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Pardon me, Mr. Tree.
Are you up for a discussion?
Have any advice for us humans? Anything you want to share with us? Any words of wisdom?
Should we be looking up at the sky or down at the earth? Optimistic? Pessimistic? Realistic? Which direction should we look?
Should we look up close? Is the answer in the details or in the wider view? What do you think? Please don’t just stand there with your branches blowing in the wind. Whisper some secrets. Tell us the Secret of Life. Please.
Ahhh, so that’s the language you speak. All the swirls and hieroglyphs. Are we suppose to understand what you’re trying to say in your tree-ness? What ancient Egyptian-like language are you speaking? Do we need to get quieter, Mr. Tree?
You are saying something, aren’t you? Something deep. Something profound. Something miraculous.
What is it?
Oh, yes. I hear you now. You say to us, “You are barely scratching the surface”.
That is your message to us tonight.
We will go deeper tomorrow. Look deeper. Look wider. Keep our eyes wide open.
Please continue to teach us with your bark and leaves and roots and seeds. Help us to look beyond the surface. Help us find our own tree-nature hidden beneath our feeble twig-language. Help us learn to bend without breaking in strong winds, how to let go of our leaves when the time comes.
Thank you, Mr. Tree.
It’s a delicate subject around here. Toss a coin up in the air and decide. Should the land ever be clear-cut? Should the trees be sliced off like a razor cutting whiskers on a stubbly chin?
Foresters often say that in certain areas a clear-cut is advisable. Many tracts are not good hardwood sites; they refuse to grow beautiful hardwoods like maple and yellow birch which have high-quality value. If foresters selectively harvest on these sites they never see much improvement. If they want to have productive tracts, they will sometimes choose to clear-cut. The result will be thick aspen (poplar) stands. In 40-50 years these will be big harvestable trees. The mills need these stands to mix with their hardwood.
There. I have just given you forestry-speak.
I could share the perspective of someone who loves trees; someone who doesn’t much like the labels of which trees are “valuable” and which trees are “junk”. I could share old Native American stories about the trees being our brothers and sisters, the lungs of the planet earth.
I want to talk about the clear-cuts of our soul.
What times in our own lives have we felt like we’ve been clear-cut? When everything has been torn away? When things safe and familiar and loving have been ripped asunder?
Have we all had clear-cuts? Some clear-cuts come on the heels of endings of relationships. The endings of friendship, of love, of romance, of marriage. Some come with the tears of loss: the death of a child, a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Others have lost their home, their money, their job. A clear-cut is a place in life where our beloved past meets destructive saws. The dear trees fall. So often don’t we weep? We weep from the loss, the pain, the absence of the loved one.
Afterward the brush lies all over the ground of ourselves. We wipe our tears and stand straight. We have to walk with faith, then, through the clear-cut of the soul. The seeds are growing beneath the tangled brush, but we don’t know it yet.
In a few days or months or years the new trees will be growing. We will persevere.
I have known many forests who have been heavily logged. In my lifetime, I have not intimately known many forest tracts completely clear-cut. Yes, we see clear-cuts everywhere. But they usually aren’t on land that I have walked, loved, whispered to, dreamed upon.
Once, a long time ago, while crying in some beloved logged forest, an inner thought arose, “Just sit here until you can feel the sacred beauty of the place.” I sat for a long time surrounded by impenetrable brush and jagged logs and wild disarray. I sat with the memory of the tall hemlock, the sturdy maple, the feel of the forest. I was not going to move until it felt sacred once again, until the invisible seeds of hope and new life showed themselves.
And finally, I saw it. A flower. Blossoming. And over there a precious sweep of branches. And over there a bent cedar.
Slowly the logged forest started revealing its promise.
We will grow again, the trees said. We won’t be the same trees. But we will grow again.
I think of a dear friend who lost her husband three or four years ago. The first year of her clear-cut was agonizing. She wondered if she would survive. I wondered if she would survive. The second year was filled with many tears, but slowly the young sprouts grew. She still grieves, but she’s stronger now. Her new roots are growing into the earth. It wasn’t something she wanted, but she’s learned to see the sacred beauty in what remains.
Blessings for all of us in times of the clear-cuts of our soul.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
After work today I drove out to the river. Ahhh…how nice to relax along the banks of the Huron River after a morning of squint-eyed juggling numbers and filling out forms. I thought about calling a friend to walk, but, as usual, opted to spend time solo just contemplating life and listening to the noisy roar of the river’s rush.
Thought about how I never know what the day’s blog will be about until sitting down beside the trusty computer and uploading the photos. Then letting the photos speak for themselves. Tell their story of the day.
In the beginning, way back in January and February of this outdoor commitment, I spent way too much time thinking about what to write in this blog. How to craft it. It almost became an obsession, trying to figure out what to say, day after day. What could possibly be entertaining, interesting?
Until one day, I just stopped. Decided the blog could write itself. I would work as the typist, and let the fingers have their say.
After I quit controlling output, the enjoyment of writing increased. I can’t TELL you how many hours of amusement I’ve experienced sitting behind the keyboard, letting the finger’s type, laughing hysterically at whatever decided to present itself. (A few family members and friends can attest to this.) Unlike other blogs I’ve written in the past, which could be very deep and serious and deep and serious and deep and serious…this one could be free and random and funny and whatever it wanted to be. Of course, it had to include the outdoor adventure. But beside that, anything was game.
Then some days the typing fingers seem to get serious. There’s a mood around here sometimes, an ambiance of philosophical pondering. It isn’t necessarily too deep (like those other blogs elsewhere) but it likes to speak in metaphor. It compares rocks and frost and trails and leaves to human scenarios. This voice has presented itself in the last few days.
A certain someone said last night (when I mentioned this fact): “I like your serious blogs best.”
Immediately I began to think: oh no! Should the funny one be censored? Refuse to let it come through? Should we axe her?
Within five minutes of this exchange (five minutes, mind you!) I checked my email. Someone had written with these exact words: I like your funny blogs best. Your funny blogs are the best!
Right. Hmmm. Goes to show you can’t please everyone, so, as the song goes…you got to please yourself…
I like to see what comes up. Funny. Serious. Philosophical. Photo essay. Whatever.
And that’s kind of fun in viewing other blogs, as well. The different tones and moods and parts of ourselves which reach up to express themselves. I don’t think we’re singular people. We’re so multi-faceted…and perhaps we like to keep some of our sides under wrap too often, tucked away in dusty corners of our psyche.
On the way back toward the bridge, smelling that autumn fallen-leave smell along the moist river-bank, I detoured up into the woods. And came upon a surprise, a mystery! The fruit of an unknown plant. Something never before seen by these eyes. What could it be?
I like the mystery of life. The unexpectedness of it. The way you can be silly one second and crying the next. The way you can feel unemotional and then deeper than the deepest river. Life is so unexpected. It’s such a gift, isn’t it?
Most of my time outdoors today was a 1.2 mile walk up the road and back down. Meandering very slowly. The eyes alert for freshness, for newness, for interesting plants and animals and leaves. The camera singing its audible click as it captured image after image. (I am still in shock realizing the last camera took over 8,000 photos in less than ten months.)
I pondered how everyone would see different things on the same walk on the road. One person’s glance would linger on the vibrant tree leaves. The colors are now past “peak”, but individual trees still gush amazing colors.
Another person, focused on a different perspective, might notice the dried plants and flowers with their brown ragged edges. Every once in a while a still-blooming flower presents itself, like a breath of fresh air. A lone scraggly purple lupine. The round wheel of Queen Anne’s Lace. Perhaps a white splash of yarrow.
If we wore each other’s moccasins, would we see the same things? Would our gaze travel different places, different heights, different angles? We become so accustomed to looking in the same old way.
What if we vowed to look with “fresh” eyes each day, looking for magic? Would we see more acutely, with more expansion, with more depth?
I remember, as a teenager (heck, what am I talking about? As an adult as well) being so locked in the mental world of my thoughts that the natural world seemed almost invisible. There was rarely a thrill of truly seeing the flower, truly being present to individual petals and stamens and color and stem.
At age eleven or twelve, downstairs in my childhood basement I found a book about awareness. It taught you how to truly see things, how to train yourself to be present and perceptive. I remember doing the exercises and going outside to marvel in new-found abilities to see. I remember thinking this was the magic key, the big secret of the universe. But then forgetting the secret completely for many many years…
Does anyone else hold a memory of wearing glasses for the first time? After months or years of really not seeing the world, you place the glasses over your eyes. And, lo and behold, miracle of miracle, you can see! The world clicks into focus. I can remember staring up at our apple orchard trees and breathing in awe, “There are leaves! Look at the leaves!” You never forget that moment when you can first see again, when everything comes into exquisite focus.
Not only does our sight often remain limited, we often get used to thinking in the same ways. Walking the same trails. The same roads. Wearing the same shoes or boots. We become jaded and caught in patterns.
How often do we continue to think our way is the “right” way, the correct way, the only way? How often do we simply let go of our pre-conceived notions and let the newness and mystery of life teach us, as if we were still impressionable children? Open, eager, not knowing the answers…and looking breathlessly at the beauty which surrounds us everywhere.
How often do we leave the pavement and venture onto gravel roads, onto unknown territory? How often do we leave the roads completely and wander along woodland paths? How often do we leave the well-trodden path and blaze into unfamiliar forests?
The pavement ends here. We have a choice. Which direction shall we go?
It’s been four months since the Pinery Lakes wildfire which seared 685 acres about ten miles from our house. My daughter and I were lounging in her Manhattan apartment when we heard the news via Facebook: “Pinery Lakes Fire, 2009“. I remember feeling so sad with memories of cross-country skiing (and falling on my butt way too many times) and hiking with Denise and her dogs and the Anishinabe “spirit houses” in the nearby cemetery. How could the land be burning? How could this be happening?
Please read this FIRE!!! blog if you would like to learn more details about the actual May 20 fire.
Lately I’ve been wanting to return to the fire scene. To see what difference four months (well, almost 4 1/2 months if we want to be a bit more accurate) might bring. My last memories were of ash and smoldering logs. Fried landscape. The acrid smell of fire. The remnants of fire crews standing by.
What would it look like now?
OK, here’s what it is like. You get out of your car and head into the woods. Ferns and plants are growing up everywhere. Some of the brambles are already chest high! The ground still lies covered in black ash, but Mother Nature has waved her magic wand across the landscape and there grows wintergreen, labrador, ferns. There bloom asters, raspberry, Queen Anne’s lace. New life springs up everywhere from the ashy soil. Ahhh, the soul sighs in relief: Life Returns!
I wandered for a long time, up hills and down. Let me tell you, it’s a bit dangerous. Roots have been up-rooted and holes punctuate the earth everywhere. If you’re not very careful, you will trip in a hole. (Yes, I tripped. But not to the point where I fell unto the ashy earth.) You must, I repeat, be completely alert. The fire has consumed so much. It’s not a hike for the unwary.
I really wanted to show you photos of the Native American Spirit Houses which sit atop the graves at the Indian Cemetery. But I can’t. For some reason it seems sacrilegious to do so. Perhaps not to me (after all I casually put in photos of cemetery graves from the Marquette Cemetery for a June 26th blog). But it seems this might perturb some of the local Native Americans who do not believe the graves should be photographed. So I shall leave them photographically undisturbed.
The weather has turned lovely today, by the way! The temperature soared to 52 degrees and the sun nudged the clouds away for a while. The weather forecast has the “S” word in it for the weekend (that would be “SNOW” for any of you non-Upper Peninsula folks) but we’re thinking that means the Highlands. Not the lowlands around the lake. Surely we won’t get snow. It’s not even October 15th for goodness sakes. And my parents are coming to visit. No, snow is not allowed.
That day, last May, when my sneakers almost started smoldering while taking photos of the fire seems so long ago. How strange nature is. On that day in May the temperatures soared up into the 90’s and the fire sparked. How many other times did we reach the magic 90 degree mark during the summer? Once? Never? How very unexpected the weather can be.
I think of us humans and how fires sometimes sear our hearts. How death and pain and suffering can uproot our trees, our sense of security, our confidence. And how, if we let them, the ferns and the wildflowers and the trees grow back. The landscape heals. Perhaps slowly, but it heals, if we let nature ease our sorrows.
I am glad the land heals. New seeds sprout. New flowers bloom. New life bursts forth from the wildfire ash and the ancestors smile in their graves as the cycles of life turn again and again.
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.
Dear blog readers,
If you remember anything from this year of outdoor adventures, do you know what it should be? (In other words, Kathy, if you learn anything from this year of outdoor adventures, do you know what it should be?) I have repeated this at least sixteen times and you poor readers will probably have to hear it ANOTHER sixteen times before the year ends. You poor things.
But here it is, once again for anyone who is still reading after that first paragraph: Do Not Believe Your Mind When It Tells You Not to Go Outside. It will attempt to abort your opening the door and walking outside. It will tell you, over and over again, often in a slight whine, “I don’t WANT to go outside. It’s too cold (substitute the current weather condition which might not look or feel optimal).” If you believe that Mind you will stay inside. I have too often believed that Mind before this year.
Today, Day 283, the thermometer said 44 degrees in the early afternoon. The memory of yesterday’s cold and rain surfaced. Momentary dislike for having to go outside surfaced.
And guess what? After about three minutes of feeling slightly cold, it suddenly felt JUST RIGHT. Once again, the Mind could not see accurately. It was even pleasurable. And, you know what? I might even go outside tonight again and help split up yet another load of firewood.
So there, Mind.
Here are some pics from two evenings ago (or was it three?) when I walked down by the lake. Today I wanted to spare you more photos of garden produce and soggy leaves. Except of course for the leaf which hangs above this blog. It’s already posted, so it can stay. Here we go:
I actually could be babbling on, telling stories about the evening down by the lake, but let’s just let the pictures tell the story today. You can supply any inner story-telling you like, if you want to imagine the feeling of spending an hour down on the lake during one of the last 70 degree evenings of September. Of maybe the rest of 2009. But we won’t go there in our story-telling, shall we?
Then, because we can’t really stand NOT to photograph leaves (it’s going to be an autumn of leaves, let me assure you! Just like it was a winter of snow, and a spring of flowers and now it’s Glorious Leaf Season…) here you go:
Here’s to autumn! Let’s raise our apple cider to the sky and enjoy the glories (and, ahem, the colder days) of the season.
P.S. 8:15 p.m. Just finished splitting another load of wood. Only maybe two more to go! I LOVE splitting wood. Really. Hope you didn’t believe any previous blogs you might have read. 🙂
I incorrectly spelled the name of the above flower when typing out the cutline: Single impatient flower reclines on front porch. That of course gets one thinking. About how nature simply doesn’t fuss. It knows when the leaves must fall, when the flowers wane and die. It knows when the apples ripen and the squash grows its hard thick green acorn-y skin and when the geese fly south. It knows. It refuses to be impatient.
Unlike some of us humans, hurrying and scurrying here and there with ideas of our own, and timetables during which everything must be accomplished.
Autumn is the season of letting go. The trees release their leaf-children. Their firstborn fruits tumble to the earth. The plants and ferns dry up into brown crackling creatures half-resembling their former vibrant green selves. We sigh. Winter lurks closer than we’d like to imagine. Frost prepares her white fingers in some underground burrow, taunting the sun to move lower, to edge away from the earth’s protective blanket.
If the leaves refused to stain red and orange and yellow, would we think autumn so beautiful? If the plants simply shifted from vibrant to brown, would we write poetry to this season? Around here the leaves are turning nicely this fall, not too fast and not too slow. On their own luxurious timetable. When I peered downward from the airplane a couple days ago, the tree-colors looked muted and tame, like an artist mixing the lightest shades of orange and red. Just wait! Give it two weeks! We’ll be in a riot of color, shocking bold color…and give it another month and the stark bones of tree-people will line the horizon watching the ghosts of Halloween stalk the land.
I have another photo to show you, a sign of the season. It’s not a pretty picture, at least for some of us. It’s those darn flies. The kind that invade our northern houses at this time of the year. They’re seeking refuge in every nook and cranny. They’re crawling into holes and through cracks in windows and attempting to find a winter’s hiding place. Why, one asks, do they trap themselves in windows, between the screen and the glass? Surely that’s not where they aim to be. Surely not.
If it was OUR window, I would have opened the screen and let them fly away outdoors. However, knowing flies, they would find another window to squiggle within and then buzz frantically about.
Hmmm, any other photos to show you? Which illustrate the changing seasons? Perhaps only a single mint flower, viewed from above. It stretches on a stalk at least a foot above the mint-leaves down below. This flower has just now formed; it’s a late-comer in September. Imagine how sharp and pungent the mint field smells, how enticing!
Perhaps it’s time for freshly-steeped tea?