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Yep, yellow snow

This may be a low point in the outdoor blog. 

Why am I writing a blog entitled, of all things, “Don’t you eat that yellow snow”?

It’s a long story.

More yellow snow

WordPress, the lovely host of this blog,  tells you the results of top searches for your blog.  For example, someone could type in “opening the door, walking outside” and that appears as one of the top searches.  This week’s top searches include firewood pile, Ojibway park leafs (?) and the Huron River.  All fine and dandy.  However, recently, a few times one of the top searches for this blog has included the words “yellow snow” and “Don’t you eat that yellow snow”.

Honestly!  Tell me, people, have I ever written six words about yellow snow? Ever? In this whole year?  Why do searchers looking for the elusive yellow snow get to MY blog?  Honestly!

I’m sure some of you know that this is a reference to a Frank Zappa song.  We listened to it at dinner.  Polite dinner music, as you can imagine.  The main refrain is:  “Watch out where those huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow”.  In fact if you’re in the mood for a little Frank Zappa with your blog-reading, do click here.

Anyway, I’ve decided to give some of you blog searchers your due.  You can see some yellow snow.  It may not be huskie-yellow-snow, but it’s bona fide yellow snow.  Get your fill.

This, you yellow snow afficiandos, is the secret behind yellow snow.

Yes.  it’s official.  The yellow snow at this time of year is caused by tannin in leaves seeping into the snow.  Or so I’ve been told. I really am not an official source on the subject.  But it sounded plausible.  You can click here to learn about tannin and determine if you agree.

There is yellow snow everywhere!  Orange snow, yellow snow, brown snow, stained snow.  And there are not that many huskies in the woods, I can assure you.  Not even that many deer.  It’s the tannin.  Take my word for it.

And can we get one more close-up view of the culprit, please?

Le culprit

I have a lot of other more meaningful things I could share with you today.  But they were all indoor adventures.  I’ll bet you’re sorry this in not an indoor/outdoor blog, aren’t you? 

A terrible thing did happen this morning, though.  A very sad thing.  I was headed to Marquette before the first light stained the horizon.  It was pitch dark.  Blacker than black.  The headlights suddenly spotted a white rabbit running crazily across the road and I swerved the car praying not to hear that thump…please, rabbit, don’t…but sure enough the tire thumped against the rabbit.  (However, I looked on the way home and there is no dead rabbit lying in the middle of the road, so it’s hard to say what happened.  Two family members dared to ask if I got out of the car in order to bring home rabbit booya, which is the local name for rabbit stew. I don’t know why these particular family members would ask, considering our mostly-vegetarian status.) In honor of the rabbit we listened to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.  Go Ask Alice, when she’s 10 feet tall.

Later in the day a white seagull almost crashed into the front window of the car.  At this point I started feeling like a potential mass murderer of white animals.  Fortunately the seagull flew upward at the last minute.

Here ends my Yellow Snow blog. I promise not to write about it again this year.

Clear cut

It’s a delicate subject around here.  Toss a coin up in the air and decide.  Should the land ever be clear-cut?  Should the trees be sliced off like a razor cutting whiskers on a stubbly chin? 

Foresters often say that in certain areas a clear-cut is advisable.  Many tracts are not good hardwood sites; they refuse to grow beautiful hardwoods like maple and yellow birch which have high-quality value.  If  foresters selectively harvest on these sites they never see much improvement.  If they want to have productive tracts, they will sometimes choose to clear-cut.  The result will be thick aspen (poplar) stands.  In 40-50 years these will be big harvestable trees.  The mills need these stands to mix with their hardwood.

There.  I have just given you forestry-speak.

Keep turning around in a circle

I could share the perspective of someone who loves trees; someone who doesn’t much like the labels of which trees are “valuable” and which trees are “junk”.  I could share old Native American stories about the trees being our brothers and sisters, the lungs of the planet earth.

But no.

I want to talk about the clear-cuts of our soul.

When God calls a Time Out

What times in our own lives have we felt like we’ve been clear-cut?  When everything has been torn away?  When things safe and familiar and loving have been ripped asunder?

Have we all had clear-cuts?  Some clear-cuts come on the heels of endings of relationships.  The endings of friendship, of love, of romance, of marriage.  Some come with the tears of loss:  the death of a child, a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a friend.  Others have lost their home, their money, their job.  A clear-cut is a place in life where our beloved past meets destructive saws.  The dear trees fall.  So often don’t we weep?  We weep from the loss, the pain, the absence of the loved one.

Stump and dried flower

Afterward the brush lies all over the ground of ourselves.  We wipe our tears and stand straight.  We have to walk with faith, then, through the clear-cut of the soul.  The seeds are growing beneath the tangled brush, but we don’t know it yet.

In a few days or months or years the new trees will be growing.  We will persevere. 

The horizon

I have known many forests who have been heavily logged.  In my lifetime, I have not intimately known many forest tracts completely clear-cut.  Yes, we see clear-cuts everywhere.  But they usually aren’t on land that I have walked, loved, whispered to, dreamed upon.

Once, a long time ago, while crying in some beloved logged forest, an inner thought arose,  “Just sit here until you can feel the sacred beauty of the place.”  I sat for a long time surrounded by impenetrable brush and jagged logs and wild disarray.  I sat with the memory of the tall hemlock, the sturdy maple, the feel of the forest.  I was not going to move until it felt sacred once again, until the invisible seeds of hope and new life showed themselves.

And finally, I saw it.  A flower.  Blossoming.  And over there a precious sweep of branches.  And over there a bent cedar. 

Slowly the logged forest started revealing its promise.

We will grow again, the trees said.  We won’t be the same trees.  But we will grow again. 

Hope

I think of a dear friend who lost her husband three or four years ago.  The first year of her clear-cut was agonizing.  She wondered if she would survive.  I wondered if she would survive.  The second year was filled with many tears, but slowly the young sprouts grew.  She still grieves, but she’s stronger now.  Her new roots are growing into the earth.  It wasn’t something she wanted, but  she’s learned to see the sacred beauty in what remains.

Blessings for all of us in times of the clear-cuts of our soul.

Today is a very sad day.

My dear friend and former co-worker died this morning.

It’s a day awash with tears, and the drenching rain (2.60 inches since it started early Friday morning) mirrors the tears.  The skies are weeping because the earth misses Mary’s presence already.  The heavens may be rejoicing, but the earth weeps.

Because I spent most of the outdoor time today mourning, shall we return to yesterday?

Scot, Karen, Keely and I decided to try the fine sport of letterboxing.  It’s a pastime (like geocaching which is apparently done with the aid of a GPS) where you follow Internet clues to discover a waterproof box hidden in nature.  An on-line friend suggested that I try letterboxing ‘way back last spring when she first read this blog.  Because the only hidden treasure in Baraga County was posted at the Canyon Falls, way out of my usual path of travel, I decided to wait before following the clues.

Yesterday’s trip with family proved to be the most opportune moment.  We put Keely in charge.

Keely and Karen study the clues

Keely and Karen study the clues

Here is the website you can visit to learn all about letterboxing, and perhaps discover hidden treasure near you:  http://www.letterboxing.org/

This box was hidden by someone called The Dragon back on July 11, 2003.  Here is the website where you can see all the clues we followed, attempting to find the hidden box:  http://www.mathdragon.net/letterboxing/MI_boxes/canyon_falls.htm

The first of the clues read:

Trail end.

View falls.

Head back.

Bench to left.

The infamous bench

The infamous bench

The clues continue:

Tree with roots showing on the left.

Roots.  Don't you love them when they're exposed?

Roots. Don't you love them when they're exposed?

It continues:

First boardwalk.

Second boardwalk.

One of the many boardwalks

One of the many boardwalks

I won’t lead you through all the clues, but we followed them diligently, aiming for the hidden letterbox at the end.  Finally we reached the last clues:

Right 15 paces to giant log.

(Lying parallel to the board – perpendicular to the boardwalk)

Crevice in the top of the giant log

Under a fallen tree and leaves and twigs.

Let me tell you, this was the hardest three minutes of the treasure hunt!  We looked.  And looked some more.  And still couldn’t quite locate the box.  There was no way we were going to leave without finding it!  And finally, yes, digging under a few leaves…there it was in its camouflage.

The box itself

The box itself

We opened the box to discover some more instructions:

The first note in the box

The first note in the box

However, the best was yet to come!  You open the little index-card book and there are all the people (most who stamped the book with their special rubber stamps of perhaps an evergreen tree, or a wild bear, or a dazzling sun) with their hometowns and some penned words of interest or wisdom or fun.

The little notebook which reveals the winners of the treasure hunt

The little notebook which reveals the winners of the treasure hunt

I had brought some colored ink and a set of tiny stamps, so we all added our names and a few words and a colorful stamp.  (I even put the address of this blog, just in case anyone might want to read our in-depth story about our day.)

It was such a fun time.  I discovered that there is one more letterbox somewhere in Baraga County, behind a local cemetery, and one day might decide to attempt to find it as well.

In the meantime I am thinking about death today.  And wondering about the “hidden treasure” which may have met Mary today.  While the rest of us are still on the path, following the boardwalks of life, looking at the roots and rocks and waterfalls. 

Blessings, dear friend, wherever you may be tonight.

Marquette Park Cemetery

Marquette Park Cemetery

We left for the Marquette airport at 6:50 a.m.  The six days of vacation with our son and his girlfriend so quickly disappeared and this morning their American Eagle plane soared skyward, headed west.  I fondly lingered to wave goodbye as they proceeded through the security checkpoint.  (Hint to future travelers leaving the Upper Peninsula:  do not put expensive thimbleberry jam in your carry-on bag.  It weighs over three ounces and therefore is suspect as terrorist contraband.)  Thank goodness I remained to take home the delicious jam.  Otherwise the security folk might have enjoyed the $ 12.29 (10 oz.) jam!

I know why it costs that much.  You try picking enough thimbleberries to make jam.  But that’s a story for another day. 

Today we’re talking cemeteries.

Otto Lundin

Otto Lundin

Cemeteries are interesting places.  One walks through them with a sort of  reverent hush.  The birds chirp and the sexton mows the lawn and you ponder the ancestors lying beneath the ground with only headstones to mark their passing.   You wonder about the dead.  Who they were, what they looked like, how they lived, how they died.

Who was Otto Lundin?  It looks like he died at age twenty two, in Alaska.  Did his parents live in Marquette?  Was he mauled by a bear or snuffed by typhus?  How did the body get back to the Upper Peninsula?  Did he have brothers and sisters who cried at his graveside? 

The gravestones tell so little.  Look at this one:

Anna

Anna

 Anna.  I felt kinda soft and sad just seeing this small flat gravestone.  We don’t even know an age, a date of birth, a date of death.  Nothing except the wisp of a name.  Anna. 

Wrought iron gate...perhaps a mausoleum?

Wrought iron gate...perhaps a mausoleum?

One of the family members suggested that wandering around outdoors in a cemetery might be “morbid”.  I beg to disagree.  Perhaps after dark it might be a little spooky.  But in broad daylight it’s one of the most peaceful places one could imagine.  Especially in the areas with the old graves from the nineteenth century. 

The Marquette Park Cemetery features tended gardens, ponds, ducks and bridges.  Community members stroll through regularly.  Years ago, visiting a friend in the city, she inquired if I wanted to join her for a lovely walk.  Guess where we went?  I had never returned until today…but want to remember and visit here again.

Swirl of lily pads on pond

Swirl of lily pads on pond

I especially like the way life and death mingle together here in this cemetery-park.  The reverence for the old ones joins with the laughter and excitement of small children feeding ducks in the pond, mothers pushing strollers and a woman smoking a cigarette and tending flowers while lingering near a recent grave.  

Children feeding ducks on pond

Children feeding ducks on pond

Life and death are companions in this special place.  And isn’t that the way it always is, although sometimes we don’t choose to recognize it?  I left feeling a deep reverence for this journey of life and death, and a desire to appreciate it even more.

Dead bird, still warm to the touch

Dead bird, still warm to the touch

Everywhere you walk in the woods Life and Death greet you.  In the springtime the flowers and the leaves and the grasses and the plants burst into joyful being.  But it’s impossible to walk two steps without being reminded about the inevitability of death.

I found the above bird, not long passed away, lying near the trees.  It probably crashed into one of our windows and died instantly.

A dangling explosion of a tree bud (anyone know what kind?)

A dangling explosion of a tree bud (anyone know what kind?)

Life shines out so new and beautiful at this time of year.  There’s a potency to the energy.  The Native Americans advised us to eat the parts of the plant where the energy is the strongest.  In the spring you eat leaves and buds.  In the summer, you eat the fruit and by autumn you’re nourished by the deepest root in the earth.  That’s how the energy in a plant travels.

Rotting decaying birch tree

Rotting decaying birch tree

The forest is constantly decaying.  There are downed trees everywhere.  Branches askew, losing bark and rotting.  Dried leaves molding and deteriorating.  Scat on the ground.  Plants dying.  Molds and fungus.  Everywhere that which once grew and tingled with new life is returning to the soil, composting the land, enriching the earth, in order to break down and nourish new seeds.

Trout lily

Trout lily

After a long winter of snow and freezing temperatures, our forest plants seem to burst.  They seem to grow faster than in warmer climates, as if attempting to reach the sun before the next snow falls.  The world cascades into green.  And then the glorious paintbrushes of nature paint vibrant colors everywhere.  We live in Paradise, perhaps.

A carpet of red maple buds beneath a tree

A carpet of red maple buds beneath a tree

The buds fall on the earth without a fuss, it seems.  They simply drop onto the earth and begin their next stage, their next transformation.  They simply let go when it’s time.  No rushing life, no prolonging life.  Simple:   now it’s time to burst and bud, now it’s time to let go.

Acorn beneath giant oak

Acorn beneath giant oak

Then there’s the acorn.  Is it alive or dead?  Or is it both?  It released from the oak that nourished it for so long, and now lies on the forest floor.  Will it be planted into the dirt and create a new oak tree?  Will it be simply break down to compost the old oak from which it birthed and died?  Is it about to rot, or create new life?  Or perhaps both?

Unloading the log truck

Unloading the log truck

Guess what I did outdoors today? 

Stood around for a half hour and watched a log truck delivery of next year’s wood.  My husband inquired, “THIS is your outdoor adventure?”

Answer:  Yes.

For many years Barry has scrounged in the woods, cutting and chainsawing and skidding out logs.  This year we’ve chosen the “easy” route.  We’ve paid for the delivery of wood. 

The one hundred inch long logs now need to be chainsawed to appropriate length and eventually split.  We’re pondering buying or making a splitter.  (I will not be making the splitter.)

As we watched the deft operator handling and stacking the logs, I felt somewhat melancholy.  An elderly neighbor’s funeral was this morning.  She was a woman who loved the woods, spending hours exploring the thickets and ridges.  We met twenty seven years ago when she served coffee and goodies to a young mother with a brand new baby boy.  She shared hundreds of stories about this area before paved roads existed.  She worked at a logging camp.  I truly admired her humor, her wit, her fortitude.  It was sad to say goodbye today, although it’s been many years since she recognized friends and family.

Snow, rain and freezing rain fell today.  A foggy mist rose from the snowbanks at times.  I’m feeling simultaneously happy about our new load of logs, and sad for the loss of an old friend.

Heat for next winter

Heat for next winter

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