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Dear Friends and Family and Random Readers,
I’m glad you didn’t come snowshoeing in the woods this morning. Even though it was just beautiful….a light dusting of newly-fallen fresh snow lay against all the branches and trees….you may have regretted your decision.
I started out filled with enthusiasm and energy, traipsing down the steep ravine behind our house. With temperatures hovering around 34 degrees, I soon became too hot and took off my outer blue fleece jacket and walked around in a hooded sweatshirt and snow pants and hat.
About twenty minutes into the hike, the problem started. Because the snow was so wet and heavy and compressed and soaked, it began to attach to the snowshoes. Soon the unsuspecting walker lifted up a caked and frozen snowshoe which weighed at least five to ten pounds heavier than necessary.
What to do? Of course one leaned down and attempted to scrape off the snowshoe. Of course. But guess what happened the next step? The snowshoe suddenly re-appeared caked and heavy and icy beneath the foot. It was like wearing weights at the gym. What a work out!
Fortunately, at the last minute I had decided to follow a random trail back in the woods which, fortunately, led back towards our house. Just when every step seemed almost exhausting, the dim outline of our house appeared silhouetted through the trees.
I’m glad you weren’t along, especially if you are a newby snowshoe enthusiast. However, when the weather freezes up the landscape a bit, let’s go snowshoeing. There’s all sorts of interesting tracks in the snow right now. I think I saw Big Foot. (just kidding! But the snow had melted so intensely around the original track it looked a bit like a prehistoric or mythical creature.)
Sincerely and with Snow Wishes to all, Kathy
The last time I drove out to Roland Lake alone, maybe four years ago, I was listening to CDs by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She’s the author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves”, an incredible book of myths and stories of the “Wild Woman Archetype”.
She uses stories to teach, instruct and empower women (heck, I think the stories would empower both sexes!) The CDs came from Sounds True, and I believe they were called “Theater of the Imagination”. Stories like The Crescent Moon Bear, Skeleton Woman, The Three Old Ones and The Fisherman’s Wife sparked such deep feelings and spiritual connections. I thoroughly recommend her works to anyone in love with magical words and stories, in love with the power of stories to wake us up beyond our everyday perceptions.
Today, without any stories in the background (except for the running stories in my mind interspersed with precious silence) I buckled on the snowshoes and began the slow meandering through swamp and woods, keeping the eye alert for treasures of nature.
First, tracks imprinted in the snow appeared. I think I probably failed Tom Brown Jr.’s wilderness survival school all those years ago, because I had no clue as to the identity of the tracks today. I probably failed Tracking 101 (if we’d received grades, which we didn’t), except in the case of deer, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, mouse and bird. Perhaps I could identify a bear track in the heat of summer if it was encased in good dirt and accompanied by scat.
Today’s tracks looked like dog, coyote or wolf. I imagined they were wolf tracks, probably due to the romantic myths dramatized by Clarissa on the CD during the last trip. I pondered the appropriate behavior if meeting a wolf in the woods. Run? Stand still? Growl? Shout? Look big? Avert eyes?
I am hoping some sort of instinct or guidance just happens. You’ll see the wolf, perhaps even eye to eye, and a voice in your head will instruct, “Walk slowly away to the left with confidence” or “Run like hell!” Anyway, that’s my back-up plan. When meeting flesh and blood wolves or bear (as opposed to mythical story-wolves) , something inside will advise the appropriate course of action. If it doesn’t….goodbye blog!
On that rather gruesome note, let’s interject another photo:
I know! Just at the right moment, when a wolf or bear crosses your path, a ladder will appear in the middle of the woods. You’ll calmly walk up, smiling down, admiring the fur and wildness of the beautiful creature down below. You’ll begin writing a story in your head for the next blog as you peer down from the hand-hewn wooden structure.
Speaking of stories, our local Annishnabe (Ojibway) say that many stories can only be shared in winter. Years ago I remember asking about some of the traditional myths and stories to the elders. “No,” one man told me, “We only tell that story in the winter when the snows are deep.”
Because it’s winter and the snows are deep, I am going to share this link: http://www.mpm.edu/wirp/ICW-141.html You’ll notice the first story is about Wenebojo and the Wolves. Wenebojo (there’s many different spellings of the fellow’s name) is a trickster spirit. All sorts of strange and funny and odd things happen to this man. The stories were used to teach the young ones growing up, to instill moral lessons, to give strength and courage. I must admit I was challenged reading some of these stories tonight, but I have faith that you’ll be better able to discern the teachings.
Stories were considered medicine. Instead of going to the pharmacy when you were ill, traditional societies often told stories as a first approach to healing. The magic within them was known to heal, to open, to strengthen. Of course, traditional medicines were also utilized, but I like the idea that a good story can teach us, wake us up, interject a little magic or faith into our dismal spirits. What better time than deep winter?
Yesterday I stepped out the front door and headed north with my good friend Catherine towards Calumet, Michigan. We ventured towards the Vertin Gallery to view an exhibit by Ontonagon artist Melissa Hronkin called “Wintering–Into the Hive”.
What a lovely reception ensued! But first, may we backtrack to the city of Hancock where Catherine, Karen and I shared a dinner at a Gemignani’s Italian Restaurant? If you visit, please try the wild mushroom stuffed ravioli topped with marinara sauce. Very delicious, indeed.
Afterwards we decided to walk the three or four blocks to another art reception at the Copper Country Arts Center. The thermometer announced 15 degrees, later followed by a frigid 14 degrees. I don’t know about the other two ladies, but I was freezing. My feet felt like icicles and it seemed necessary to dance every other step in order to keep warm. (The others weren’t dancing, strangely enough, simply walking calmly down the sidewalk like it was a balmy 23 degrees.)
After the interesting exhibit of paintings, ceramics, photography and other pieces (such as shoes displayed with fur and feathers and other oddities….including a shoe created to be a mini golf-course tee) we began our trek back towards the cars. Karen suggested we walk slower, rather than faster. What??? She calmly explained that when we tense up, or hunch our shoulders in the cold, we actually start to feel colder because our muscles are contracted. I tried to relax. Strangely enough, it seemed to work. I suddenly felt much warmer. For at least ten seconds, anyway.
We drove another fifteen miles to Calumet to the Vertin Gallery. What interests me lately is the way people create art from nature. How they take sticks and stones and bark and feathers and wax from beehives and create incredible works of art.
They’ve stepped outdoors and looked around with an artist’s eye and discovered ways to make new beauty from nature’s materials. Melissa raises bees; she utilizes the wax from the hives to make lovely pictures. Although I don’t have the technique written down in exact proportion (so you can copy with wax from your own bee hives) I believe she blends wax and other ingredients, and then applies these over photographs and original artwork.
I did ask Melissa if it was acceptable to take photos; she agreed. She seems a lovely person, as well as a talented artist. She spoke briefly to the group at the reception about the way bees winter in the hive. Apparently, the Queen slumbers at the center of the hive. The drones are kicked out in the autumn, eventually starving or freezing to death as winter approaches. The worker bees surround the Queen, keeping her warm, taking turns at the colder outer rim of the cluster.
How much thought do we bring to the wild animals wintering over in the northwoods? We might ponder the bear in his den, the snakes burrowed deep in the earth, the deer curled in the cedar swamp. I had never before considered bees, and their survival during the six months of winter in our cold climate.
The honeybees have been endangered recently; we have reason to hope they make it through the long winters in the hive. They pollinate at least 90 different kinds of crops and make it possible for us to munch on apples during summer months. One third of our diet comes from bee-pollinated plants. Shall we say a prayer that the bees winter well in their hive, that the Queen remains protected, that they will live to buzz in our gardens and meadows?
The Ojibway called the January moon Gichi-manidoo-giizis “Great Spirit Moon”. The full moon hangs high in the sky tomorrow night, at its zenith at exactly 10:27 p.m. EST.
Two nights ago I wandered out and snapped photos of its almost-full beauty. No clouds obscured its white face. My breath blew out wisps of mist. The landscape seems enchanted in the shadowed world; a patterned black-and-white painting revealed itself beneath the rounded moon.
Last night, a curtain of clouds covered our orb. Yet the moonlight must have penetrated somehow, for the light illuminated landmarks which remain dark in the new moon pitch blackness. I could still see the woodpile, the sway of branches, and snow drifts pushed high by the snowplow.
In the eerie half-light, a coyote howled in the distance. I started snapping photos, interested to discover what existed unseen by the limited eye. The above photo captures light falling snow and other orb-like wonders. The snow reflected a green tint, so unlike the blue tint of full daylight.
This after-dark world filled me with delight. Usually I’m in bed by 10 p.m. and miss much of the beauty of the nighttime. My husband is a night owl and likes to prowl around the garage until wee hours, so he often shares stories of night-time happenings. Once, on my 40th birthday, he roused me from bed to view the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, in flickering greens and faint reds. It was a glorious birthday present.
Hopefully we’ll find more during the summer to share on this Outdoors Blog. If not, we’ll at least hold the memory of this cold January night with the camera capturing yet another beauty of nature.
I’m heading off for today’s Outdoor Adventure in a couple hours and won’t return until late (another view of the darkness!) Will report back tomorrow with perhaps a more unusal entry!
In the wintertime, in a sometimes bleak world of snow and ice, it’s often all in the details. Look closely. And when you’ve looked closely, peer in even more closely. You’re bound to be surprised. Amazing hidden details will present themselves.
What do you need to survive during a northwoods winter? You need technology. What might that technology be? Snow removal instrument shall be Exhibit A.
A shovel is a necessity. All sorts of shovels exist. There’s the snow scoop shovel, the ergonomic shovel (please look this one up yourself), snow pushers, and wide-grip snow shovels. There’s roof rakes, designed to rake the roof clean of snow. There’s little shovels, big shovels, and then there’s really big shovels.
We call them snowplows. Most of us need some sort of snowplow to clean the driveway (unless a prior financial arrangement exists with the county). We have a 1951 Massey Harris tractor, of which you will undoubtedly later see pictures. My husband sits at the helm, painstakingly pushing snow into pre-arranged piles for most of the winter. I think he’s an expert. I was once required to sit atop the tractor and practice plowing techniques, but if anything happens to him we’re in trouble….
Today I shoveled snow. I wasn’t much in the mood to hike in the woods. In fact, if it wasn’t for this 365 day commitment, I would have DEFINITELY stayed inside. It wasn’t too cold; the temperature hovered around 25 degrees after an early-morning high of about two below zero. But my mood felt hibernational. It did not feel outdoor-ish. Nonetheless, I went outside with a sigh.
Once outside, I surveyed the landscape. Gray sky. Smelled the air; it strangely smelled like water or melting snow. Chickadees chattered nearby. In the distance, a motor hummed. It’s challenging to determine if it’s the whine of a chainsaw (another winter technology) or snowmobile. After listening intently, I identified the motor as a chainsaw. Someone was cutting wood for his or her woodpile.
Speaking of woodpiles, besides the handy chainsaw, an axe or maul often proves a necessity. You may examine Exhibit B to view our handy axe. We mostly use it for chopping kindling, although it has been used to chop logs into manageable wedges.
You place the kindling logs (usually cedar) atop the chopping block. Down comes the axe! If you’re lucky, the logs split into kindling-size shears. These go atop newspaper in the woodstove and provide the starting power to spark a good roaring fire.
As we continue this discussion of winter technology, may we discuss computers? Specifically: Internet service. We seem to live in an occasional “black hole” of Internet service. We’ll be speeding along on the worldwide web when suddenly….nothing. Yesterday afternoon provided the first real challenge to the daily posting of this blog. Internet ceased at 3:32 p.m. Fortunately I had a meeting on the other side of the bay and was able to post on a computer over there. Just wanted to set some additional perimeters to this blog commitment: if you don’t see a blog appearing on a particular calendar day, it means the Internet has disappeared from the woods. I will still write my blog, but will post at the first opportunity.
The more complicated that technology gets, the greater challenges may arise. The shovel and the axe have rarely failed during recent years. As for the Internet and computer…..shall we say that sometimes the simplest technologies prove the most faithful?
Weatherman says: -22 below windchill at 6:11 a.m. It’s the 16th day of this 365 day commitment to spend time outdoors. That means there’s 349 more to go. Should we keep counting?
Sun reportedly rose this morning at 8:32 a.m. I missed the auspicious event, having left through the front door at 6:40 a.m. Arrived at work at exactly…shall we say… 7 a.m.? From 7 a.m. until 11:15 (exactly 4.25 hours) I worked on budgets, lunch charts and quarterly reports. You can perhaps determine that Numbers are a big part of my life.
The thermometer outside the kitchen window announces it’s 8 degrees right now (1:06 p.m.) and I’ve just returned to the house after a 1.1 mile walk up to the main road. The fiercely blowing wind has abated, but it’s still coming out of the southwest at 9 mph.
Brightly colored purple finches and dapper chickadees sang in the treetops along the road, but I have no idea how many. The snow crunched underfoot, surprisingly covering the previously-slippery turf. No cars disturbed the serene beauty of the early afternoon until the mailman sped by in his Jeep at 22 mph, waving his hand.
We had eight envelopes in the mailbox, none which looked particularly intriguing. I decided to measure the snow in deference to this “numbers” blog. Out on the side yard, in the non-drifted areas, the snow averages nine to eleven inches.
The sun sets tonight at 5:17 according to the weather service. I will venture outside yet again at 6:30 p.m., this time to a meeting 9.3 miles away where I will explain numbers and finances to probably fourteen or fifteen people. They will nod and smile as if they’re interested, glad that someone else has the job of keeping track of these details. I’ve been doing this particular job for nigh on 23 years. Who knows how many more to go?
I have an interesting numbers statistic for anyone still reading. Guess how many minutes of daylight we gain at this time of year? I’m not talking dry & cold weather-service numbers. I’m talking night-time numbers only. A couple of years ago I attempted to figure out the extra minutes of light we gained in January. Every night I’d write down when it was no longer possible to see the garage. You will be pleased to know that we gain ten minutes of light in the evening every week at this time of year. This is a very vital statistic for those who suffer from Cabin Fever or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s vital to know that the hours of daylight are increasing. Ten more minutes of evening light per week! You may want to remember that….
As of this week, there’s between 50 and 80 people reading this blog daily. Five of them have decided to spend more time outdoors this winter. One of them says she’ll possibly attempt writing. Who knows what anyone else thinks?
We have six and a half rows left in our woodpile to make it until spring. We have 76 days until Spring Equinox. But since spring doesn’t come to this area until April or May….let’s just say….it’s a long time until spring!
***despite all this chatter about statistics and numbers, I’m pretty certain that in the larger scope of Nature and Earth and love and beauty numbers really don’t really count…..***
Yesterday we took the Christmas tree down. I gently fingered the ornaments, placing them in boxes wrapped in newspaper. The spruce tree smelled sharply fragrant. Together Barry and I unwound the strings and strings of lights and garland. The nostalgic post-holiday feeling began to build; the season officially ends with the dismantling of the tree.
Next we lifted the heavy trunk out of the stand and hoisted it out the door. We opened the door, stepping outside, unwieldy tree in hands. Sap stuck to our gloves. All nine feet of the green beauty flew over the deck into the snowy underworld. Then Barry dragged the spruce across the snow into the woods.
Today I followed his tracks down the hill, determined to find the final resting place of our Christmas tree. He put it in an unusual place this year, different than most years. We have several rotting tree-carcasses down another hill directly behind the house; the remains of perhaps six Christmases still visible above the snow. Most are primarily branches at odd angles; you wouldn’t recognize them as Christmas trees unless you remembered pushing them down the ravine in previous years.
I sat next to the reclining tree and thought about our holidays. We tried to do a “green” Christmas this year. We thought about the environment with each decision. We wrapped our gifts for each other in newspapers decked with recycled bows and ribbons. We bought frugally. We attempted to live lightly and simply on this precious planet. And yet….when it came to a Christmas tree….we decided to buy one.
Our daughter opted for the live-tree option. You buy a live pine or spruce, decorate it with lights and ornaments, and re-pot it in the spring. Unfortunately, this option doesn’t work well in our cold climate. The potted trees can’t survive until warm weather. In past years we’ve chopped down a tree on our property, but some of us (well, me, I admit) are tired of the Charley Brown look of lopsided and thin and straggly branches. So we bought a tree for $15 from one of the local gas stations and dragged it home in our ’49 Studebaker truck.
Today it lies in the snow, in its final resting place. I fondly said goodbye and thank you. Its branches, needles, bark and roots will eventually dissolve back into the earth. It will nourish the soil for new seedlings. New spruce and poplar and maple will grow from its decomposition. The earth so kindly takes what we use and recycles it efficiently, creating new from the old.
Today I took a “real” walk. You’re wanting a definition of the word “real”, right? You’re wondering: aren’t all walks real? What’s she talking about now?
Yes, yes, if we choose to quibble: all walks are “real”. There’s so many different kinds of walks in the winter. There’s the kind of walk where you mosey around in the backyard, stopping to smell the spruce trees. There’s the kind of walk where you venture slowly slowly through the snow, breaking through with your big boots, pausing to consider Life between each and every step. Then there’s the woods walk where you climb up the ravines, and down the ravines, and arrive at some destination after a half hour or so. Maybe you arrive down at the lake and “oooh” and “ahhhhh” at the beauty of the lake. There’s even the road walk where you visit a place like the “Eagle Pond” (a name which you’ve created and passed on to others as if it really defines a place, as if others might know what you’re talking about).
But this definition of a “real” walk is where you walk to get exercise. You walk distances. You work up a sweat. If you’re lucky, you even have a friend who comes with you. Then you’re so busy gabbing about this and that you sometimes hardly notice the landscape. You’re instead admiring the landscape of friendship.
I went on one of those walks today. I wish you all could have come, too. Think of everything we’d discuss! Some savvy earth-folks would notice the gray landscape, the gray clouds, the gray snow. Some might even express awe over the beauty of the tree groves, the slant of snow, the 25 degree warmth. The rest of us would be discussing Other Matters of Importance, and giving maybe 20% attention to the landscape.
And most of our attention would be on the slippery nature of the road underfoot. Winter walking is not necessarily an easy pleasure. Instead, one has to gauge the ice beneath the boot. How likely are we to plummet? Dare we even attempt a swift walk? And which road provides the best traction? These are important considerations.
How many of you souls have fallen on the ice? We older folks seem to have a more challenging experience with the “thrill” of falling. Young children and even teenagers flop easily on ice, sometimes even laughing, arising cheerfully and carelessly moving on. As we age, we fall less gracefully. Down we go, and how do we rise? Tentatively. Carefully. Gauging aches and pains, looking for broken bones. We’re cautious of icy experiences. We’re seasoned fallers and we prefer upright. We’ve learned….
So my friend and I guaged the slippery portions of the road, and tried instead to walk on snow-crusted peaks. Mind you, these peaks are less than an inch high. But they provide a bit of stickiness and mitigate the possibility of a tumble. Last winter we had to cease walking altogether when the roads turned into skating rinks. This winter, so far, it’s only somewhat challenging.
We chose a road which is not much traveled. But it is traveled, as a few hardy souls live along its path. We walked from the church, around an entire country block and then back along the main road until we returned to the church, one hour later. I cheerfully suggested it was a good 3 mile hike, as my thighs and hips ached noticeably. My friend, stickler that she is, insisted it was only 2.8 miles. No matter! A good sweat had been accomplished and one felt exhilarated after the exercise. (note, I seem to be using the word “exhilarated” quite frequently to describe the post-outdoors experience.)
A good soaking bath later, a delicious whitefish dinner accompanied by garden squash (yes! still surviving down in the basement, although getting noticeably more yellow and fragile by the day), potatos and salad, and now nighttime settles in.
In the darkness one might ponder the words of Robert Frost this long winter’s eve:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.