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You might not want to sit here.


 Hello reader!  First of all, these photos were taken yesterday.  I felt suddenly silently called to visit Lake Superior’s shore, filled with a desire to photograph ice-forming pictures.  Imagine my surprise to discover the ice extravaganza which coated benches, gates and poles.  

The Keweenaw Bay, December 2009


 Walking out the boardwalk-pier proved very very challenging.  It required tip-toeing.  The entire boardwalk lay coated with a covering of ice.  One did not want to walk too quickly, slip and enjoy a polar plunge in the bay.  I wondered which recent day furiously frosted this lake-side world with thick ice.  

Swirl of sand and snow


 Much of the beach looked clean-swept with only dustings of snow.  Stones and snow slumbered together, bedmates for the winter.   

The way ice forms along the edge of Lake Superior


 The ice is forming along the edges of the lake.  Many predict an early ice-fishing season.  (I actually witnessed a surveyor/architect fellow walking on river ice today.  What craziness!  Was he nuts?  River ice is so fragile, so delicate, so thin.  I wanted to leap from the car and photograph his insane behavior.  Yet, did not want to embarrass the fellow.  My own brand of quiet insanity, you think?) 

And the wind bent the icicles backwards


 Today’s outdoor adventure involved an insanity of its own.  Heading out into the woods without snowshoes.  (You see now how the river-walker and I have something in common…although it still seems his venture might be a little more dangerous.)  I followed the ridge behind the house, the snow almost cresting the top of the boots.  It was a work-out trudge.  Kind of like going to the gym.   

Up close ice


I emerged on the road awhile later, nicely sweating, after communing with a woodpecker.  I caught a photo of him in flight, which perhaps you shall see on Sunday.  He pecked away on a dead tree.  I begged him to come closer, closer, just a little closer, but he looked down his long beak at me and said, “You are close enough, madam” and flew away to the next dead tree stump.  

Four ice-enshrouded posts overlook bay


Our temperature turned so mild today and crested above the freezing mark.  The ice in downtown L’Anse will undoubtedly have melted today.  Perhaps folks can amble down the boardwalk toward Lake Superior without slipping. 

As we approach the darkest day of the year, let us remember to walk carefully if we live in northern climes.  Ice is silently forming, preparing to transform our Great Lakes.

Welcome to our little township. I thought it was time to introduce you to some of the actual buildings which comprise our lesser metropolis.  Our tiny villages in the woods. 

We live in Arvon Township.  As of the 2000 census, 482 people lived here.  There aren’t really “towns” in Arvon Township, at least in the way most people think of towns.  Most people think that a town is perhaps composed of businesses like a grocery store, bank, restaurant, and gas station, all located in a common area.  (To find these conveniences our residents have to drive between eleven and twenty-five miles into the town of L’Anse which hosts all the modern conveniences.)  

There are at least three town “areas” in the township:  Skanee, Aura and Huron Bay.  The buildings in the following photos are mostly in the Skanee and Huron Bay areas, within a five or seven mile radius. 

But we do feature a school, a township hall, a post office, a Trading Post, a tavern, a church, and a community hall within our boundaries.  

So are you ready for the introductions? 

The Arvon Township School


Please meet our school.  It is a K-6 school which is very dear to my heart.  Mostly because I’ve worked there on a part-time basis as the business manager for many years.  Both of our children attended elementary school here.  The total size of the school has fluctuated between five and forty students since the 1980’s.  It is one of the last two-room schools in the Upper Peninsula.  A few others exist, but they are few and far between. 

Moving down the road a few miles and turning down Town Road, please meet the Arvon Township Hall: 

Arvon Township Hall


OK, I have to admit the Arvon Township Hall is precious to me, too.  I have been the township treasurer there (well actually I work out of my home) since about 1984.  

We even feature a little post office!  A very miniscule post office in a trailer.  Probably one of the tiniest post offices around.  I tried to convince our postmaster to pose for a photo in front of the post office but she declined.  

Our little post office


Where else can I show you on our little tour?  How about the Trading Post?  John is the owner and he’s a great guy.  He wasn’t around to ask for a photo shoot. 

The Huron Bay Trading Post


The Trading Post is where you go when you need supplies and don’t want to drive to town.  I mean the “real” town of L’Anse.  If your gas tank hits empty you head over here.  If you need toothpaste, beer, candy, chips, cranberry juice or pickle relish…you know where to go.  Aren’t we lucky to have a Trading Post out in the middle of the woods? 

And if you want to sit down and have a beer or drink, drive just a short ways up the road to the Huron Bay Tavern.  Also known as Billy the Finn’s (don’t ask why) it has been here for ages.  Years ago we used to have another bar/restaurant called The Timbers where everyone went for fish on Friday nights, but it burned down. 

The Huron Bay Tavern


If you want to see the Aura Community Hall (with its famous annual Fiddler’s Jamboree please click here).  If you want to see the pretty white Lutheran Church out in Skanee, you’ll have to use your imagination.  I forgot to photograph it. 

I did, however, take a photo of our unofficial “used car lot”.  The owner has been selling lots of heavy machinery for several years now.  I think this qualifies as a used car lot, don’t you? 

Anyone want to buy a dump truck? Loader?


So there you have it.  I have undoubtedly forgot several businesses like our marina, a beauty shop, a fire hall and some cottages for rent down on the lake.  (See!  I’m remembering as we speak.)  

Hope you have enjoyed the tour.  Please come and visit our little township along the shores of Lake Superior some day! 

P.S.  Outdoor adventure on Day 349 of the outdoor commitment:  walked up the road in the snow and back down the road in the snow.  A little slippery.  We must start walking very carefully on the snow now.  We only got a couple inches, but there are rumors that other places in the Upper Peninsula are getting more.

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…

Dawn in the woods (see the lake? anyone see the lake?)

Tonight I am going to come clean.  Admit a huge psychological problem.   Time to tell you the ugly truth.

And the reason I can share this truth with you tonight is:  I am almost cured.


But it’s been a long haul, a long road.

Our road. (Anyone see the lake? Do you see it?)

Imagine yourself moving to your Little House in the Big Woods.  (I am suddenly fascinated with the parallels between this life and the Laura Wilder Ingall’s Little House on the Prairie books that I read to my children before they could toddle.  Well before they started kindergarten anyway.)  Imagine yourself building an idyllic little cabin in the woods and raising children who ran wild and free building forts and playing amidst the trees.

Really imagine what this feels like.  You are surrounded by trees.  Trees everywhere.  Trees to the left, trees to the right, trees behind you, trees in front of you.  You carve out a space for a house and perhaps garage and lawn, but you’re in the forest. 

What does this mean?  It means there is no visible horizon.  You cannot see the sun set or rise, except through the blanket of tree branches.  You are always surrounded.  Your sight can no longer stretch infinitely to the north or west or east or south.  It stops.  It stops when it meets trees.

And you have to learn to live in this forest-world, without the gift of a horizon.

Trees sweeping upward into the sky

So I must tell you the ugly secret.  For much of my life here in the wood I have experienced horizon envy.  Envy of those who have a horizon.  Yes.  It was quite painful.  In the early years I begged my forest-loving husband “Please can we move down by the water?  I must have a view!  I must have a horizon!”  But my pleas fell on deaf ears.  He loved the woods.  He couldn’t imagine what his crazy wife was talking about.  And I certainly couldn’t articulate about horizon envy.

Sunset in a mud puddle (this is as good as it gets!)

The years passed.  I scurried on down to the lake as often as possible.  The kids and I camped on the doorstep of the neighbors for a long stretch.  Well, actually we kept inviting ourselves for coffee.  Because they were such wonderful people and because (this gets really ugly, I know):  they had a horizon.

Until one day I started looking at the Little Things.  The tiny plants.  The texture of bark.  The mosses.  The leaves.  Really looking deeply.  Appreciating what was there under my feet and all around in the forest.  Wow!  Details that had never before been noticed.  Subtle gifts.

The forest came alive and suddenly, one of those days, I realized I was no longer desiring the horizon.  Well, not as much anyway.  There still is a little bit of horizon envy.  It may never go away.  Especially when the best sunset you can sometimes view is a reflection in a mud puddle in your driveway.

The lake! The horizon!

Pa Ingalls moved his family out to the prairie.  They left the Big Woods and moved to a place where the horizon was all they could see.  No more being surrounded with trees.  They were on the big wide expanse of endless view.

Nope, not me.  I’ve decided.  I like this woods just fine.  As long as there is a lake you can walk to a quarter mile away.  There are Michigan mountains in this county, as well.  You can climb ’em and admire the horizon all you want.  And some of my friends have farms.  Fields stretch in all directions around their house.  You can go and breathe deep and feel like you are an eagle, looking in all directions at once.

Sometimes we just need to adjust our view

My friend Melinda visited from California once in the middle of our green and leafy summer.  She lives atop a mountain.  She couldn’t get over the claustrophobic feeling of being surrounded by trees.

I understood what she meant.

Yet I have learned that sometimes the things we need to see next are given to us in life.  I needed to open my eyes and look at the little details, the little things.  Some people may need the wider view, to live atop a mountain or beside the sea.  Sometimes what we want aren’t the same things we need. 

Yep.  That’s what I’ve learned from this challenging case of Horizon Envy.

Afternoon reflections

Rain dripped from the sky most of the day.  It was a drizzly damp afternoon.  Mist descended upon the earth.  Waves of fog rolled in. 

By 3:30 it looked like dusk.  A late autumn afternoon.

Blue fog

Here’s my daily confession.  I went into the woods today.  Shhhh…don’t tell anyone.  You know you’re not suppose to hike in the woods during hunting season.  Especially during the first week.  But I couldn’t help myself.  The woods called.  I said, “No way, woods, I will not go in you.”  The woods called again.  I said,  “OK, but just in a safe place where hunters surely won’t go.  Near the lake.”  The woods smiled.  It knew I wouldn’t refuse.

Along the curve of the lake

Drizzle, drizzle, drizzle.  Camera shutter going snap, snap, snap.  (Christopher, out there in San Diego a few days ago, suggested I turn off the sound.)  Heck no.  I like the sound the camera makes.  It sings a lively four-note tune when you turn it on.  Maybe five notes. 

Deer tracks to water

I thought today about how our favorite places on the earth look different all the time.  They look so different on a foggy day than, say, a bright sunny morning.  They look different in snow, different in the jungle-depths of summer, different in the tentative green of spring, different when the autumn leaves fall.  This may sound obvious.  But isn’t it true of everything?  We think people or things are always the same.  But everything and everyone are constantly changing.  You are brand new in every moment!  And so am I!  Isn’t this a miracle?

Fallen tree on Huron Bay

I have 2,000 more words to write on the NaNoWriMo novel before bed, so had better shut up here right now.  The “novel” now has 32,328 words.  After the first five days of sheer torture and probably terrible writing at the beginning of the month, I have had a great time birthing this story.  We need to have 50,000 by November 30th to get our…I’m not sure what we get…an award?  Praise?  Inner contentment for actually writing a novel?  Whatever! 

Hope you all had sunlight after 3:30 p.m.  If not, hope you enjoyed the early dusk.

P.S.  I am definitely back in slower-Internet land.  After uploading photos in ten seconds in San Diego…it’s back to almost three minutes per photo.  I am trying to figure out what to do during those three minutes.  Meditate?  Read?  Play a computer card game?  You can’t check any other Internet applications because the Internet politely refuses to cooperate.  Alas, the little problems in life, eh?

Long ago and far away

Long ago and far away

Once upon a time there lived a man named Henry Ford.  Henry loved to tinker and design.  He loved to imagine.  He dreamed of something called an “automobile”, a horse buggy with tires and a motor and a steering wheel.

That was long ago and far away, and dreams sometimes do come true.

Henry designed his automobile and sold thousands and eventually millions and perhaps billions by the time his fairy tale will end.  But when he was still alive, back there in the 1920’s, Henry visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our fair earth, rich with trees and minerals and two Great Lakes. 

His planning mind plotted.  He surveyed the endless miles of trees and thought (I’m sure this is what he thought):  “You know, I could use some of these hardwood trees in my automobiles.  They would make great body supports.  I will start some logging camps and supply wood for my downstate plants.”

Pequaming's old community hall

Pequaming's old community hall

Then Henry really had a brilliant idea.  He visited a mill town jutting out into the Keweenaw Bay and thought, “I am going to buy this town.  I am going to make it into a model town.  It will be a social experiment.  We’ll see how it goes.”

So Henry bought Pequaming  in September, 1923.  Went and bought the whole darn town.  The village featured about one hundred houses, a general store and a hotel.  Only a school and two or three churches were not added in the deal, which included 70,000 acres of prime timber.

Modern-day robot toy on rotting stoop of old community building

A child's modern-day robot toy on rotting stoop of old community building

And, for incentive, he decided to pay his workers more than any other loggers at the time. When other workers were receiving $1.50 per day, Henry paid his loggers $3.50 for an eight-hour shift.  He gained a reputation for “practicing forestry”–harvesting mature trees, leaving young, fast growing trees for an oncoming crop and ridding the young forest of fire hazards by removing brush.  He pioneered forest record keeping. 

That wasn’t all he did.  He then proceeded to raise the wages of his 300 workers from $3.50  a day to $5, insisting his crew punch a time clock.  After three months, if they proved themselves, they received a $1 pay raise.

Peeking through the broken window

Peeking through the broken window

After setting the mill in order, Henry proceeded to test his private theories on self reliance and education.  He aimed to turn Pequaming into a “model town”. 

House rentals were increased from $1 to $12-15 per month, but in return all dwellings were painted and repaired.  Ford Motor Company repaired the old mill, provided a new water tower and fire hydrants, as well as a Model A fire engine. In time, electricity, running water and indoor toilets were installed in all the homes. 

Who carved her name those many years ago?

Who carved her name those many years ago?

This all happened Once Upon a Time.  By the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, after the Great Depression and World War II passed, Pequaming was a ghost town.  The bustling village had almost completely emptied out.  The windows were barred and shuttered, doors flapped in the breeze.  More than 1,000 people once lived, worked, breathed, played and danced in this town.  Now the ghosts lived here among the empty buildings and in the cemetery, ghosts who fondly remembered Henry Ford and his legacy.

Tomorrow I will tell you more about his Model town, his social experiment.  Can anyone guess why I am telling you this once-upon-a- time story right now?

This tree Remembers.

This tree Remembers.

Four red leaves

Four red leaves

There arrives a perfect autumn afternoon.  Warm, near 50 degrees.  Check.  Not raining.  Check.  Partly sunny.  Check.  No swine flu or sickness. Check.  Nothing much to do.  Check.  A friend wants to go hiking.  Check.

So you dig out your backpack and camera and an extra jacket, hats and mittens and head for Little Mountain.  (For all you new readers, Little Mountain is a Michigan mountain.  It doesn’t count as a “real” mountain.  It’s a rocky crag which juts up above L’Anse, a lovely little steep-ish hill with a panoramic view of Lake Superior and endless trees.)

Here's where we start

Here's where we started

Bertha and I sloshed in on a rather wet trail, narrowly avoiding getting our feet soaked.  We chatted away as if we hadn’t seen one another in months.  Which we hadn’t.  How can four or five or six months slip by just like that?  Especially since our last words were “Let’s get together again SOON!”

We used to work together, half a lifetime ago.  OK, it wasn’t that long ago.  It only seems like it sometimes.  We spent our youth (by that I mean our 20’s and 30’s) hanging out together quite regularly.  These days we try to meet for occasional walks where we try to condense months into a couple hours.

Bertha atop the mountain

Bertha atop the mountain

Here’s the best kind of friend in the whole world.  You ask her if you need to bring anything.  She says no.  She says she’ll bring some wine and we’ll have a toast to friendship and mountains and sunny autumn days.  And when she arrives, guess what she has?  Red pepper hummus.  Cut up vegetables.  And two of the healthiest yummiest cookies on the planet (with pumpkin seeds!)

Zee hummus!

Zee hummus!

So we sit and talk and the sun heats us just so wonderfully.  And then that sun dives beneath a cloud bank.  We both dig in our packs, looking for little gloves to keep our fingers warm.  We solve all the problems in the universe.  We sip our wine.  It’s a glorious afternoon.

I wander off to take photos of red leaves and lichen.  She scoots down the hill and sits quietly.



Bertha in silence

Bertha in silence

The sun moves across the sky, ducking in and out of clouds, playing its elusive game of hide and seek.  We munch the last vegetable and sip the last of our wine. 

What the other side of the mountain looks like

What the other side of the mountain looks like

We promise, “Let’s do this again SOON!” and head down the mountain.

Time to go home

Time to go home

I’ve been to the mountain three times this year (well, maybe four times, but I can’t remember when the fourth time might have been.) The first was last winter with my daughter Kiah.  We climbed up in the snow and admired icicles along the way.  That was the moment the idea for this outdoor commitment and blog incubated.  We had so much fun on a cold snowy day that I said, “Why don’t I go outside more at this time of year?  Maybe I should make a commitment…and write a blog…and…!!!”  That’s the way ideas get started, you know.

The second time was an adventure with Amy and Dan when they visited at the end of July.  Click here to read that blog.

Hopefully all you readers have an opportunity to picnic on top of a mountain soon!

I know some of you must have been worried.  You perhaps had a sudden premonition that something must be wrong with Kathy over at Opening the Door, Walking Outside.  Perhaps you fretted.  Frowned.  Momentarily thought about me.

Thank you.  It’s all OK now.  We’re back home, safe and sound.  We’ve taken off our sopping wet clothes and we’re celebrating a dry house, safety, knowing where we are!  After a very very hot bath, I’m sipping jasmine tea and attempting to decompress from this afternoon’s outdoor adventure.

Ready for a story?

The mud puddle we couldn't cross

The mud puddle we couldn't cross

It may be a long story with a slew of photos.  Here was our mission, should we choose to accept it.  Our friend Cathy drew a detailed back-country map with directions to reach the Rock Cut.  The Rock Cut is way back in the bush, down crazy logging roads.  You can’t reach it unless you have directions with mileages written on it.  You turn here, you turn there, you say a little prayer, you turn the wrong way, you consult your map, you plan on spending the night in the car, you ask your husband if you can build a debris hut of leaves INSIDE the car if you’re stranded.  He says, no, we’ll be walking if the car dies.  You sigh and say another prayer.

So we have the infamous map.  Thank goodness.  First, we head off the wrong way.  Bouncing along rough graded roads with Grandma’s 1995 Buick.  You see, we couldn’t take the 1949 four-wheel drive Studebaker.  It has no odometer.  We needed the odometer more than the four-wheel drive.  Or so we thought.

The Map.  The Precious Map.

The Map. The Precious Map.

We headed off down the wrong road, turned back, followed the map even more closely.  Up into the higher elevations we climbed.  The rain gave way to snow.  Yep, it was snowing up there in the high country.  Pretty soon there was snow on the ground.  Pretty soon the road began to look slightly challenging.  We hit a couple somethings (maybe rocks, maybe holes, maybe minor wash-outs).  The car moaned.  We moaned.  We only hoped we could discover the elusive Rock Cut SOON.

So we finally reached the Big Impassible Mud Puddle.  See first photo.  We might have made it, but we didn’t want to get stuck.  Our map suggested it was only a mile to the Rock Cut.  We set off through the rain and snow and mud on foot like troopers.  We had traveled all this way; we would not retreat.  We would forge ahead.

Checking the car to make sure we didn't have troubles

Checking the car to make sure we didn't have troubles

Except.  We couldn’t find the Rock Cut.  We looked and looked, climbing up roads and down roads.  You can imagine how we felt.  While we are looking for the Rock Cut in this blog, let’s take time out for a History Moment.  To explain what the Rock Cut might be.  And why we wanted to see it.


Here is the brief history.  In the 1890’s several Detroit business fellows joined together with plans to create a 42-mile wilderness railroad from Champion to Huron Bay.  They aimed to haul iron ore to the bay, from whence it would be shipped across Lake Superior to the Sault.  The terrain, however, proved most forbidding.  It was preferable, at that time, to construct grades at no more than 3-4%.  The engineers of this project utilized grades up to 8%.  (For you non-engineers, that means very steep grades.)

This little project became known as the Million Dollar Railroad.  They built the railroad (with up to 1,500 workers at one point) and then constructed a huge wood ore dock down on the Huron Bay.  And guess what happened? 

The project failed.  Here’s where two stories come into play.  I don’t know which one is true.  The local legend says that the locomotive made it downhill to the bay, returned and could not climb up the steep  8% grade near the Rock Cut.  Other sources say that the trains never even ran at all.  It was a failed venture. The company spent $2 million in four years and went bankrupt.

The Rock Cut is a place where they dynamited an almost-impenetrable wall of rock and workers carried away the debris in wheelbarrows.  For all you history buffs, check out more information here or here.  (The first site is rich in information; the second site has great old photos.  Look under Photo History Pages, Huron Bay.)

One of the last remaining railroad tracks

One of the last remaining railroad tracks

Just when we were about to return home (and I already had the title of the blog:  Our failed trip to the Million Dollar Railroad) Barry decided to hike up a hill.  And hurray!  He discovered the elusive Rock Cut.

The Rock Cut!  Site of the Millon Dollar Railroad.  Finally!

The Rock Cut! Site of the Millon Dollar Railroad. Finally!

Later we discovered the sign on a tree.  The Boy Scouts put this sign up many years ago, to help challenged souls like ourselves find the way to the old cut.

What do you know?  There IS a sign.

What do you know? There IS a sign.

And, finally, Barry snapped a photo of me.  Maybe to prove we were there.  We have to let our map-friend Cathy know that, despite our crazy detours and challenges, her map actually was correct.  And we have returned safe and sound.  We didn’t have to spend the night in the woods.  The car still runs. 

Even though the Million Dollar Railroad didn’t make it, we did!  🙂

Yep, me and the Rock Cut.  Jeans, socks & boots are soaked.

Yep, me and the Rock Cut. Jeans, socks & boots are soaked.



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.”

Look closely at this picture.  More closely.  Anyone see It?

Look closely at this picture. More closely. Anyone see It?

Late this morning I was driving down Main Street in L’Anse, suddenly desiring two scrambled eggs and homemade whole wheat toast from the Nite Owl.  With a cup of steaming hot tea.  However, to my dismay, not a single parking spot presented itself.  The car was forced to turn right and steer down by the Keweenaw Bay.

When suddenly, directly ahead, There It Was!  A rainbow of beautiful colors arching across our Lake Superior.  The wild and dark rain-laden clouds filled the sky, but there was a slice of sun shining through.  I lurched out of the car at full speed and sprinted toward the shore.  It looked like the rainbow was about to fade.  I fumbled to turn the camera on and snapped and snapped and snapped, attempting to will the bright colors into the camera lens. 

But no.  Only a faded arch showed up against our tumultuous sky.  My camera sighed and turned to look for other possibilities. 

Red bench, lake and sky

Red bench, lake and sky

At first, I only noticed the lake and clouds and benches.  Breathed in the fresh October air and thought, “Ahhh, it’s good to be here in downtown L’Anse along the lakefront.  I should stop here more often.”  (How often do we think that?  Once we’ve actually veered off our usual route and stopped some place where we don’t interrupt our routine often enough.)

How close can we get?

How close can we get?

Then I noticed Them.  A beach-full of seagulls.  They looked so intriguing.  And then my tracking instincts from Tom Brown Jr.’s Wilderness Survival School came back.  I would track those seagulls.  See how close it was possible to sneak before they burst into flight. 

Seagull Track in sand

Seagull Track in sand

Perhaps a “real” tracker could sneak close enough to stroke a feather.  Maybe a tracker with some experience could approach within a foot or two.  You move very slowly when tracking, very slowly.  I moved way too quickly in this attempt, although paused repeatedly to look nonchalantly out to the bay as if to reassure the gulls.  She’s not really getting that close, they certainly thought.   She’s just admiring the waves. 

Seagull feather and stones

Seagull feather and stones

Feathers littered everywhere on the sand.  And other seagull remains, of which we shall not discuss in a polite blog.  The birds shifted.  Began to look a little perturbed.  The stalker was getting much too close.  A few creatures waddled away, squawking.  I really should have stared longer and more nonchalantly at the clouds and waves, but suddenly the thought of scrambled eggs and homemade toast re-surfaced.  The Nite Owl has really good homemade toast.  What am I doing stalking seagulls anyway?  Surely there are available parking spaces now.

Fly away!

Fly away!

Off they flew, a flurry of white wings rising in the sky, gulls flapping and squawking toward the disappeared rainbow.  I turned back toward the car, headed for strawberry jam on homemade toast.

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July 2020