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Flying away

I can’t believe this is the last night.

The last night to sit here at this computer and tell you stories about the day’s outdoor adventures. 

How quickly a year passes!

One minute you’re dancing around a bonfire mouthing the words “I’m going to go outside every day for 365 days and write a blog every day about what happens!” and the next minute you’re sitting weepy-eyed at your computer thinking back on the entire year.

I don’t even know how to adequately wrap it up into a nice little package.  How to end it.  How to thank all of you readers enough.  I don’t even know how I’m going to get up tomorrow and not have one to three hours of outdoor commitment and blogging.  It’s going to be a new doorway, a new chapter in life.  And it’s hard…because this chapter has been so precious.

Immature bald eagle on our road yesterday

A friend asked: What did you learn this year?  How has your outdoor commitment changed you?

This is a hard question to answer.  I will try my best to answer it here.

I learned that succeeding in a commitment involves something stronger than one’s thoughts and feelings.  Our thoughts and feelings are like weather.  One minute we want to do something; the next minute we don’t.  If we want to succeed in a commitment, we must follow something deeper and stronger than our surface thoughts and emotions.  In my case, I challenged myself  to go outside everyday.  Since that wasn’t the easiest or more natural path (although during the warm months I already probably went outside as much or more than most people) I linked it to something I loved–blogging.  When you want to change a behavior, connect it to something you love.  It will help you. Also, for me, publically announcing this intent proved paramount.  There was no way I could go back on my commitment after all you folks knew about it!

Little waterfall near the Eagle Pond

I learned how to see better this year through the lens of the camera.  To capture the miracles of nature, to see deeper, to view wider vistas.  The camera has become a second eye, always sweeping the landscape, always searching for new and interesting sights.  Before this year, I belittled the camera.  (Oh, shame, Kathy!) Belittled folks who would spend hours hidden behind the camera lens instead of experiencing the world directly.  (Beware what you scorn!  You, too, may be soon be in the same position.)  I am wondering what this next week will bring.  Will I drop the camera, forget about it, return to pre-photography days?  Or will it stay a second eye, a second skin, another way of viewing the world?

The Huron Bay through leaves

The two biggest challenges proved:  1)  going outside and staying outside when I didn’t want to be outside and 2) relaxing enough to be confident that there would be something to write about each evening.   My husband writes a weekly column for the local newspaper.  He struggles to come up with enough inspiration to write something every week; he said he can’t imagine how one could write something every day for a year.  It WAS challenging.  But, funny thing, something always presented itself.  Something always came forth.  So often I would empty my mind and sit at the computer and simply watch something larger than myself writing the story.  Even on the one day when nothing came to mind (and no photographs presented themselves) a story came forth about not having anything to write.  It was amazing!

Underwater green in December!

The most amazing thing, to me, has been the support and love of friends and family.  (Darn, crying again…)  You readers have enriched my life so very much.  I can’t even begin to thank you enough for stopping by, for commenting, for sending emails, for cheerleading.  For the family members with whom we have deepened our love and connection, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I have also made friends across the world, special friends who send Christmas cards and books and emails and other gifts.  You don’t know how much your simple presence and accompaniment has meant.  YOU are all so special and unique and wonderful….thank you from my whole being.

Single dried wildflower over icy bay

Here’s a quick story (see!  I’m having trouble finishing today’s blog) to illustrate something that I’ve learned this year.  Today I walked through deep snow down to the bay.  On the way back, two choices presented themselves. Either I walk the “easy” way along the established path…or wade down to a little creek, jump across, and view the back of the pond.

Most of me wanted to just continue on the easy path, but it looked like there were new and interesting places to explore on the other side of the creek.  So I slid down the snowy hill and leapt across the creek. 

That is my wish for all of you:  when faced with the easy paths, choose to jump across more creeks.  Choose to try something a little difficult, to venture off the beaten path, to risk getting your feet wet.  You can do it.  And your rewards will be…more than you ever suspected. 

If  I decide to start another blog, I will link it on this WordPress page. Blessings to all of you as we approach the Winter Solstice tomorrow.  May you feel inspired to listen to the Earth’s teachings.  Thank you again for everything you have contributed to the outdoor commitment.  One person doesn’t make a commitment alone–we are all enriched by the support of our family and friends.

Day 364 of the outdoor commitment.

Question to various relatives:  which blogs did you like best?  

Various relatives:  Oh no!  Which ones…?  We don’t know.  Ummm, let us think.  We’ll get back to you. 

Tonight’s entry involves reporting to you all the answers thus far received.  We’ll start with my husband, Barry.  He voted for every single “action” blog.  He liked the outdoor adventures where we did things together, where we explored Baraga County and the surrounding area (he loved Duluth back in July!)  This commitment has really been precious because we spent so much time together in the Great Outdoors, visiting places we have ignored in the past 20-30 years since we became so “busy” with everyday life. 

His votes:  The Slate Quarry blog (also known as The blog has had a big day today), Backwoods Adventure to the “Million Dollar railroad” and all the fishing adventures including Hey I caught a fish!  (Please click on any of the links to view the old posts.) 

Yep, caught a fish.

 Christopher, our son, voted for the crazed robin blogs, the ones where they pecked incessantly at our windows for months, including Crazed robin and stalking the first wildflower and The danger of philandering husbands.  He also liked This blog is going to the dogs where those neighborhood dogs hounded in on my walk.  And, finally, his sociologist side really enjoyed Horizon Envy, written in late November. 

The robin that made US crazy!

 Kiah, our daughter, liked the very first Solstice blog (because she was there when we lit the bonfire and stated our yearly intentions!)  She also voted for all the travel blogs, which included trips to New York City (see 5/19-5/22 including Opening the door, going down 15 floors in the elevator, saying goodbye to the doorman and walking outside, Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Duluth, my hometown of Yale, Georgia and San Diego.  Did I remember them all?  Another favorite of hers:  What is nature anyway?  (I liked that, too.) 

Sad Panda in Manhattan (didn't we love this Sad Panda, Kiah?)

 My parents didn’t want to list any particular blogs but my mom wrote this:  ” My favorite blogs were all of them that had you with family members across the nation and the related pictures.  A snapshot (pun) look back at your blogs in general is a kaleidoscope of exceptionally beautiful pictures which run through my mind all the time!” 

My mother-in-law liked the Duluth series (7/12 – 7/14 including “We go Duluth” and Duluth: Take Two.  You may not want to swim there quite yet) She also really liked the Pow Wow blogs If you listen to the Pow Wow drums you will never be the same and Farewell Pow Wow.  Until next year.  She (and Kiah) also voted for the more recent one about the Santas and Snowmen:  Dear Kids, The Santas and Snowmen opened the door and walked outside! 

Beautiful little girls in pink at the Pow Wow

And now, you might be wondering which blogs I liked.  Oh, that is a dangerous question.  A very dangerous question indeed.  How can a mother choose one child over another?  How can we choose one blog over another?  Each was special in its own way.  Some caused laughter, some caused tears.  Some proved easy to write; others hard.  They were all so unique. 

Nonetheless, because this blog has forced me to review many of the 365 days…I will offer you a FEW of my favorite ones.  (All you other blogs, please do not pout.  I love you, too.)  

OK, here’s my secret.  I have a special fondness for the philosophical/spiritual blogs.  The ones that perhaps questioned a little deeper.  The ones which prodded below the surface a little bit. Such as Asking nature for advice and What is beautiful and what is not?  However, having stated that, the one that made me laugh for days and days was:  Let the Vegetables Speak!  I laughed so hard about that one that Barry thought I was perhaps a little loco… 

And then there was the blog  Three gunshots at dawn which stirred my heart with its simplicity, making me want to write simple blogs from that day forward. (Which probably didn’t happen again.) And then there was Skin which seemed to elicit a visceral sense of connection with tree bark. But I think my all-time favorite may have been the sweat lodge blog:  Sweat lodge memories: fire, rock, lodge, medicine. 

The skin of white birch

Upon uploading this photo, I was amazed to discover the silhouette of a woman in this stone...

Phew!  This was a LOT of work looking for these old blogs, copying, pasting, hyperlinking.  I really could keep adding more and more.  But now I’m all weepy-eyed and nostalgic and already missing this most incredible year.  And it’s not over until tomorrow… Sniff…

Bear and Cub in the woods

I suppose you’ve all figured out I’m crazy about numbers.  Stats.  Useful information.  It’s kind of an obsession, as I explained to a friend this morning.  

We’ve covered the top search engine terms people have used to find this blog.  Now let’s look at the top blogs during the 365 day outdoor commitment. (Although, it seems to me that these top blog numbers are not really accurate.  If someone logs on to a blog and simply scrolls down the page without clicking on the actual title of the blog or the comments, no “hit” is registered in the statistics of a particular blog.)

#1 is Some Like It Funny and Some Like It Serious  (1,247 hits) and #3 is Repeating myself like a broken record, record, record (or CD, CD, CD) (393 hits).  Those two don’t really “count” as random top blogs because these were the blogs featured on the home page of WordPress.com.  The #2 top blog isn’t really a blog at all.  It’s the “About”  (612 hits) story which explains what this blog is about. 

#4 is Fisher, Pine Marten, Bear and Moose  (326 hits) which features photographs by Pam Boppel-Nankervis, a local wildlife biologist.  The first photo (up above) was captured by a game camera. 

The mysterious inside of an oak gall

#5 is The gall of that oak tree! That was the exciting day when we discovered that oak trees often grow green balls known as “galls”.  Very educational…for all of us.  Apparently, many, many folks are interested in oak galls. 309 hits for this one. 

 

Raven’s claw

 

I am also delighted to tell you that I discovered one of the dead birds hidden within this blog!  At least part of a dead bird.  The above raven’s claw was featured in a post called Dead raven, deer hide, river and stones back in March.  Perhaps all the people searching for “dead bird” end up on this post.  It has had 284 hits. 

The first sucker I ever caught

#7 in the greatest hits series (ha ha, Barry made me use this title!) is A sucker for sucker fishing, written in May.  I’m sure many fishermen have visited this post, wanting to know the secret for catching suckers.  Bet they left not knowing much more than when they started.  Here’s what I remember about that day:  throw the fishing pole into the water and wait until the sucker bites.  Then jerk the pole up and hope that the hook caught the sucker.  End of my knowledge of sucker fishing. 237 hits here. 

Birch bark on snow

#8  An all-time favorite of blog visitors has been Let’s have a scavenger hunt!  (235 hits). The idea for it popped into this brain on the way to the mailbox one day and we had a few eager participants.  The rules:  find some pussy willows, sumac or wintergreen, birchbark, animal scat and an animal.  Photograph all five and email ’em to me.  Some folks opted to put them in their own blogs.  We had so much fun that Amy over at Flandrumhill decided to feature a follow-up contest. Hers was really classy and educational.  

Fisher near pond

(Photo credit for above goes to Pam Boppel-Nankervis.  And this was NOT from a game camera.  She actually got this close to the fisher.  Can you imagine?) 

I hope that you don’t consider this cheating.  Putting in all these old photos and doing wrap ups of the year.  The statistics just beg to be included, you understand.  Besides, I didn’t think you wanted yet another photo of me in that darn snowmobile suit from 1970 filling the wood room.  That’s what we did again today.

Almost forgot to tell you!  More excitement.  The temperature leaped back up into the 20’s.  Once again, we’re living in the banana belt…

The beaver pond

Just think how many things we don’t know about nature.  

For example, I just had to Google the Question “Do beavers hibernate?”  

You would think someone who lives in the North Woods would know the answer to this question.  I thought I knew; maybe, perhaps, yes they do, no they don’t, let’s just get it over with and Google.  

Google pointed its wise finger to several websites which provided the definitive answer:  You Silly Questioner.  Of course beavers do not hibernate.  Don’t you know they eat the inner bark of trees during the winter?  Don’t you know that because the surface of their ponds may freeze solid, making it difficult to get trees, the beaver will chew down extra ones for an underwater food cache located near the den or lodge?  Don’t you know that?  

Pretty impressive sky, eh?

So now you’re wondering about otter, I suppose.  You want to know if otter hibernate.  I am here to tell you “Facts you Otter Know“.  They are definitively active all year-round. Cold weather does not inhibit their behavior.  In fact the author of the hyperlinked article insists that the otter loves ice and snow.  You otter know that.  

Bears hibernate.  You knew that, right?  Well, I am going to rock your world view, because some scientists disagree that bears actually hibernate in the same way as other animals.  That’s because they wake up frequently and their metabolism does not slow to nearly the same degree as, say, a possum or badger.  Why some mama bears even give birth during the winter, requiring a degree of alertness to care for the new cubs.  These scientists prefer to call this behavior denning rather than hibernating.  (It IS amazing what a Google search will teach you.)  

Another source just revealed that bears and raccoons torpor during the winter.  This source said that the raccoons sometimes go out to hunt before returning to their torpor-like state.  My husband can verify that.  He caught a big lake trout ice fishing and was saving the carcass in the snow and the raccoons stole it in the winter.  

Snowy tree, blue sky

Here is a partial list of animals hibernating around here this very minute according to wisegeek: chipmunks, ground squirrels (I beg to differ.  A red squirrel climbed the exterior wall, sat on the window and peered inside while I ‘denned’ at the computer this afternoon), hamsters (not any hamsters in these woods unless they escaped from someone’s house), skunks, bats, and badgers.   

Let us not forget our non-mammal friends, either.  The snakes that scared you last summer are sound asleep in a coma-like hibernation.  When we bring in our wood from the wood pile to wood room, we find shedded snake skins everywhere.  Sometimes we hang them up for decorations in the wood room.  I kid you not.  Back to our hibernation discussion.  Here are some more non-mammals:  lizards, frogs, toads, turtles and bees are all hibernating.   

One bird, the Western Poor Will, is considered a hibernating bird.  I can tell you what birds do NOT hibernate.  The chickadees, nuthatches, finches, blue jays, woodpeckers and juncos have all been seen near the bird feeder already this winter.  They are hard to photograph.  They flutter and swoop and dive so quickly all you can capture is a blurry whirr of wings.   

The chickadees at Catherine’s house yesterday were more relaxed.  You can see the non-hibernating bird here:  

Chickadee!

Oh yes.  I would also like to add that I did not hibernate today.  Barry had to go to the Trading Post, so I hitched a ride.  Then he dropped me off about a mile or more from our house and I walked home.  It was cold, but not freezing cold.  Snowy, but not too snowy.  The only non-hibernating animals spotted were ravens lunching on a deer carcass.  (I decided to spare you the deer carcass photo.)

Let's pass the basket around first.

Dear Friends,  Black Friday has come and (almost) gone.  We’ve all decided to give natural items for the holiday this year, haven’t we?  Especially for our virtual friends.  Because most of us only know each other in cyber-realms, we shall have to exchange cyber-gifts.  This avoids the prohibitive cost of mailing. Please sit down at your computer and prepare to open your gift.  I suppose you can have more than one.  You don’t even have to wait for the holidays. Please be considerate of the other cyber-recipients, though. 

I shopped for gifts for all of you today.  Oh my, there are too many of you to name with insulting at least dozens of you.  But I am going to throw out some names at the top of my head.  (All of the names not mentioned are at the bottom of my head, which doesn’t mean I love you less, it just means that for some reason you were waiting patiently at the bottom of the head and didn’t funnel out first.)

So here are gifts for the Susans, Cindy, Gerry, the Amys, Joanne, Dale, Kiah, Christopher, Craig, the many Jessicas, fountainpen, Gigi, Sybil, Emma, Julia, Pamela, Sandy, Christine, Carla, the Dawns, Deborah, Jen, Karen, Melinda, Catherine, Yellow Bells, Christie, Scot, Tim, Mom, Dad, Georgia Mom, Patty, Sonya, Kim, Janet, Laurie, Raven, H. Forward, Mrs. Uhdd, Reggie, Maunderer, Kath, Bree, Nature Loving Super Mama, Iris, Tina, Doris, Margo, Nancy…AND IF I’VE MISSED ANYONE ELSE WHO WANTS A PRESENT PLEASE GIVE A HOLLER AND YOU CAN CLAIM YOUR VIRTUAL GIFT TOO!  (oh and all you unknown blog readers…please…take a gift.  I am so thankful for all of you for stopping to read, even though we might never even have “officially” met in this virtual or earthly world.)

A sweet little white feather for all of you who like feathers

Of course this was all Sahlah’s idea.  As I posted yesterday, she got the brilliant idea that we should shop for rocks and feathers and twigs and such on Black Friday for all our blog readers. 

If we meet face-to-face on the street I will give you a real rock.  I swear it.  I will carry around that basket of stones in my car until the Solstice.  However, I’m afraid that there’s only a handful of you within shouting distance.  So the rest of you must be satisfied with virtual gifts.  As we’ve only had virtual acquaintance, I’m sure you won’t be dismayed or disappointed.

A special antler for anyone who will treasure it.

These are some of my prized possessions and gifts from the woods.  But I’m willing to give them away to you in spirit, because I know you will honor them.  You readers, I can tell, share a deep love for the earth, for the blessings of the land, for the abundance which surrounds us everywhere.

This is one of the most precious gifts I could give you. Do you know why?

Rocks, feathers, pieces of woods, antlers, sticks.

As precious as Nintendos, computers (hmmm?), cell phones, iPods?

Stone on stone

In the above virtual stone gift you could have one rock or both.  It’s up to you.  It’s kind of hard to separate them in the virtual world, though.

Your final choice: a twig that really is a magic wand. (shhhhh....)

OK, tomorrow I really do have to hit a few stores for a few small gifts.  I’m not a big shopper.  (Can you tell?  Maybe I could just shop virtually from now on.  Tell the relatives, “Just log in on-line and you can see a picture of my gift for you.”  Hmmm, wonder how far that one would go?)

Hope all of the rest of you had fun on your Black Friday shopping.  Enjoy your gifts! 🙂

Snow on spruce

Happy Thanksgiving all you blog readers!  

Even if you don’t celebrate thanksgiving, I am thankful for YOU.

Today (besides being the once or twice a year our mostly-vegetarian lips touch meat…that’s if you don’t count fish) we ate Thomas Turkey. He tasted quite good.  Baked to that fall-apart perfection.  Add some mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade stuffing and you’ve got a dinner to be grateful for.  We said our words of thanks.  I read a poem by Rafael Jesus Gonzalez entitled Grace.  We included our family and friends, near and far, into the heart of our prayers.  We ate.

It was snowing this morning.  A very light snow, dusting the ground and then melting into it.  Flakes danced from the sky and melted in odd patterns everywhere.

Snow melting on car

I was truly fascinated with the way the snow melted on the car.  How interesting!  What loops, what hieroglyphs, what symmetry!  One has a lot to be grateful for when the snow melting on one’s car is more entertaining than a movie or a Macy’s parade, don’t you think?

More melting snow on car

Barry put up the bird feeder a couple days ago.  We’ve been waiting breathlessly for the arrival of the chickadees and nuthatches.  They have been calling and chirping all around us in the past few days.  They kept singing, “Where is our bird feeder? Where is our bird feeder?”  but when we finally put it up, they were nowhere around.  Until this afternoon when we put the turkey in the oven.  Then there were a dozen of them pecking away in the feeder.  I was too busy to photograph their majesties.

Green moss on stump yesterday

Excuse the insertion of this green moss photo.  It was taken yesterday, before the world turned white.  Isn’t it a stunning color of bright green against the autumn leaves? 

Another interjection:  Remember when I told you about the NaNoWriMo commitment of writing a 50,000 page novel during the month of November?  How many of you placed bets it couldn’t be done?  Well, I am here to tell you that 51,214 words have been sprawled across 96 pages and I now have the official “prize”.  You want to know what the prize is?  I will upload it for you:

There you go

 However, of course, the novel is not done.  Nowhere near done.  The characters are still deep involved in their drama, romance and historical fiction.  Who knows when it will be finished. This month?  Next?  I do vow to finish it.  Some of the writing is so raw I’m sure you could scrub countertops with it (ha ha, how’s that for a metaphor?) but other passages are almost…almost…fairly decent.  The editor would have to utilize an eraser and thesaurus before anyone could ever read it.

Just wanted to let you know the status of this secondary commitment.  Which didn’t really interfere with the outdoor commitment at all, did it?

Icy snow crystal up close

What else can I tell you about this Thanksgiving night?  How about the bald eagle which landed in the tree over the garage and sat there a long time?  Barry said he’s seen it there two or three times lately.  I tried to grab the camera and capture his majestic wings in flight but he flapped away with his broad wingsweep the very moment the front door opened.  Like all good trackers, I followed him up the road.  He landed in a tree.  I approached; he flew away.  I shook my head and wandered back home, photographing ice crystals instead.

Watch your step! Ice on front porch!

As for the front porch:  oh my!  Very dangerous.  An unsuspecting walker, say, someone with birdseed in his hands, could take a sliding dive on the icy steps.  Luckily, we maintained our wits.  We walked oh-so-carefully.  No one tumbled.  No one fell. 

We were truly thankful as we said our Thanksgiving prayer this year. 

Sending you all Thanksgiving blessings, as well.

****Darn!  Darn!  I almost forgot to tell you THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.  Phew.  Memory is not always the best.  Dawn, Sahlah, had a great suggestion for Black Friday.  I will paste her idea here:  

I have an idea – we can all give virtual rocks/feathers/twigs/puddles whatever to each other in our blogs!

We could spend Black Friday searching for those “just right” images…

So that’s going to be MY Black Friday shopping.  I’m going to officially shop for rocks.  And a few other goodies from the woods. Virtual presents for all of YOU!

Earth and sky...

With bowed heads we remember

the sweet-shining sun under which the turkey strutted

all bold and daring,

the mud puddle where the pig wallowed,

the dark smell of the chicken barn,

the honking of geese.

We give thanks for the loamy earth where grew

that fat potato, the golden orange of  sweet potato marrow,

the rooted slender carrots,

the curve of deep green beans.

Our heart remembers the moon which gives itself to wane and wax,

the roaring of tides in and out,

the ripening of acorns on the mighty oak,

the fierce red cranberries in the bog.

The yeast that bubbles water and hearty flour

into something new, something crusty, something tangled

with sweet butter and honey.

We give thanks for pumpkins and apples and walnuts and

maple syrup, drizzled from tree to plate.

Oh Thanksgiving table born of earth and sky,

this day our hearts open to kneel

on a horizon of thanks.

You feed us.

May we remember you this day as we

eat

and

drink.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

P.S.  oh I better tell you what I did outside today.  Walked up the road in the drizzling rain and down the road in the drizzling rain.  Later stood in the drizzling rain helping Barry with his garage-addition project.  Yep, that was it for the outdoor adventures today.

So the airplane lands and you drive almost two hours home.  You’re tired.  You sing to yourself to stay awake. You put the radio on…loud.  You roll down the window.  You put toothpicks in your eyelids to keep your eyes open.  (Well, maybe not that extreme…)

You pull in the driveway about 11:15 p.m.  You hug your husband, exchange a few stories and drop dead-asleep into a nice warm cozy bed.

At 6:30 in the blessed a.m. he says, “Time to get up!” and you open one eye.  In California it’s 3:30 a.m.  But then you suppose this means that on California time you went to bed at 8:30 p.m. so you get up without too much fuss.  You drink coffee.  You prepare to go to work, thanking all the stars in the Universe that you don’t have to leave immediately.

You look outside.  It’s beautiful.  The world has been painted frost-white overnight.  You put on your warm winter coat wondering how this happened…yesterday morning in San Diego it was in the 50’s.  Now it’s way below freezing.  You feel your Upper Peninsula stamina returning.

Frost on car, frost on driveway, frost in garden

You breathe the fresh morning frosty air.  You admire that the garden has been rototilled in your absence.  Now it is ready for spring planting, after the next six months of snow and ice and freezing cold.

Up close frost on grass

You wander around in the dawn, half-asleep.  You wonder at how quickly worlds can change.  Yesterday you were someplace else.  Another landscape informed your life.  Today you are awake in another place on the great earth.  Are we the same people we were yesterday?  Will we be the same person tomorrow?  Take another sip of coffee and ponder that.

Great shadows drape themselves on the frosty earth

Frost on leaf

You’re starting to wake up because it’s so cold.  You’re starting to think about all the work you need to do, both at home and work.  Traveling is a delight, but then there is that catching-up time.  You have so much to do.  But you won’t think about any of it, not yet.  You’ll just let the camera look around at the frost for five more minutes.

Frost, shadows, sunlight

Finally you drive to work.  You are not thinking about hunting season.  Not thinking about the many hunters seeking deer in the woods.  Not thinking at all.  You are driving along, when suddenly, there is A Sign.  You can’t believe it!  Look at that sign!

Berri (Berry?) Pickers go home??

First thought:  How terrible.  How awful.  All the berry pickers (meaning people from not around here) are going to have hurt feelings.

Second thought:  Hey, am I still a berry picker?  (only been here 30 years, you never know.)

Third thought: Wonder what kind of pain a person would be in to make that kind of sign?

Fourth, fifth, sixth thoughts, etc:  Maybe it’s a joke.  Maybe “BerriPicker” is the name of a person and it’s a big joke  Maybe a drunk kid did this.  Maybe some “Berry Picker” was acting stupid in a local bar and looking down at folks.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The mind can really tell a lot of stories.  You could tell 1,000,000 stories about why the person wrote the sign.  You could make it a good story, a bad story, a tragic story, a funny story, anything.  You could make it have a good ending or bad ending.  It could be just about anything.  I think the sign maker and the outsider ended up having a beer at the local tavern.  Six months later the sign maker moved away to live someplace else and learned what it was to be an outsider.  The berry picker moved here.  Everyone lived happily ever after.

How’s that for my story tonight?  Can any of us ever know the truth?  Anyone have any stories of your own?

The heavens open up

The heavens open up

Have you looked, really looked, at the sky above you lately?

How marvelously the clouds dance against the sky, changing colors, opening up, obscuring the heavens, then teasing you with flashes of sunlight?

I have not stopped to truly fall in love with the sky until today.  On Day #320 of the outdoor adventure.  Three hundred twenty days of opening the door, walking outside, and I have not fallen head-over-heels in love with the sky until now. 

Of course, I’ve noticed the sky.  Everyone notices the sky. But it’s so often the earth that demands our attention.  The little things, the unusual prizes, the flowers, the leaves, the dogs, the snow.  The Beings of the Earth.

Today the Beings of the Sky tapped my shoulder and said, “Hey!  Look up!”  and I did.

Up, up and away...

Up, up and away...

What an amazing world exists above our heads.  Cloud-creatures sway and form and dissolve everywhere.  You can lay on your back against the earth and watch the ever-changing cloud-creatures.  I remember doing this for the first time at age eight.  I saw our recently dead wire-haired terrier named Buttons in the clouds.  Even though he had choked on a fish bone and died, he was somehow floating in the clouds.  You couldn’t convince me otherwise.

Sky in heavens and on earth (OK, reflected in a pond)

Sky in heavens and on earth (OK, reflected in a pond)

Earlier this year I discovered the sky in ponds and mud puddles.  That was a revelation.  It had never truly occurred to me before that mud puddles could reflect the sky so beautifully.  (And I am not the only one!  One of my good friends, an earth-lover extraordinaire recently confessed that she had not noticed that before either.)  However, do you think I raised my eyes to the sky above and stood enraptured at the clouds and blue?  No.  I was only enraptured with the reflection.

Today I was enraptured with the Real Thing.  The sky itself.

Light, clouds, depth, sky

Light, clouds, depth, sky

This morning I left for Houghton about 8:30 a.m.  Spent a good hour or longer in the coffee shop writing on the laptop, aka Miss Ellie.  Then headed off to recycle and shop.  Felt a strong prompting to phone my nephew Doug who is attending Michigan Technological University.  Would he like to join his aunt for lunch?  I really didn’t expect to get a reply, imagining how busy a college student might be. 

Yet, miracle of miracles, he had seventy-five free minutes.  Could I pick him up down by the library?  Yes.  We ate Chinese at the Ming Buffet, catching up on everything.

Afterward we agreed to meet again, hopefully before the holidays.  I then phoned my son in California (yes, the same son I’m going to visit in one week) who has the flu.  Yes, probably the dreaded swine variety.  Half of our county has the flu.  For the first time in our memory they’ve closed all of the county schools until Monday. 

Driving home, I suddenly felt achy.  Oh no, was I about to join the swine numbers?

I forced myself to stop the car behind the Pow Wow grounds and wander in the 37 degree temperatures, breathing deep the fresh air.

That’s when I noticed the Sky.

Unexpected beauty

Unexpected beauty

Who knows if it was the Sky?  But suddenly all my aches and pains disappeared.  I felt energized and exuberant and totally in love with clouds and sunlight and blue sky.

Things are looking up.

Perhaps other flu victims should spend some time with their heads in the clouds.  Just a half hour a day should do.  The best medicine on earth!  Or, rather, in the sky… What if doctors prescribed, “Take two half hour doses of the Sky for two weeks” instead of antibiotics.  Wouldn’t that be novel?

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.”

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