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Thunderstorm just before dark

Thunderstorm just before dark

Dare to step outside at dusk, just as the last flush of light extinguishes through the woods, just as the thunderstorms whip the branches to and fro, just as the rain begins to drumbeat against the deck.  Even though you might get wet, dare to do it.  Dare to do it just because it’s different, just because we’re alive, just because we can.

Chipmunk beneath the bird feeder

Chipmunk beneath the bird feeder

Dare to keep sneaking closer to a chipmunk, day after day.  Especially if you’ve never done it before.  Make your steps soft as they whisper against the earth.  Imagine yourself as a small furry chipmunk and think about sunflower seeds and burrows and diving chickadees. 

We humans so often do the same things, day after day.  We go to the same stores, visit the same people, walk the same paths.  Let’s dare to vary our routine!  Dare to walk outside of the box of comfort and safety and visit new places, explore new forests, peer into undiscovered nooks and crannies.

Underwater ferns and leaves in forest pond

Underwater ferns and leaves in forest pond

My assignment today:  go somewhere, anywhere, where I have never yet walked.  A new place in the woods!  I left a note on the kitchen table, “Going somewhere outdoors.  Don’t know where.  Don’t know when I’ll be back.” and drove away in the car.  But where to stop?  Didn’t want to blatantly trespass…yet wanted to explore new turf.  Enough of the usual walks.  Time to break the mold.

Finally I found unexplored ground, pulled the car off the dirt road, and struck out into the woods.  Breathless with anticipation.  What beauties, what secrets, would this particular land want to share?

Hummingbird nest from last year

Hummingbird nest from last year

The land felt different.  It’s hard to describe how earth two miles away (or even a quarter mile away) can have its own individual personality.  There’s the same dried leaves, the sprouting greenery, trees, pussy willows, ponds…but there’s an air of difference, of newness, of possibility.

Of course when you leave the beaten path to explore new territory, it always happens.  You get lost.  Or, come to think of it, maybe I’m the only one that gets lost.  You have to A) look at the angle of the sun immediately upon entering the woods and B) carry a compass.

Nonetheless, even with those two excellent aids, there comes an inevitable moment when it seems like you’ve walked a long way in this direction, and then that direction, and now…where the heck is the road?  Where is the car?  Am I spending the night in the woods? 

I suppose this is why we folks like our comfortable well-known paths and places.  We don’t have to face the rush of fear, the shiver of uncertainty, the not-knowing how things will turn out. 

It’s too bad, because we miss so much.  So often when we convince ourselves to leave the comfort of routine or the ease of habit…a thrill of energy and joy rises.  The joy of being alive, trying new things.

The tender yellow underbelly of a young birch

The tender yellow underbelly of a young birch

Forty minutes after entering the forest, I sighed in relief at the good hard familiar dirt of the road.  And, way way up there–that little speck in the distance–was my car. 

Even the pussy willows alongside the road shimmered with the joy of new beginnings as they prepared to burst beyond what they knew yesterday.  I dare everyone reading this to try something new today.  It will be well worth it.

Pussywillows bursting open

Pussy willows bursting open

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Keweenaw Bay ice begins to break up

Keweenaw Bay ice begins to break up

When was the last time you took part in  a Scavenger Hunt?  The last “real” Scavenger Hunt I participated in occurred about 7th grade.  Our science teacher brought a group of students to his home.  We all received a list of items to find and return.  The first team to make it back to the house with all the items won the hunt!  (By the way, the teacher’s last name was Hunt, hmm, odd coincidence…)

Here’s your list.

You must go out in nature and find the following items.  You can take a picture instead of bringing them to me.

1)  Pussy willows (C’mon…if I can find a pussy willow, you can, too!)

Item One...view Spring Pussywillows...Ode to Joy!

Item One...view Spring Pussy willows...Ode to Joy!

2) Sumac or Wintergreen. Your choice.  I have a photo of each.  If there’s ABSOLUTELY no sumac or wintergreen in your area, please substitute.  But don’t make it TOO easy.  Find something a little surprising.  Something enchanting.  Something that makes your heart pitter-pat at least a tiny bit.

The first time I could photograph sumac this year!  (drifts melted, you know...)

The first time I could photograph sumac this year! (drifts melted, you know...)

3) Birchbark.  On the tree or lying on the ground.  White or yellow.  But make it birchbark and think about all the lovely and practical items one can craft from birchbark.  Sing praises to the birch tree!  (Scavenger hunts are really about praising what one discovers….)

Pretty piece of birchbark, hmmm?  Just lying there in the snow.

Pretty piece of birchbark, hmmm? Just lying there in the snow.

4)  Animal scat.   Oh I’m sorry to add this to your list.  But we’re talking about a Scavenger Hunt out in nature, aren’t we?  So what’s abundant on the ground during the springtime after the snow melts?  You got it.  Scat.  Please do not pick up.  Photo only! 

Deer Scat

Deer Scat

5)  An animal.  (OK, it doesn’t need to be the same animal connected with your scat photo.)  It can be a bird.  A fish.  A mosquito.  Just capture a photo of it while giving thanks to the animal world.  Fortunately or unfortunately, in my Scavenger Hunt, the scat came from the animal posted below:

We see you peeking through those trees, Mr. Deer.

We see you peeking through those trees, Mr. Deer.

That’s it.  Five items.  Wasn’t too hard, was it?  Now send the photos to me in a green envelope (reminding of us spring) with your return envelope and I shall send you a small prize.  Because we’re all winners when we go scavenging in nature, aren’t we? Especially when we have curiosity, love and joy in our hearts!   🙂

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