve lived here thirty years, raising two young ‘uns who now live in major metropolitan cities of the United States. We own twenty three acres of cut-over forest, meaning the land once grew huge maples, oaks, spruce and hemlock which burned in a fire back in the 1920’s after lumber companies harvested most of the trees.

Until the Solstice, then. Please come back and read then if you like. Together we’ll discover….what’s outside the door.

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