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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
When you tiptoe outside in the early October dawn, with sunrise temperatures below freezing, frost meets your sleepy eyes.
Frost thick on car windshields. Frost atop the remaining garden carrots and kale and beets. Frost ice-searing the edges of autumn leaves.
You shiver in your winter coat, burrowing deeper into mittens and beneath knitted hat. Your breath spirals in smoke-vapor trails. The frost crunches thick beneath your sneakers or boots. As you walk among the plants, it melts oh-so-quickly and your jeans get soaked in two minutes. You don’t mind, wandering in a world of crisp-white beauty.
It’s not light enough to truly take pictures until after 9 a.m. Yes, the sun rises earlier. But, no, the light refuses to illuminate until the magic hour. You must capture frost at its dawn zenith. Not too soon, not too late. Timing is everything. Just like in our human lives.
Frost is the harbinger of snow around here. Frost speaks a language that the squirrels and deer and birds and mice understand. They scramble to finish preparations. They know their fattening-up days are limited. The wolves bay at the moon, talking to frost gods. The owls hoot, exchanging wisdom. The humans stoke their fires and linger inside. They remember ice in the marrow of their bones. But it does no good to push it yonder. Winter comes.
It’s almost time to trek home to that warm kitchen. Breakfast simmers on the stove: hearty grains, dried apricots, pumpkin seeds, almonds, coconut, blueberries. What a delight to wander home after the frost-walk! Cheeks rosy and yet body warm after the hike, you open the door and return inside. A chickadee chirps its sweet winter call from near the garden, requesting sunflower seeds.
“Not yet,” you say. “We’ll put up the feeder soon, when the garden is empty.”
The chickadee flutters to the spruce tree. Another good day. And it’s not even 10 a.m.
It’s not suppose to snow until October 15th. We thought we had an agreement with Mother Nature. No snow until mid-October. We thought she signed on the dotted line, especially after our summer-less summer. (Except for Beautiful September, in which summer finally decided to pay us all a little belated visit.)
But no! Mother Nature cheated. First she doused us with a hard frost last night and sent the temperature down to the upper 20’s. Then, this morning, the snow flurries started blowing in on the north wind. It looked like mid-winter for a few minutes there. Except, of course, nothing was sticking to the ground. The snow just looked fierce.
And actually, I admit, we were all a little exhilarated. Snow!! Like children we stood outside enjoying the flakes, taking photos, getting some red in our cheeks as the wind blew here and there. My parents, I think, were secretly glad that they could return to the Lower Peninsula next week with the exciting news of seeing October snow.
We lounged inside much of the morning, enjoying the warmth of the woodstove, good conversation and laughter. After a lunch of yellow split pea soup (mine) and Povety Sop* (my mother’s) Mom and I decided to go for a brisk walk. I insisted she put on my heavy winter Columbia jacket. She was glad to comply.
We walked down to the Eagle Pond. I pointed to the house where the two roaming dogs used to live and smugly said, “Well at least they’re gone now. Now we can walk without dogs accompanying us!”
We turned off into the woods to the sound of a nearby dog collar tinkling through the trees. And, sure enough, we soon had a new wild and crazy puppy joining us on our walk.
We aimed back toward the lake repeating to the dog quite sharply, “Down!” “Sit!” “Get away!” as he threatened to knock us off our feet. We didn’t dare throw sticks in case he decided to adopt us and follow us home and live here forever. We tried to be stern and yet friendly. What a crazy big-footed slurpy fellow he was.
The minute he saw the waters of the Huron Bay (ice cold though they may have been) he romped in for a little swim.
My mom knew we were looking for photos of red trees reflecting in Lake Superior. We had a little problem locating red trees along our path. There were plenty of yellow-leafed trees, but no red ones. Then Mom said, “Oh, look at that beautiful red reflection in the water!”
I peered down by the dog. No beautiful red reflection. Just looked like waves and brown water. What was she talking about?
We peered longer. She was about to suggest something might be wrong with my eyes. When we remembered the polarized sunglasses she wore. I put them on and, sure enough, what a beautiful red reflection on the water!
On the really really brisk walk up the road (oh weren’t we glad we wore our winter coats?) we spotted a wooly caterpillar. You’re suppose to be able to predict the length and severity of the winter by the coat on these caterpillars. I am posting this picture so you can make your prediction. Will winter be over with by March? April? May? What do you think?
* P.S. “Povety Sop” is an ancient family recipe passed down from generation to generation.
My blog tonight is about Two Things.
#1: Preparations for my next trip. To visit the firstborn son out in San Diego.
Which one shall we discuss first?
When talking with my son a few hours ago he said, “I can’t believe how much my friends from the Midwest are complaining about the weather!”
The poor lad has been settled in the southern reaches of California for the past two or three years, so he’s already forgotten our Midwestern suffering when Summer departs and autumn settles in with her icy grip. He’s living in a place that basically lingers at 70 degrees, year round. Can we imagine that? No, we can not.
However, I am happy to announce, I will finally get to visit his un-frosted home next month! For the cost of an airplane ticket of $354, the blog will now travel to sunny San Diego in mid November to visit the first born son. (Yes, yes, I know some of you are shaking your heads muttering “Didn’t she just get back from a trip? Didn’t she just go to Georgia? How can she afford that? Is she rich or something?”) The answer is, sadly, No. But happily, her dream is to travel at least five to six times a year to visit beloved family members spread across the U.S. of A. And, happily, this dream has been realized this year. Thanks to two part-time jobs which allow flexibility. And she hasn’t been out to visit dear Christopher yet. It’s more than Time.
Christopher began to share his plans for our Outdoor Adventures in San Diego. We would start with Balboa Park and go here and there, and here and there, and here and there. My legs suddenly started aching and I hadn’t even left the living room. “Umm,” I ventured softly, “You know I’m not in as good of shape as you are…”
Meaning, Mama can’t run a mile. And if we walk five miles, she might immediately require a Nap.
“Well!” he replied cheerfully, “You have a month to get in shape!”
So today’s Outdoor Activity involved some snappy walking up the road in the rain. Quick, quick, quick! Run a little, will ya? Let’s get those muscles moving! San Diego here we come! Move a bit more quickly, can you? Don’t mind the drizzling rain and cold!
See, here’s the thing about going outdoors every day for 365 days. (Lean closer now; I’m confessing something.) You don’t necessarily get in shape. Burn calories or anything. Especially if you have a camera and like to dally slowly looking for close-up intimate photos. You can’t necessarily walk for ten miles without huffing and puffing.
The muscles may get a little workout from hauling squash vines out of the garden. Or pulling up frosted tomato vines. But not much.
I have tried to imagine living on a land that doesn’t frost, a place where snow refuses to fall. A climate which remains tepid year-round. A landscape of desert and Pacific surf. It’s so different from our place in the woods where seasons shift like clock-work turning from frigid to warm to frost to snow. There’s always something new here, something different. I love the changes; the dance of it all!
But don’t get me wrong. Just because you love a place doesn’t mean you don’t want to visit OTHER places. Especially places where family live, less than $400 away.
Let’s not discuss the demise of the garden yet.
Let’s instead backtrack to yesterday afternoon before the frost decided to ice the land with its cold white fingers. The frost was still plotting back then. It was chortling, “If we can just get that temperature to agree, to go a bit lower… If we could just coax it below 32 degrees then…goodbye gardens! Hello bright autumn leaves! It’s Time.”
I may have some frost photos for tomorrow’s blog, but we’re backed up in photos right now. We’re backed all the way up to our little jaunt to the Arvon Slate Quarry yesterday afternoon.
1 p.m. yesterday: jump in 1949 Studebaker pickup truck and drive up the Arvon Road. We’re aiming for the Bush. That’s what they call the backcountry around here. We’re aiming to put the truck in 4 wheel drive and slog through muddle puddles that may or may not have a solid bottom. We’re aiming for the Quarry.
1:15: drive past a Ghost Town. The Ghost Town of Arvon. (That’s where those hawthorn berries are growing up to the heavens.) I wish I could show you abandoned buildings, old footings, anything. But no. Arvon has disappeared into the earth; swallowed whole. There are simply old apple trees and hawthorn bushes. And the singing of the wind. Ghosts may be dancing there at midnight, but we didn’t see any yesterday.
1:45 p.m.: It took us a little time to forge through the rivers of water which covered the two-track road. Want to know a little history about the Arvon Slate Quarry? More than 300 people lived in this area during the quarry’s heyday. Waste slate piles and a water pit remain from the Slate Mining operations that began in 1870, ending in 1892. Henry Ford pumped the water from the pit and mined slate for his operations in the 1920s. One can see the foundations of some early slate buildings, drainage ditch and piles of waste slate. The pit makes for a peaceful small lake. (Or so say the local history pages, anyway.)
I can’t tell you how many locals have taken advantage of the Slate Quarry over the past century, gleaning the beautiful slabs of “waste” slate and lugging them home in pickup trucks. Of course we wouldn’t do such a thing. (Or would we?) Sometimes, in the old days, one might see a half dozen other trucks backed up to the quarry with the tailgate open. Nowadays, it’s much rarer to see folks pilfering slate. However, come to think of it, how would I know? We haven’t been up there in twenty years, perhaps.
Yesterday it was hard to even figure out how to forge the rivers which blocked the two-track.
Years ago Barry remembered seeing the foundations of old buildings. We searched for a good half hour, but only found one pile of slate which looked like it might…I repeat might…be an old building. What do you think?
What a lovely afternoon we spent rambling in the slate. Slipping and sliding in some places. Snapping photos. Sharing a memory or two. Excited about what was happening on the blog back at home (with the little unexpected publicity from the WordPress folks.) Completely in the dark about the cunning plans of the frost. Completely! Well, not entirely completely, because we both heard the words “frost warning” but brushed it off lightly thinking, “Oh not us. We’re too near the lake. We won’t get frost.”
Famous last words. Barry was heading in to the house from the garage near 1 a.m. when he saw the frosty world. ACTION! Time to scurry! He dove into the garden, rescuing every last tomato, cucumber, pepper. Faster than a speeding bullet he worked to save our meager harvest before the claws of frost pierced the vegetables.
And he did it! Good man! Good husband! What a trooper! (Except for the basil, but we’ll forgive him. As I was sound asleep and would have inadvertently allowed the garden to freeze solid.)
We hear much of Michigan had frost last night. So it’s officially autumn. It’s also officially October. And, as my mom pointed out today: I have been incorrectly calling our September warm weather days “Indian Summer”. No. That was a mistake. Indian Summer happens after the first frost. Now that I have that straightened out…Let’s have a little Indian Summer, shall we?