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Red strawberry plant...kinda makes you think about Christmas

I have Christmas shopping plans for this weekend.  Maybe not for the Official Shopping Day, Black Friday.  But at least for Saturday.  I’m headed for Marquette (before or after a delightful luncheon with special twins in the Ishpeming/Negaunee area).  But there are a few key Christmas items which must be found.  I will join the throng of shoppers and…shop.

But I decided to first discuss the matter with the Forest on my walk today.  Just to see what the Forest thinks of our Christmas Shopping plans.  And specifically Black Friday.

Me:  Hi Forest!  How are you today?

Forest:  (silence)

Me:  I know you’re not into talking too much in words.  But I have a question for you.  What do you think about all of us humans shopping like crazy this weekend?  What do you think of Christmas?  What do you think of exchanging gifts?  What do you think of all the money we spend?

Teeny tiny little spruce tree (8 inches high?)

Forest:  silence

Me:  You’re not going to say too much are you?  Please?  Just a few words?  Even if the words don’t really explain too much.  Just try. What do you think of Black Friday?

Forest:  Look at my red strawberry leaf.  Look at my little spruce tree.  Look at my goldenrod balls.  What do they tell you?

Me:  Umm, I think…they are telling me…keep it simple.  Don’t make it so complicated.  Don’t shop just to spend money.  Really think about what we’re buying.  Try to buy gifts that express our hearts.  Is that it?

Goldenrod balls

Forest:  give from your heart.  It’s not about the money.  It’s about the small things.  Spending time with family and friends.  Sharing food, drink, beauty, gifts.  Don’t try to buy love or feelings or presence.  Give simply, from your heart, no matter how much money you spend.

Me:  But Forest, maybe we shouldn’t spend ANY money at all.  I know that would screw up the economy and everything, but maybe we should just forgo money and not give at all.  Then we wouldn’t be taking anything from You.  We wouldn’t be cutting down your trees, taking your minerals, using your resources.  Don’t you agree?  We shouldn’t spend at all?

Stick in the mud

Forest:  Don’t be a stick in the mud.  I keep telling you.  It’s not a matter of money.  It’s a matter of your heart.  It’s a matter of looking deeply to see:  What is your real intent?  When you look closely at your real intent, you’ll give simply when simple is required and lavish when lavishly is required.  Don’t just give the way you’ve always given before.  Look into your heart and intentions and then you’ll know what you’re suppose to buy.

Me:  Oh.  OK.  But that’s still hard.  Especially when you’re in the stores and everything looks so good and interesting and entertaining.

Forest:  Don’t just give or buy to satisfy the voice inside you that wants more, more, more. That doesn’t help any of us.

There are a million rocks in the lake. Give stones as gifts.

Me:  So when I go to Marquette this weekend…I am suppose to buy Christmas presents that mean something.  That share the love that I feel for family in friends.  Maybe I should give them some pretty Lake Superior stones for Christmas?  Do you think they would like that?

Forest:  silence

Me:  I wonder what everyone would say if they just got one stone for Christmas.  Hmmmm. Maybe better visit a few stores, just in case…

Bone and stone

Bone and stone

Who says the forest is quiet? 

It’s often an extremely noisy world outside our door, in the middle of the woods. This morning, while peacefully sipping our coffee and tea, chatting away…BOOM!!  BOOM!!  BOOM!! 

It’s enough to make one leap up off the couch in startled frenzy.  But we’re used to it, after all these years.  We barely raised an eyebrow.  I think I grunted something like, “What hunting season is it now?”  and Barry mumbled back something like, “Duck.  Goose.  They’re hunting down on the bay.”  Oh yes.  We continued to sip our beverages, contemplating the hunter and hunted down on the bay.  I said, “Hope the geese fly south fast” and Barry said, “Wouldn’t you like a goose dinner some day?” 

“No,” I replied, “we’re vegetarians, don’t you remember?”

“Remember that goose dinner you cooked back when we were in our 20’s and you cried?” he continued. 

“Vaguely,” I replied.  We sipped some more and listened to the silence in the woods.  Now you could hear the rooster crowing next door.  Ahhhhhahahahaha!  It cried.  It does not cocka-doodle-doo like normal roosters. 

The necessity of headphones in the woods

The necessity of headphones in the woods

Next loud noise:  our woodsplitter.  One must wear headphones to mute the loud whining engine sounds that keen through the trees.  (Maybe it’s the trees that are keening loudly, knowing that their relatives are being split up to heat our house.)  It’s very noisy.  As noisy as chainsaws and bulldozers and cement trucks.  All of which have been on our property within the last couple weeks.

You finally stop splitting wood and throwing it in the truck.  When you throw wood in the truck it goes “ka-thunk!”  If it makes the sound “ka-ching!” you’re in trouble.  That means you’ve accidentally tossed the wood against the Studebaker sides or fender.  Not a good thing.  And if you ever heard the sound “ka-crrringle!!!” you might as well run for the house in tears because that would mean you threw a log through the back Studebaker window.  I would never do that.  Not  in a million years.  Promise.

A chipmunk with a full acorn squirreled away in his jaws

A chipmunk with a full acorn squirreled away in his jaws

Now here’s some noise that goes on day AND night.  Serious noise.  It’s the sound of chipmunks and squirrels scurrying up and down the oak tree.  Out on the branches they dangle, their mouths stuffed with prize acorns.  The extra acorns hit the ground “ping!”  “ping!” “ping!” and heaven forbid that you’re underneath the oak tree when the acorns fall.  It’s like a construction zone.  You need a hard hat.  It’s treacherous beneath the oak tree in the autumn.  Don’t go there.

White pine "flower" or, rather, remnants of squirrel lunch

White pine "flower" or, rather, remnants of squirrel lunch

Speaking of noises in the night…I hesitate to tell you this story.  But I have permission, so you shall hear it.  My beloved husband likes to stay up late, putzing in his garage until it’s inky black outside.  He’s memorized the path between garage and house and can manuever like a bobcat in the dark.  Except.  Last night he decided to move some of his construction project materials from the garage to the shed.  In the dark.

He was watching the tree line and thinking he knew exactly where he was going until…

A very dangerous rock

A very dangerous rock

*&*)*&#)$*@)&$^^%^%&)@*$)@!!!!!

(Please supply the words you think a man might utter at 1 a.m. in the pitch dark when he stumbles over a rock and bangs up both legs quit badly.  Poor fellow.  He limped into the house in pain and agony with all sorts of bruises, cuts and contusions.)  I asked if it would be possible to photograph his legs to show you all, but he declined.

Yes, the woods can be quite noisy.  Yes, indeed.

Leaves in luscious moss

Leaves in luscious moss

Oh my, oh my.  Sometimes I just sit down at this computer and think “There’s nothing to write about, absolutely nothing to say”.  This is one of those nights.  I feel like I’ve been babbling every single night for seven and a half months.  What possibly could be left to say?  What story left to tell?

So then my job is to ignore the voice who insists there’s nothing to say…and start typing.  To see what comes out.  To see what the encounter with the outdoors wants to share.

Really need to buy Harvey's book to positively identify this.

Really need to buy Harvey's book to positively identify this. Think it's knapweed

So I started walking up the road this afternoon, planning to visit a woods I named Marantha many years ago.  I was going to share all about one of my favorite special places in the woods with you.  How she was razed, logged, scarred and cut many years ago.  How I agonized over her logging.  But then suddenly…it sounded all too familiar.  And finally it occurred that the blog about Marantha had already been written.  Remember the photo of the porcupine’s rear end quivering in his winter quarters?  Click here for a memory refresher.

So the story had already been told.  But the story of this summer day, August 3rd, 2009 had not been told.  And a new story is born every day.  Every minute.  If we but open our eyes to look.

Here is a summertime view of where the porcupine lives in winter.

Here is a summertime view of where the porcupine lives in winter.

The porcupine, of course, is nowhere to be seen.  Off cavorting in trees or raising babies or sticking quills in intruders, perhaps.  There were plenty of chipmunks dashing to and fro.  And chickadees, woodpeckers and other assorted songbirds.  Mosquitoes galore, although none biting viciously unless you sat lazily on a log in the sun for an extended amount of time, listening.  Lots of flies.  No wood ticks, though.  They’ve mostly disappeared from the woodland scene in early August. 

Red leaf green leaf

Red leaf green leaf

If you carry a jar or yogurt container, there are lots of raspberries in this woods.  After the forest trees fell, raspberry bushes grew up in the openings.  I picked at an easy pace, enjoying a juicy red berry in between collecting them for tomorrow morning’s breakfast.  The temperature actually reached 75 degrees today, so it felt hot again. 

Big hemlocks in Marantha (in a mostly unlogged area)

Big hemlocks in Marantha (in a mostly unlogged area)

When you return home after walking an hour or two in a special woods, letting your feet determine where they want to go, wandering here and there, you will feel so energized and alive.  As if the forest has taught you things in her silence.  The forest tells stories, but not in words.  She speaks in the language of moss, flowers, bark, mosquitoes, ferns and raspberries.

Tendrils of earth cling to the roots of an uprooted tree

Tendrils of earth cling to the roots of an uprooted tree

OK, an outdoor adventure can’t get any more fun that this.

You guys are with me now, in the woods, with a flurry of mosquitoes buzzing around. 

Seriously, you are!

I have taken my new laptop outside into the woods and am actually snapping photos and writing this blog while simultaneously having the outdoor adventure on this Day #214 of the Outdoor Commitment.

Do you want to know where we are?

Our house peeks through the spruce trees

Our house peeks through the spruce trees

We are nestled in one of the kids’ old forts.  You can tell that because there are wooden boards pounded down and set nicely between the trees.  One of the boards lies covered with spruce needles and green moss so thick you know it will soon belong to the soil again.  There’s a stone which lies in the middle of the fort, and a broken coffee cup.  I’m afraid the coffee cup was mine, and has a story attached to it.  More later.

Back to the marvels of the wireless world which allows a laptop computer to travel into the woods!  I’ve never been able to do this before.  Before I was attached to the internet-world via a cord and electricity.  This may have been a good thing. 

But now the worlds are One.  The computer and I are listening to the bird song.  Such a shrill calling from overhead!  The computer urges not to get any blood on its keys, from swatting hungry blood-filled mosquitoes.  Thunder rumbles in the distance.  Which makes one want to type rapidly, in case rain showers decide to soak the computer.  And then there’s the challenge of this hard bench…oh it’s not too comfortable.  But it provides back support with a sturdy spruce.  If I settle down into the dried leaves, the back might be challenged.

Off, ye mosquito!  Slap! 

for your viewing pleasure...one of the fort's benches

for your viewing pleasure...one of the fort's benches

Ah, yes, where were we?  In the time to upload that photo, the mind has wandered into reading emails and…sigh…not being particularly present to the Outdoors and the Fort.  Except for the mosquitoes.  This is the disadvantage to being too highly wired.  One’s attention perhaps isn’t on Where One Is. 

Since we’re flitting all around, it’s time to share the Story of the Cup.

A broken cup indeed

A broken cup indeed

Pardon me.  Slap!  Slap!  Slap!  Such an bloody adventure today.

Back to the cup.  Years and years ago (far too many years to count) I wanted to quit drinking so much coffee.  Time to oust the java habit.  (WOW!  Loud thunder!!)  So I came outside beneath these trees and talked to the Universal Powers that Be.  Asked for assistance in breaking the coffee habit. Left a coffee cut to demonstrate sincerity.

Well…looking at this cup and smiling right now…looks like something was broken!   Cracked right in half!  The name on the cup says “A Walk through Dreaming Meadows”.  And, truly, the Powers that Be must have assisted for I am really in good relationship with the Java these days.  I like to drink some, but not too much. 

This place holds such good vibes.  Memories of little children playing here.  Our earnest son with his hammer pounding and building this fort in the woods.  Our daughter (almost four years younger) running behind in delight, following wherever her older brother led.

I’m not sure if it’s spruce needles falling or raindrops, so will sign off now.  Thank you all for joining me for an afternoon adventure in the fort.  We’ve never been so close.  HOWEVER, will probably not be lugging this computer around every day outside.  That simply wouldn’t be right.

Must go now, as soon as I scoot that tiny yellow insect off the computer screen…

The skin of the birch

The skin of the birch

The forest is alive. 

Trees layer in skin, surrounding the core. 

Reach out and touch the textures of bark.  Soft, smooth, tender.

Hard, scratchy, rough.

Each skin of each individual tree shimmers with uniqueness, with individuality.  Don’t let your mind fool you into believing there’s only a single concept of bark, a single way trees are. 

Shadow play

Shadow play

In the early morning light of dawn, shadows play on the skin of trees.  Leaves dance against the bark.  If your imagination starts dancing you might even glimpse the Little People lounging on the roots, caressing the underground skin.  If you look closely, closely, at the bark you might even see small creatures burrowing in the crevices.

Hello, creature.  Almost missed you.

Hello, creature. Almost missed you.

Peer closely now.  There’s fungus of every description.  Whorls and crevices and depths abound.  Insects clatter up and down the steep slopes of their homes.  Oh, there’s so much to see.  Don’t let the fickle leaves distract you.  Stay true to the bark-skin, at least for awhile.  It has so much to share.

OK, you're getting close enough now.  Look at the mountains and valleys!

OK, you're getting close enough now. Look at the trails.

For you scientific sorts, I’ll bet you already know the purpose of bark.  It protects the inner layers of the tree. Bark acts like a shield to protect the vascular cambium, phloem, and xylem which are located just beneath the surface.  In everyday language, bark is the protector.  It takes care of the inner more delicate parts.  It shields.  It whispers for us to come close, to look, to touch.  Just don’t bring a chain saw or axe, please.

Dark skin and light skin

Dark skin and light skin

Root and bark, leaf and fruit.  So many different parts of the creatures which grow from shrubby low-to-the-ground fellows to swaggering giants reaching up to touch the sky.  We’re honored to share the planet with them.

But look…what might this be?  NO, say it’s not so.  It must be the tree’s giggle about yesterday’s blog.  The first red leaf.  She wafted down from way up above and rests gently on this old grandfather’s skin.

Oh the fickle leaves!  "How quickly they change," sighs the bark.

Oh the fickle leaves! "How quickly they change," sighs the bark.

Concentric ice circles in a forest pond

Concentric ice circles in a forest pond

You know that scrunched-up exhausted shoulder-achy feeling you get when you’ve stared at the computer too long?  Especially when it’s work-related. Let’s say you’re figuring out numbers to put in an Excel spreadsheet and you’ve been staring fixedly at the application for an hour or two or three.  And your eyes suddenly feel blurry and your head aches and you suddenly feel like you can’t spend another minute working…

Everyone knows what to do, right?  GO OUTSIDE!  Don’t listen to your boss (unless, of course, going outside will get you fired.  Then you might want to reconsider.)  Don’t listen to your own Mind complaining “it’s too cold, it’s too hot, it’s too windy, it’s too rainy, I don’t want to, there’s nothing to do…”  Don’t listen to weathermen or forecasts, husbands or partners, children or pets.  Just open the door and go outside.

This comes with a set of instructions.  Your instructions are thus:  you must allow your feet to lead you where THEY want to go.  Do not allow the Mind to set the perimeters.  The Mind will say something like “Go to Starbucks” or “Go get a pistachio ice cream cone”.   Ignore.  Instead, follow the feet. 

The feet led me to all sorts of interesting sights today.  (I kind of thought we’d be going across the road, but you never know for sure until you’re there.)  The first thing that took my breath away were the concentric circles in the ice.  How gorgeous.

Perfect circle of green moss barely dusted with snow

Perfect circle of green moss barely dusted with snow

Then followed the above photo of green moss.  I brushed away the excess snow, just lightly.  I swear fairies lingered nearby.  You could hear their wings.  Unless those were chickadees or red poles fluttering nearby.  But everyone knows the fairies use these moss-circles for their own mystical purposes.  I can’t presume what.

Yellowed oak leaves in a cluster

Yellowed oak leaves in a cluster

I swear you can’t walk a half dozen feet without finding something absolutely intriguing.  Of course, anything that’s beneath the melted snow is fascinating. You wonder how it survived the winter.  You wonder what you shall find in six steps. You know you will discover something…because the feet have wisdom that bypasses all our plans and ideas.

Walking north, and then east, and then meandering south (yes, falling in snow-covered frozen mini-ponds, at least three times.  But the water never crested the boot top, so it was OK.)  Suddenly, a six foot circle of matted deer fur appeared.  Hmmm….  I surveyed the area for bones.  For clues.  This looked like too much fur for a deer sleepover.  This looked like…winter-kill.

What, you may ask, is winter-kill?  It’s a sad fact that many of the animals don’t survive the long winters here.  They starve, they are hunted for prey, they die.  When the snow melts, their remains lie on the forest floor.

Deer hind feet

Deer hind feet

The carcass was still quite bloody and raw.  I am sparing you the photo.  (although I know just who among you readers would love to see the entire carcass.)  Other animals will probably nibble the bones for marrow during the next week or so.  Later on in April we might see a curvature of bone, matted hair and a couple hooves.  That’s all.

Would you like a final overview shot, a larger view of the landscape through which the feet hiked?  So you can fathom what the forest looks like this time of year.  Although all the sections of the forest are so different:  every section unique.

The woods

The woods

Well I hope your work-related breaks prove as interesting.  I’m back to crunching numbers now, but they’re almost done for tomorrow’s meeting.  Goodbye!

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