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Yep. Nature is getting ready for Halloween. You can see the little leaf-creatures and rock-creatures and bark-creatures putting on their costumes and dressing up. Everywhere you look a face peers up from the earth or down from a tree or in stones at the beach.
You must try to look appropriately scared when a face appears unexpectedly in the woods. Try not to say “Boo!” Just wish the little creatures “Happy Halloween” and continue on your walk.
Once you start looking for faces in nature, you see them everywhere. (I especially love to collect shell faces on the beach when visiting my mom and dad’s condo down in Fort Myers Beach.) You simply have to keep your eyes open. The trees love to put on masks. Oh, and yes, I must confess. I did tweak Grandfather Bark’s left eyebrow just a bit and place Ghost Leaf on a black plastic background. But that was the only tweakage of these faces! Honest, cross my heart.
Sometimes you can see faces peering out of rocks. Rocks with actual holes are very exciting, but sometimes hard to find. Look closely at the following photo. Do you see a sideways bird eye?
Then we have the more contemplative costumes. This leaf is a little shy. Doesn’t want to dress up too crazy or wild.
No Halloween in the woods would be complete without footsteps. We experienced a moment of, well, nervousness, yesterday in the deep forest when we saw dozens and dozens of these:
There we walked, along a trail far from civilization, surrounded by wolf foot prints. Rather fresh wolf prints. We didn’t act nervous. We only made one comment concerning wolf packs. We took a deep breath and continued on, perhaps listening a bit more acutely for the sound of animals. We didn’t jump too high when we heard snow falling from the branches.
Until suddenly we spotted a footprint next to the wolf print. Trick or treat!! Silly us. It was probably a dog print, melted in the snow to look bigger than it actually was.
Probably. Near Halloween you never know.
On Halloween night will we hear the owls hooting and screeching, the coyotes yipping down by the bay, and the leaves rustling in the wind? Will the mice come trick or treating? Will someone come and steal an hour of daylight from us? (Or will they return an hour that they stole last spring? Hard to keep track!)
Jus remember this when you put on your costume this year: nature is already dressed up and peering at you all around. Don’t Be Frightened!!
The truth is: I don’t live in Spain. Have never even visited that beautiful country. Although my daughter visited there last autumn and spent a week aboard a sailboat in Barcelona. She actually learned how to sail on the Mediterranean! How cool is that?
However, I am a fan of My Fair Lady. The recesses of the brain that still love to sing “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. (By George I think she’s GOT it!)” undoubtedly hijacked this blog. Hence, the title.
Actually, I made it outside for today’s outdoor adventure in between showers. All morning an ominous inner voice kept nagging, “You better get outside. You’re going to be sorry. You’re going to be cold and wet and miserable. You better stop your putzing and get outside.” (I mostly ignored its dire predictions, until the sky suddenly darkened threateningly. Time to go outside.)
As usual, nothing immediately presented itself as an interesting photographic study. Same old, same old. Who wants to see more colorful autumn leaves, especially when they are starting to turn that dismal flat pastel washed-out color? (With a few vibrant exceptions, of course.) Then suddenly I saw It. Oh my goodness! A perfect Leaf with perfect water droplets. What could be more magnificent?
Once you see one, you see more. Your eyes are suddenly opened. Leaves with water droplets appeared everywhere! And aren’t they so…so…artful? Like they belong hanging in some art museum where we can all admire something as simple as Rain Droplets on Leaves.
The journey to photograph leaves took me down the road, with a side detour on an old logging road. The eyes remained trained on the ground, lest a single leaf escape admiration. (Anyone believe that? There are nigh on a million leaves on the ground!) As I exited the logging path, I spotted AJ walking up the road. Walked down to him, and together we crested the hill. Invited him to look at Barry’s garage project. OK, will show the rest of you the garage edition project another time, once we get off the subject of leaves.
It started to rain harder. AJ continued on his walk. I did one more loop around the back of the house, emptying the woodstove ash buckets (with the dead trapped mouse lying belly up in the white ash) and discovered the Family of Leaves conclusion to the series.
Came inside to turn on the computer and discovered another message from Wordpress.com saying they were featuring the previous blog on their home page. This time I didn’t get wildly excited and almost suffer a heart attack from dancing on the ceiling. This time I maturely wrote the editors a note, “Have I told you guys how much I love you lately?” They haven’t written back.
Yes, yes, yes.
We woke up to snow on the ground. At least two inches of the white stuff on the cars and the deck. Maybe one inch on the warmer earth. We stared mesmerized at the beauty. And caught our breaths as we walked outside into the freezing cold. It’s Autumn in the U.P. of Michigan. Snow can spread her white beauty on us any time it desires.
And it desired this weekend.
Remember how I blithely told you yesterday that the snow never stays on the ground in mid-October? How it melts away so quickly?
Mother Nature made me a liar within three hours after writing that sentence. My visiting Mom and Dad, Barry and I headed up to Houghton to meet my nephew Doug and his roommate Gabe for dinner at the North Shore Grille. We barely passed into Houghton County before we began to witness Snow on Cars. Then Snow on Lawns. Then snow–Everywhere.
When we spotted the above snowman, I begged Barry to turn the car around for a photo. He is so used to this request these days! He easily turned the vehicle around. He, however, wanted me to walk up into the front lawn of the snowman-builder and take a picture with a red-leafed tree in the background. I was too chicken. I stood closer to the road, ready to make a get-away in case anyone came out of the house.
Instead, you can see another red-leafed tree surrounded by snow. This is the scene to which we awoke this morning.
After we shared our morning coffee, I headed downstairs to dig out Grandma’s old blue snowmobile suit from the 1970’s from the closet. Time for the snowmobile suit! I pulled it over my pajamas, grabbed a pair of winter boots, hats and mittens and dashed outside for snow photos. (It’s truly amazing how beautiful the first snow of the season looks. Compared with the thirtieth snow of the season when all you want to do is buy a ticket for southern Florida.)
Oh how exhilarating it is to romp in the snow just after dawn! (And later in the day Mom and I walked up the road for a good half hour…but by then every last flake of snow had melted and disappeared.)
It’s funny how quickly it melts. One minute there is a white frosted snow-laced world. The snow hangs heavy on the red and orange and yellow and green leaves. Some trees lean over like hunched-back men, straining under the weight. The white snow cleans and scours everything. You breathe out a cloud of breath-smoke. Your boots squish in the water-laden snow.
By noon, it’s all gone. It’s a memory. The cold north wind still blows frigid, but you’re suddenly back in autumn. Thank goodness! Stay away for another month, Winter, at least. Please stay away. We beg you.
I just asked my mom if she wanted Grandma’s snowmobile suit back. I mean, maybe she was the one who gave me this precious object. Maybe SHE wants to wear it downstate in HER backyard when it snows. But she just stared at me dumbfounded with her eyebrows raised. Guess she doesn’t want it back. Maybe she thinks the neighbors would stare. Guess I better keep it here in the woods…
Barry just said, “I think we need a picture of you in the snowmobile suit!” I said, “TOO LATE!!!”
Let’s face it. If you live in the middle of the woods and like to wander…you’re going to get lost. Sometimes a little bit lost and sometimes you start wondering if you’ll ever find your way home. Sometimes that fear of being lost begins to rise like the inland tides and you suddenly remember the Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy clicking your magic red heels together you begin to chant, “There’s no place like home. No place like home. No place like home.”
They say the mineral deposits beneath our Keweenaw earth will confuse even a compass at times. Your trusty reliable compass might suddenly go wacky, refusing to point to True North. What can you depend on when the compass fails you? Or, worse yet, when you’ve stupidly left the compass at home pointing to True North in the cluttered desk drawer?
You gauge the sun (if you’re lucky and the sun is out) or the slant of the ravines. All of our ravines near the house run down to the bay, so you’re pretty safe if you remember this. You listen for far-away cars. This can help identify the location of the roads. This helps when there is ocassional traffic. Doesn’t help much when one car crests the hill every half hour. You become alert; you look for signs. You try to remember the landscape. You remember that you know how to build a debris hut out of leaves from your Wilderness Survival class. You know somebody might come looking for you if you’re not home to cook dinner.
But, best of all, you can surrender to a Higher Knowing. And let that Higher Knowing guide you out of the woods. Thank goodness we have that!
Just so you know…I haven’t been lost walking in the woods…at least not in the last month or so. But yesterday came another encounter with Being Lost. Sigh. Do we ever get used to it? Do we ever simply laugh and say joyfully, “I’m lost!” Hasn’t happened yet to me. Usually you have to deal with low-level fear, even if it never blossoms to full-fledged panic.
It started because I was looking for photos of stunning leaf colors. Trees turning red and orange and yellow. The color-changing season is upon us. The trees are starting to zing! Just beginning to peak, but I wanted to document the way the woods is starting to shimmer. Especially when the sun shines bright between rain showers.
So the car turned here, and there, and around this corner, and up that way, and down this hill. I thought I knew exactly where I was. Isn’t that always the case? Until suddenly the road petered out into a muddy two-track and it became apparent…I only vaguely knew where the car might be.
Then some niggling thoughts began warning, “It’s been so rainy, what are you doing back here in the woods without four wheel drive? You’re going to drown in a mud puddle! You’re going to be shot by hunters! You’re going to be lost here FOREVER.”
Oh honestly. Here’s what you say to reassure niggling thoughts, “Calm down, you guys. I think we’ve been here before. I think that’s the lake up ahead. We’re somewhere near Pike’s Peak. We thought we were on Ford Farm Road, but we must have turned on Haataja Road. There really aren’t any challenging mud puddles and since when do we worry about hunters?”
So the thoughts calmed down and I didn’t even have to start remembering how to build a survival debris hut.
And ten minutes later, there was hard pavement and familiar houses. I was “found”, yet once again. The magic clicking heels or the Higher Knowledge or the road had wound its way back to comfort, a sense of safety, a Knowing of Where I Was.
But truly, folks, do we ever know where we are? Is it possible to simply relax and know that we’re always lost and we’re always found? Ooops…getting way too philosophical on this outdoor blog! I’ll leave you with a photo I may have already posted on this blog. Can’t remember. But Jessica of Jessica’s Nature Blog asked to see some photos of pebble-faces or shell-faces. This is the only one I have.
We shall call it “The Scream”. How we sometimes feel when we’re Lost.
The Anishinabe (or Ojibway) call this October moon “The Moon of the Falling Leaves”. This one isn’t hard to figure out. The leaves are falling everywhere. They’re not falling like they will fall in a week or so, but now they trickle down from the trees, splashing their red and orange and yellow colors everywhere.
It’s still raining. Here’s what happens: rain pours non-stop from the sky in a flurry of wet showers. Then it ceases. The sun even sometimes peeks briefly from behind the cloud-studded sky as if to say “Is it safe for me to come out yet?” But then quickly ducks back in just as another rain shower pours from the heavens. Yep, that’s how it’s been for days now. The temperature stays in the upper 40’s or lower 50’s.
Today, in between rain showers, we pulled up the brown tomato plants and threw them in the woods. Most of the tomatoes were rescued from freezing the other night, so the ripe ones already sit inside on the kitchen countertop and the green ones lie in the basement sandwiched between newspapers. Just before we finished, the rain unexpectedly drenched us as another shower passed through. I don’t know why I said “unexpectedly”. These rain showers are getting quite expected every twenty minutes.
Good news! The phone just rang and it was my mom. She and dad are (hopefully) planning a trip up to visit next weekend. Hurray! (This, however, means that I will need to spend a great deal of time INSIDE in the next several days cleaning up the house.) But don’t worry, the outdoor commitment will still happen.
Here are some interesting photos from our trip to Houghton last night. We drove down near the lift bridge when Barry said, “Look at that girl! You have to take a picture.” He prepared to stop the car. I was full from dinner and muttering something like, “I don’t WANT to take a picture…” but the car was stopped and he gestured over toward the bridge supports. I reluctantly opened the door.
But what a surprise! How cool! Some graffiti artist had drawn cool-looking figures on the supports. Now, I know some people think this is defacing public property, and maybe it is. But I loved all three figures! Great art on the construction site. (Much nicer than looking at all the construction vehicles.) What do you think?
In less tolerant places, one could probably be punished for writing a blog like this. For daring to bring up the subject. For discussing this. For even mentioning the edges of this.
Thank goodness we’re allowed to speak the truth, all of it. And here’s the deep-down nitty gritty awful truth:
Autumn is right around the corner.
“What?” you’re saying. “What are you talking about? It’s only July 20th! It’s mid-summer, for goodness sake. Fall isn’t for a couple months. Let’s enjoy summer. Let’s just stay present with the beautiful green leaves and flowers. You got some kind of weird winter fixation, or what?”
Nope, not me. I’m enjoying summer (or whatever resembles summer in these parts, this year) as much as anyone else. Loving the blossoming, the blooming, the rich greenery, the garden, the jungle-like woods, the sun, the warmth, the…well, you get the picture. Summer rocks!
But the woods, itself, tells a story of the changing seasons.
A slight yellow hue transmutes some ferns from vibrant green. Some leaves waving merrily in the wind of green trees lose their vibrancy. The reds and oranges and yellows of autumn still remain at bay, but the subtle signs of change already waft through the landscape.
Some of the leaves now sport pock-marks from fungus or other diseases; many contain holes where insects have lunched their fill. If you look at the different leaves, each one has endured a journey throughout the summer which has both strengthened and challenged. Hey, does that sound like us humans as well?
Even our “Bud Man” has disappeared from the elder tree; the berries eaten by birds. Click here to see how the “Bud Man” looked back in May. Oh how fleeting is the Moment! Perhaps it can make us appreciate even deeper the momentary appearance of the flowers, the berries, the garden peas.
The forest whispers its secrets to us. And the secrets are not taboo. If we allow the hint of autumn to open our hearts to the majesty of what appears, right now. Let’s continue to appreciate it. Perhaps if the leaves never turned red or orange, or the frost never nipped the pumpkins, we’d never truly feel so amazingly blessed by what the Earth shares with us.
P.S. Today’s my birthday! And I am feeling so utterly grateful and blessed by all you readers, this blog and the world of opening the door, walking outside…
Let’s travel along Memory Lane for this outdoor blog. Back to the turn of the century, around 1999 and 2000. The years we Upper Peninsula residents learned about the Forest Tent Caterpillar. Many of us don’t want to look backward to be reminded of these creatures, but let’s reminisce briefly for those who have never weathered such an invasion.
What triggered this memory was this eastern tent caterpillar nest near the Bishop Baraga Shrine last Friday:
Almost rather pretty shimmering in the sunshine, right? These are the more common variety of tentworm caterpillars. They’re fond of wild cherries, or ornamental trees such as crab-apple, apple, plum, peach and cherry. We co-exist rather happily with these caterpillars. Hardly even know they’re around…
However, back in 1999, rumors whispered from the south. The forest tent caterpillars were marching north from Wisconsin. Entire swaths of trees were denuded of leaves as the caterpillars moved toward Lake Superior. A driver along an interstate might suddenly notice bare tree limbs, completely devoid of greenery, with dozens or hundreds of acres of trees suddenly decimated by the army of multi-legged leaf-munchers.
We didn’t think too much about it until the army arrived here. Until our tree leaves were consumed. Until we were desperately thinking of creative ways to save some of our trees, especially prized oaks. First we boiled up gallons of the hottest cayenne pepper-laced water. That didn’t even burn their feet. We finally settled upon a necklace of aluminium foil drenched with cooking oil near the tree base.
The hungry fellows like wild cherry trees like their cousins, but they especially enjoy supping on poplars and oaks. Apparently their invasions occur in cycles of ten to twenty years.
They settled thick upon the land for two years. There were coccoons in the eaves, the awnings, the trees, the bricks, the blocks, the windows, the doors. Everywhere the forest tent caterpillars could imagine. We have a–shall we say, fond?–or at least, amusing?– memory of our son’s graduation party in 2000. We set up folding tables on the side lawn, beneath the oak. Can you perhaps imagine the scene as hundreds of tentworms dropped out of the tree onto the tables, perhaps frightening away guests? My mother-in-law just mentioned that she kept herself busy inside of the house, hoping perhaps to avoid the industrious caterpillars.
Another memory: in their march through L’Anse, they were so thick they covered the gas pumps at a local station. Can you imagine the thrill of pumping gas through that quagmire?
Nine years later remnants of the nests remain. I did an extensive search to photograph one of the beautiful carcasses for you. At least two presented themselves. For your viewing pleasure:
One of my most miserable outdoor memories occurred in the midst of this invasion. It was spring. I wandered into the woods, about a half mile up the road from our house. Probably thinking of morels or spring wildflowers or the challenges of the day, I didn’t notice until too late.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was surrounded by strands of webs. Hundreds, thousands! Everywhere one turned, the sticky webs covered glasses, hair, eyes, clothes. You couldn’t breathe without ingesting them. It felt like a thousand almost-invisible ropes were surrounding you, tying you up, immobilizing you. I tried to run but became more deeply entangled in webs. Couldn’t even see because my glasses were covered by the threads. The vague memory of the horror movie “The Birds” surfaced and I felt like screaming. Honestly, it was not pleasant. I didn’t return to the woods for at least a month after that adventure…
Here is another specimen left over from those days:
We’re truly hoping they don’t return to the Upper Peninsula for a long, long time. Once every lifetime is probably enough…
P.S. Besides photographing old caterpillar nests today, I drank jasmine tea outside in the cold 45 degree wind talking with my mother-in-law on the phone. How’s that for an outdoor adventure? It counts, doesn’t it?