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Dentists recommend...playing hockey??

 

I can’t imagine dentists recommending that folks play hockey.  Only in the Copper Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula would one glimpse a sign like this.  We laughed for two minutes before I made Barry turn the car around to photograph the sign.  And, I can guarantee you, turning around the car on a day like today proved no easy feat. (Ha ha, I am SO slow to get a joke.  Barry says dentists recommend playing hockey because players get their teeth knocked out and dentists have business.  Now I’m REALLY laughing!) 

Looking out the car window, Houghton, MI

 

We had to drive up to Houghton.  Barry had to interview someone, and he dropped me nicely at a coffee shop to sip cappuccino and play on my laptop computer, also known as Miss Ellie.  I wore sneakers up to Houghton, the first bad decision of the day.  The good decision involved throwing in a pair of Sorel boots in the back seat of the car.  After getting a good case of frozen sneaker-feet, I switched to the Sorels and clumped around during our later shopping expedition.  

Eleven very very very very cold degrees

 

The snow was still coming down in white sheets in the Copper Country.  Once you drive across the Houghton County line, you can expect the weather to worsen. It almost always does.  Usually within a mile or so of the county line sign.  People in the coffee shop moaned that the weather forecaster predicted up to ANOTHER two feet of snow up there in the next day or so.  Yikes!  We can always thank our lucky stars for living in the “banana belt” of Baraga County, especially in our locale near the Huron Bay.  After all, our storm abated after about fifteen inches of snow.   

Not very good roads today, but we're headed "south" toward L'Anse

 

I was glad Barry drove.  The roads were not stellar.  They combined ice, snow and slush into a mixture that kept us alert and cautious.  The white-out conditions in the Copper Country added to the fun.   

However, we did accomplish all our work and shopping.  After we turned around to drive home, passing by the county line, out came the sun!  Houghton County may still be getting lake effect snow, but we’re feeling like the tropics down here.  After all, our thermometer read 14 degrees!  Welcome winter!!  

The sun breaks through! We're back in Baraga County.

 

P.S.  Today’s outdoor adventure (besides running between stores) involved shoveling most of the deck.  A very good upper body workout.  I wonder if four out of five dentists would recommend shoveling?  Hmmm….

Before dawn near the Baraga Marina

Before dawn near the Baraga Marina

Have you heard how the Australian Aborigine people go “walkabout” when they undertake a vision quest?  They undertake a spiritual journey to renew their relationship with the landscape and their Dreaming.

We modern-day folk here in the U.S. of A don’t usually “go walkabout”.  But recently I felt called to do a “driveabout” through the Copper Country, following random roads, letting the inner spirit guide the journey.  Wherever the spirit pointed, I drove.  Up hills and down.  To the lake and the coffee shop and the Goodwill. 

The secret is to listen intensely and deeply to where you are suppose to go next and what you are suppose to do.  Without letting the planning organizing Mind take control.

Dawn on the Keweenaw Bay, behind the Pow Wow grounds

Dawn on the Keweenaw Bay, behind the Pow Wow grounds

First stop:  dawn meditation.  Watching the sun rise over Lake Superior.  Many insights and visions and thoughts and knowings arise as a driveabout happens.  Your inner voice may share, teaching you many things.  Sometimes Silence teaches.  Sometimes you watch what appears:  the trees, the lake, the hawks, the stones.  You always stay alert to glean what the Universe may be attempting to teach you.  Sometimes you can’t figure it out, but a lot of the time you can. 

Why is there a crutch leaning against that stop sign and what does it mean...?

Why is there a crutch leaning against that stop sign and what does it mean...?

OK, there were a LOT of stops along the way.  I was guided here and there, there and here.  Bought a lot of strange and cool clothes at Goodwill in styles that I have never worn before.  Delightedly sipped lattes and coffee at two coffee shops along the way. 

Heed what the coffee cup says

Heed what the coffee cup says

Ended up along a mostly-deserted stretch of beach near Gay, Michigan.  I haven’t been to Gay since 1997 and it was a definitely spiritual experience back then.  Today I found myself exploring the rock beach (it’s so amazing how every beach is so different with its own individuality and colors and textures!)  Spent at least a couple hours alongside Lake Superior gazing our to sea, eating a picnic lunch from the Keweenaw Co-op, picking wild blueberries, meditating.

Expanse of rocky beach

Expanse of rocky beach

It would take six blogs to share everything I’ve learned today.  It’s been such an incredible day.  One of the best days of my life.  (I know, I say this all the time.)

Swirl of stone

Swirl of stone

Rock and shadow

Rock and shadow

Red rocks with designs everywhere...so beautiful

Red rocks with designs everywhere...so beautiful

So tonight, after a day of following my heart in its many directions, I am resting (complete with wireless Internet!) at a lovely motel in Calumet, Michigan.  Two of the final events of the day involved (a) swimming in the motel’s saltwater pool, after thanking all the powers that be that I remembered my bathing suit and (b) eating chicken fajitas with rice and beans at Carmelita’s restaurant.  The spirit of the the driveabout insisted upon both.

View of the saltwater pool (first one I ever swam in)

View of the saltwater pool (first one I ever swam in)

Jeez, I have 53 photos I could show you.  But this shall have to suffice.  One final photo before departing.  It turns out that Carmalita’s Restaurant boasts that it is the home of the original Thimbleberry Margarita!  A thimbleberry margarita, can you imagine that?  I might have had one if I had noticed the sign…but that might have been a bit too much of an experience for the driveabout.

Heading up to Copper Harbor tomorrow.  You might want to get out your map to see where that is.  It’s waaay up here.  Waaay up at the very tip-top of the Upper Peninsula.  You can’t go any further.  In fact a sign along the way will declare that this is the “Last Place on Earth.”   Hmmm, I wonder what that means??  Hope to see you tomorrow!

Gabe (on left) and Doug (on right)

Gabe (on left) and Doug (on right)

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.

Scot and Karen on the Downtowner deck, overlooking the Portage Canal

Scot and Karen on the Downtowner deck, overlooking the Portage Canal

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.

Me and my beautiful niece, Keely

Me and my beautiful niece, Keely

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.

Doug, Gabe and Keely listen to the band

Doug, Gabe and Keely listen to the band

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.

Wolfgang playing on the Houghton street

Wolfgang playing on the Houghton street

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:

Keely and Scot

Keely and Scot

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!

Silhouette on rooftop listens to music way down below

Silhouette on rooftop listens to music way down below

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…

Spooky old tangled undergrowth

Spooky old tangled undergrowth

Today I convinced Barry to explore a haunted and overgrown stretch of outdoors in the Copper Country.  Old crumbled buildings sink into the earth, and tangles of brush and trees rise everywhere.  The earth smells different here, as if memories of yesterday still linger in between the old fallen rock walls, in that silent building, beneath trees which keep long secrets.

You walk quietly among the old ones, never sure what might collapse beneath your feet.  Caution keeps one alert.  The steep slope of the hillside also makes you sure to stay balanced and upright.

Oh how fascinating everything was in its spooky aged splendor.  How I wouldn’t want to be here under a full moon on Halloween Eve!

Tumbled-down old wall

Tumbled-down old wall

We bickered back and forth about who got to carry the camera.  Each of us kept deciding such-and-such angle looked more interesting or provocative.  It’s amazing how two people can look at the same landscape and see different angles, different shots, different perspectives. 

And then…and then…are you ready for this?  In the midst of this barren and desolate and decaying place we saw…the first wildflower!!  After weeks of studious hunting, there she was in her blooming glory:

A dandelion

A dandelion

Barry countered with the idea that a dandelion wasn’t a “real” wildflower.  “A lawn weed” he called it. I was terribly insulted on behalf of the dandelion and demanded an apology.  He is under the–mistaken–impression that “real” wildflowers might be varieties such as wood anemones, lady slippers, violets and forget-me-nots.  I wanted him to get closer and examine the delicate floral essence of the yellow wildflower.  I don’t know why people become prejudiced about dandelions.  I would like a whole lawn full, thank you!  They are awesome!  And, by the way, it’s time for all of us to eat some of the spring dandelion greens, as well.  Yes, they can be a tad bitter.  But they’re a good spring tonic.  Yep, that could be a new blog topic coming up soon…

The dried leaves of this tangled undergrowth were dotted with very strange fungus-like black spots.  It makes one wonder why.  What created those black stains?  Human-made by-products leaching on the soil?  Or something else?

A strangely spotted leaf

A strangely spotted leaf

The trees in the woods around our house are not usually covered with vines.  Therefore, when one spies a vine-covered tree it becomes utterly intriguing.  It’s as if the undergrowth attempts to merge with the tree.  It added to the mystery of the place.

Vines and undergrowth snaking up a tree

Vines and undergrowth snaking up a tree

Just as we were discussing the spookiness of this place, a crudely scribbled message appeared on a brick, sending shivers up my spine:

Who Killed Amanda Palmer???

Who Killed Amanda Palmer???

Barry said, “Oh!  Look!  A perfect picture for your blog!”  and I said with a hushed voice, “No, you have to be kidding, what if it’s a local girl who was murdered?  What if she was murdered…here?” 

Well, I’m here to report that we googled it and Amanda Palmer was not a local girl.  It’s a play, a book, alternative punk-flavored music.  You may even have seen it playing around the country.  In fact, we may be the very last people on the planet to have heard about Who Killed Amanda Palmer.  But we’re educated now.  Barry, in a classic rock band for 20 years, found the pounding piano-driven music refreshing! It certainly wasn’t hip-hop and it wasn’t country twangy–and it wasn’t rock. But who killed the girl, anyway?

You just have to wander around outside in spooky overgrown areas and…you never know what you might learn or discover. Something new every day.

Reindeer in da Copper Country

Reindeer in da Copper Country

As da Finns around the U.P. would say:  We go Heikinpaiva today.  We go Copper Country.  We go Hancock and celebrate da middle of da winter, “when the bear rolls over on his side”.

Not being a born-and-bred Finn, I can only give an outsider’s perspective.  Here’s the scoop:  the Copper Country, that little jutting finger of land in the northwest part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, began hosting the Heikinpaiva mid-winter celebration way back in 1999.  It’s been celebrated in Finland for ages.  There’s fun and activities for all! 

Included in the festival (I am not kidding about any of these):  wife carrying, boot throwing, parade complete with reindeer, a market known as a Tori, dogsled demos, and other Finnish games. 

We missed the wife carrying, a fact I sincerely regret.  We did attend the children’s division of the boot throwing competition.  An announcer said “go” and the young ‘un tossed the boot with great gusto and fervor across the snow-covered playing field.  I believe the first boot almost hit the announcer.  One of the subsequent boots headed our way. 

Watch out for that boot!

Watch out for that boot!

The bank thermometer across the way announced 4 degrees.  The wind sneered at that and blew with fierce gusto, defying anyone to think it warm.  Photographers froze their fingers in less than a moment.  I struggled to learn how to take action shots and felt disappointed.  It’s much easier to photograph docile tree branches, isn’t it?

Guess what the big excitement of the afternoon was?  What would be the craziest most daring thing one could do at frigid temperatures?  How about take a plunge into the ice-covered Portage Canal in a bathing suit?

Yes, indeed, the Polar Plunge highlighted the afternoon’s festivities.  We were frozen icicles by the time it took to walk a half mile from our car to the lake.  What in the world would inspire a soul to strip down and dive into the freezing water?  Yet dozens and dozens of folks (mostly the younger generation) ran yelling and exuberant towards the hole cut in the ice and jumped in.

A little plunge in Lake Superior

A little plunge in Lake Superior

When two elementary-aged girls ran giggling and happily towards the ice, you could hear the crowd gasp.  Most of the plungers seemed like high school athletes or perhaps Michigan Technological University students wanting to spice up the weekend with some freaky entertainment.  You could almost imagine them calling home to Mom and Dad, “Hey, guess what I did this afternoon!”

Anyone want more history about this mid-winter event?  First of all, there’s lots of Finns living in the Copper Country.  Someone has suggested 40% of the population claimed Finnish ancestry during the last census. This holiday celebrates a fellow called St. Henrik, a patron saint of Finland.

I hesitate to repeat the sordid story of the saint’s murder, as it’s not pretty.  Here’s the link in case you choose to read for yourselves:  http://www.mtulode.com/node/460 .  What interested me was the grand finale of the tale.  After Henrik died and became a saint, the murderer spent the rest of his life being tormented by mice attempting to eat him alive.  (No one can say the Finns don’t know how to tell a good story….if you have an entire winter with nothing to do, read their mythology in a book called the Kalevala….)

Besides the saying about the bear rolling over in his den on this day, there’s a couple other proverbs tossed around to explain this mid-winter celebration.  One is “Heikki divides the hay” and the other is “winter’s back is broken.”  I kind of like the last saying.  It’s quite hopeful, isn’t it?  Winter’s back is broken and Spring must be….must be…..just around the corner.  (Even though my husband just reminded me.  We’re not really even close to half way towards warm weather.)

Go Boys!  It's only 6 degrees....run fast!

Go Boys! It's only 4 degrees....run fast!

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