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Trees and sky

Several times this year I wondered what would happen with the outdoor commitment if I got sick.  Here was the rough plan:  Barry would pull out the reclining lawn chair and I would snuggle on it for at least a half hour beneath dozens of blankets.  Or in Grandma’s 1970’s snowmobile suit if it was winter. 

Today I didn’t feel well.  Don’t worry.  It’s not a serious sickness.  You don’t need to hear all the details, but it involved intestinal disfortitude followed by chills followed by a headache which still exists twelve hours later.  Of course, the headache may be caused by caffeine withdrawal.  Because of the intestinal challenges, I am not drinking coffee or black tea…and that almost always results in a headache.

I lay on the couch almost all day,mostly napping and staring into space, except for a work-related trip into town.  Finally the Outdoor Adventure could be postponed no longer.  Barry was at work, so the reclining lawn chair was not a possibility without a lot of fuss. So I put on Grandma’s snowmobile suit and boots, hat, scarf and mittens and carried a small cushion out under the spruce tree (where I camped last winter.  Click here and here  if you want to read about that excitement.)

And then I looked at the sky.

Beautiful sky

It felt a little chilly.  It also felt invigorating in a good sort of way.  I closed my eyes and listened to the chickadees with the whhhhirrrr of their wings and the sounds of them cracking open the sunflower seeds with their beaks.  Little bits of sunflower shells fell on me.  The neighbor’s dog or rooster kept hollering.  (It’s quite pathetic when one cannot determine the difference between a dog and a rooster.  But sometimes you can’t…even when you ARE feeling well.)

For the last five minutes of the outdoor time, I sneaked inside, grabbed the phone and returned to lie on the front porch. Called my mama.  It’s always good to talk with your mother when you’re feeling a little under-the-weather.  You remember the times when she gently tended to you as a child.  (And probably also said, “And you can’t go outside until you’re feeling better!”)

The heavens open up

The heavens open up

Have you looked, really looked, at the sky above you lately?

How marvelously the clouds dance against the sky, changing colors, opening up, obscuring the heavens, then teasing you with flashes of sunlight?

I have not stopped to truly fall in love with the sky until today.  On Day #320 of the outdoor adventure.  Three hundred twenty days of opening the door, walking outside, and I have not fallen head-over-heels in love with the sky until now. 

Of course, I’ve noticed the sky.  Everyone notices the sky. But it’s so often the earth that demands our attention.  The little things, the unusual prizes, the flowers, the leaves, the dogs, the snow.  The Beings of the Earth.

Today the Beings of the Sky tapped my shoulder and said, “Hey!  Look up!”  and I did.

Up, up and away...

Up, up and away...

What an amazing world exists above our heads.  Cloud-creatures sway and form and dissolve everywhere.  You can lay on your back against the earth and watch the ever-changing cloud-creatures.  I remember doing this for the first time at age eight.  I saw our recently dead wire-haired terrier named Buttons in the clouds.  Even though he had choked on a fish bone and died, he was somehow floating in the clouds.  You couldn’t convince me otherwise.

Sky in heavens and on earth (OK, reflected in a pond)

Sky in heavens and on earth (OK, reflected in a pond)

Earlier this year I discovered the sky in ponds and mud puddles.  That was a revelation.  It had never truly occurred to me before that mud puddles could reflect the sky so beautifully.  (And I am not the only one!  One of my good friends, an earth-lover extraordinaire recently confessed that she had not noticed that before either.)  However, do you think I raised my eyes to the sky above and stood enraptured at the clouds and blue?  No.  I was only enraptured with the reflection.

Today I was enraptured with the Real Thing.  The sky itself.

Light, clouds, depth, sky

Light, clouds, depth, sky

This morning I left for Houghton about 8:30 a.m.  Spent a good hour or longer in the coffee shop writing on the laptop, aka Miss Ellie.  Then headed off to recycle and shop.  Felt a strong prompting to phone my nephew Doug who is attending Michigan Technological University.  Would he like to join his aunt for lunch?  I really didn’t expect to get a reply, imagining how busy a college student might be. 

Yet, miracle of miracles, he had seventy-five free minutes.  Could I pick him up down by the library?  Yes.  We ate Chinese at the Ming Buffet, catching up on everything.

Afterward we agreed to meet again, hopefully before the holidays.  I then phoned my son in California (yes, the same son I’m going to visit in one week) who has the flu.  Yes, probably the dreaded swine variety.  Half of our county has the flu.  For the first time in our memory they’ve closed all of the county schools until Monday. 

Driving home, I suddenly felt achy.  Oh no, was I about to join the swine numbers?

I forced myself to stop the car behind the Pow Wow grounds and wander in the 37 degree temperatures, breathing deep the fresh air.

That’s when I noticed the Sky.

Unexpected beauty

Unexpected beauty

Who knows if it was the Sky?  But suddenly all my aches and pains disappeared.  I felt energized and exuberant and totally in love with clouds and sunlight and blue sky.

Things are looking up.

Perhaps other flu victims should spend some time with their heads in the clouds.  Just a half hour a day should do.  The best medicine on earth!  Or, rather, in the sky… What if doctors prescribed, “Take two half hour doses of the Sky for two weeks” instead of antibiotics.  Wouldn’t that be novel?

Pussywillows meet sky

Pussywillows meet sky

The sky.

Let’s discuss the sky.

I am suddenly unexpectedly enamoured by the sky.  It started last weekend (as some of you remember) with that crazy blue-colored sky on the way to Marquette.  That sky woke you up when you looked at it.  You wondered if you’d ever seen a sky that particular color before.

This morning, the Thunderbirds started rumbling.  You know what it sounds like when they rumble low in their throats.  The skies look black and blue and white and all sorts of miraculous colors, and the Thunderbirds rumble.  It sounds like poetry.  It keeps the listener alert, wondering what’s going to happen next.  Will it rain?  Will it pour?  Or will the rumbling keep to the north, or the south, or somewhere far away?

A wild & crazy sky

A wild & crazy sky

The sky changed sixteen times on the way to work this morning.  First, it was calm and dawn-like, a soft pink staining the horizon.  Then it churned.  Then it rumbled with the flapping Thunderbird wings.  Then it softened.  I kept leaping out of the car to take photos.  Snap, snap, snap!

Fortunately, we don’t have a challenging commute.  One morning, a few weeks ago, I didn’t glimpse a single other car.  This morning, maybe three or four cars passed during the ten mile ride to work.  It’s laid back.  I pulled over to the side of the road, sized up the sky, and drove another two miles, pulled over again, and never even saw a car.  We’re kinda lucky, aren’t we?

The first stain of dawn on our road

The first stain of dawn on our road

Here’s a local Ojibway (Annishnabe) legend.  In the beginning there were originally six beings who came from the sea to live with the Annishnabe.  They were the Bullhead, Crane, Little Moose, Bear, Marten and Thunderbird.  They created the original clans of the people.  Unfortunately, whenever the Thunderbird (Bineshii) looked at the Annishnabe, they died.  The other five beings urged the Thunderbird to return to the sea, because his powers were too strong for the People.  That is why the Annishnabe do not have a Thunderbird clan to this day.

Don’t you sometimes feel that thrill of fear when you hear the Thunderbirds rumbling?  I do.

Low-throated rumble predicts rain

Low-throated rumble predicts rain

After a spell of drought, followed by our massive three-day storm, the earth is lapping up the water as fast as it can.  More rain is predicted this weekend.  The news forecasters have lowered their voices and suggested “flooding possible”.  We hope not. 

Almost to work now.  Look at the sky reflected in the field-pond.

Almost to work now. Look at the sky reflected in the field-pond.

I went inside to work, not thinking too much more about the Thunderbirds.  After all, there was work to do!  Suddenly, glancing out the window, I noticed rain pouring down on the asphalt .  A few minutes later, a silvery misty fog arose all around the building.  At break-time, I hurried outside with a camera.

The mist rises and the Thunderbirds return to their cave or perhaps the sea.

The mist rises and the Thunderbirds return to their cave or perhaps the sea.

The snow is melting, melting, melting.  Amazing how fast it disappears after a good rainfall.  I enjoyed at least an hour outside in the 72 degree temperatures this afternoon, exploring and photographing emerging tree-blooms.  Another low-pressure system wandered in late afternoon and the temperatures plummeted to the 50’s.  Up and down we go, riding the roller coaster of spring.

The sky through our car window this morning

The sky through our car window this morning

Have you ever seen a sky that particular color with the sun shining in that particular way?  I never have before.  It’s a miracle what we see each day outside our doors and windows. 

I have this theory:  it’s very dangerous to name things.  To call things by names such as rocks, cattails, swamps, rivers.  So often, once we assign a name to something, our mind automatically labels and categories it.  Then, the next time we see, say, a rock, the mind dismisses it as “just a rock” and refuses to look closer and truly see what’s there.

Secret hieroglyphics in my favorite rock

Secret hieroglyphics in my favorite rock

Did anyone lean closer to look at the secret hieroglyphics?  I must admit to provoking you to peer deeper at the rock.  Do you see the wavy dancing movements in it?  The stone literally moves with indentations swirling through.  However, we might miss this if we glanced briefly and allowed our mind to label it “just a rock” and move on to the next picture which might be labeled “just a bunch of cattails”.

Before the mind labels them, just look.

Before the mind labels them, just look.

I learned about the perils of naming and labeling back in the early 1990’s when learning all about wildflowers and plants.  Suddenly a new world opened up and I ran breathless between white and yellow and purple and blue and golden and orange blooms rising out of the earth.  What was this one?  And that shy beauty?  And that multi-splendored blossom?  I bought piles of identification books and began to pour through them, locating the exact replica photo and announcing with definitive joy “That one is a wild aster.”  “This one is a jack-in-the-pulpit.”  “Oh and that one is the nodding trillium!”

However, something strange then happened.  The minute the beautiful-unknown-mysterious-absolutely-magnificent flower was named, I lost fascination with it.  On to the next unidentified species.  And to the next.  The flowers never shimmered so brightly as when I truly peered at the nameless creatures, truly present with them.  At that moment it could have been anything.  Anything!  Later it was just an “aster”.  Alas.

Nope, don't know what marsh beauty this one is...

Nope, don't know what marsh beauty this one is...

The challenge, if we must learn names in this lifetime, is to refuse to let the names deaden our perception.  Let’s call things by their many beautiful names, but allow our sight and smell and touch to linger beside them.  To refuse to allow our mind to limit the magnificence and uniqueness of the individual tree, or plant, or animal…or person.  (OK, what’s the name of that plant in the above photo?  Anyone know?  I promise not to lose fascination with it…)

Speaking of people, the eight or nine women at book club last night sat out on the deck in 70 degree temperatures.  What a delightful summer-like experience in mid-April. (Thanks to Emma at treehousejukebox for pointing out that I had originally typed mid-May.  It has something to do with the “Dreaming of Summer photo blog below, I’m sure.)  However, I must lament that summer beat a fast retreat and today the thermometer hovers at 39 degrees.  Does that feel cold!

Here’s a local scene (Three Lakes) which shows the inland lake still covered with ice but the summer rowboats ready to launch when it melts. 

Dreaming of summer?

Dreaming of summer?

Christmas morning sunrise

Christmas morning sunrise

Some of you may know we live within the boundaries of an Ojibway Indian reservation.  Traditional Native Americans, those who honor the ways of their elders, often greet the rising sun with a pinch of tobacco.  This tobacco contains sacred herbs like sweet grass, sage, cedar and other “medicines”.  They do this to give thanks for the rising of the sun, for the dawning of a new morning, for the blessings of being alive to experience another day.

I am imagining what it might have been like to live in a small wigwam or hut a couple hundred years ago.  Although you’d fall asleep snuggled beneath cozy deer or bear hides, with a fire crackling in the center of the hut, you’d undoubtedly awake shivering and cold.  And, although the elders assured you that this time of darkness wouldn’t last forever, you might feel the immensity of the winter snows, black nights, frigid temperatures.

Imagine the appreciation of the rising sun you might feel.  Imagine the gratitude for its warmth, its light, its beauty, its spirit-lifting presence.  Perhaps you wouldn’t take this golden orb for granted.  Perhaps you’d offer a bit of preciousness to the Creator that allows the sun to rise yet another day.

I snapped this picture in the early-morning light and hurried back inside to drink coffee with family members, to open gifts, to share breakfast and laughter.  I think we all felt grateful on this day to be alive, to be together (those of us here in the U.P. anyway) and we spoke of friends and family in far-away places.  We missed everyone, but already anticipated when we would spend time together as the year progressed.  And there would be phone calls of connection later on….

This afternoon I returned to tramp through the snow, mostly across the road.  Snowshoes shall be needed soon!  It’s between calf and knee deep, depending on drifts.  If you walk really slowly, meditatively, it’s not too challenging. 

Today the sun has shone brightly all day.  This is a real gift at this time of year.  How many days pass filled with gray clouds.  The blue sky lifts spirits everywhere….people smile more frequently.  Even though the journey of the sun only reaches half-way up the trees, there’s an incredible beauty in the way the light glints and glitters against the snow.  At 25 degrees it feels balmy. 

Gratitude fills my heart this Christmas Day.  Gratitude for the sun, for the earth, and for friends and family everywhere.  Blessings and love to all…..

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