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Snowshoeing book club members find chair in the middle of the woods!

Snowshoeing book club members find chair in the middle of the woods!

 

Just returned home from our book club meeting.  It’s far too close to bedtime to be writing an intelligent blog.  But will try to do “literary” justice to the experience.

Between 7-12 of us meet about once every couple months to discuss books.  At least we allegedly meet to discuss books.  I would estimate we spend 25% of our time together sharing books and the remaining 75% socializing.  A potluck highlights the evening, of course.  But tonight we did something a little different:  five of us went snowshoeing before the meeting.

We usually take turns visiting each others homes.  Tonight Jennifer hosted the gathering.  (She’s been too busy to attend book club recently, so we were all delighted to reconnect with her.)  We all strapped on our snowshoes, prepared to hike in the snowy woods.

Nancy's wooden snowshoes

Nancy's wooden snowshoes

All of us sported the light aluminum snowshoes except Nancy.  She later announced she would be buying a new pair before the next hike.  Her boots refused to stay firmly in the straps.

We wandered through the very snowy woods for awhile, enjoying the beautiful cedar trees.  No real trail marked our walk, so we occasionally ducked under branches.  Suddenly, to the left, an old chair appeared, sitting covered with snow out in the middle of the woods.  Of course the book club mentality set in and we opted for a photo shoot with our members pretending to read a book.  Jennifer is holding an actual book (and you may wonder how a book appeared in our hands out on the hike?  Actually it is a datebook or calendar, but it served as an appropriate photo prop.)  For anyone who’s interested the snowshoers in the above photo are Sue, Joanne, Nancy and Jennifer. 

The snowy woods through which we snowshoed

The snowy woods through which we snowshoed

At our last meeting in December we rolled dice fast and furiously, attempting to win our preferred wrapped book.  No one knew anything about the books we tried to win.  If you rolled doubles, you chose the wrapped book.  If the next person rolled doubles, she could choose another book or steal your book from you.  This is our traditional Christmas book club fun. 

Thus, this meeting we discussed the books we won in the dice-throwing games.  I won “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” in December and enthusiastically recommended it to our readers. 

We debated for a long time about next club’s selection.  Finally we chose “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck.  I think I may have read it a few decades ago, but it’s a classic.  So will look forward to reading this again for our April meeting.

Let’s hope there’s not enough snow to snowshoe by then…

Circling around in the woods

Circling around in the woods

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

Walking gingerly over fallen snowy tree

Walking gingerly over fallen snowy tree

My friend Bertha leads us on a snowshoe hike

My friend Bertha leads us on a snowshoe hike

After my morning at work, I headed over to a friend’s house for a snowshoe hike.  Temperature:  5 degrees.  Blue and sunny skies.  No fierce and biting wind.  On an ordinary winter I might have called to cancel with excuses about the frigid temperature, but today that didn’t even seem an option.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t cold at all!  Surprisingly, I was too hot.  You don’t believe this, do you?  But it’s the truth.  I had dressed in too many layers of clothes.  The better to get a good work-out, perhaps.

We hiked for a good hour.  It’s much easier to do a “real” snowshoe that stretches for awhile if one hikes with friends.  When you’re alone, you meander more.  You stop.  You look up.  You look down.  You peer around corners, looking for photo opportunities.  If you’re a certain person I know (no names shall be mentioned here) you even sometimes find a place where a deer has bedded down.  You settle in the deer-resting place and then you look upwards and take pictures of the view the deer enjoyed.  (I may steal this idea for a later blog, if I run out of other subjects to talk about….)

Today, we talked.  We got caught up on our busy lives.  We covered friends, family, health and at least twenty five other topics.  We admired the woods.  We expressed thanks that we lived in such a beautiful place.  We pitied those who couldn’t be on a snowshoe hike like this in the lovely north woods.  (I did not mention blog readers who so often express disbelief and pity that we live in such a cold clime, preferring instead their warm and toasty southern sun….)

Bertha and I have been friends for a long time.  How many years now?  Maybe 26 or 27.  Years ago we hiked up in the Huron Mountains with husbands and our six month baby.  We set up tents and enjoyed a beautiful night in the high hills overlooking Lake Superior.  We were babes then, in our twenties and thought nothing of going on grand adventures.  What I remember about that night is our son lost his pacifier from his position in the front pack where he was carried, and found his trusty thumb instead.  He never wanted the pacifier again.  Years of orthodontist bills probably related directly to this hike….

But I digress into the land of memory.  Let’s stay in the present, shall we?  It was a beautiful early February hike.  Fortunately, Bertha had snowshoed the trails yesterday after our foot of new fluffy snow.  If not, we would have worked much harder.  I am grateful for her diligence in keeping up all those trails around her house.

I’ll close with this quirky little picture of a fence post from many years ago.  And hope that many of you get an opportunity to snowshoe with a good friend sometime this winter!

Quirky old fence pole

Quirky old fence pole

Squat way down and peer up at that fungus

Squat way down and peer up at that fungus

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:

Mystical ladder into the heavens (or at least up in the tree)

Mystical ladder into the heavens (or at least up in the tree)

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?

Cattails down by the beaver pond in Herman

Cattails down by the beaver pond in Herman

Another day in the great outdoors along the south shore of Lake Superior.  Today I motored inland and upwards towards the settlement known as Herman.  I hate to label some of our backwoods areas as “towns” or “villages” as one would often be hard pressed to locate a store, post office or gas station.  Some of our communities do have buildings known as “town halls” where gala feasts or jamborees occur at various times of the year, but deep winter finds these halls mostly deserted.

I have several friends who live in Herman and it’s always a pleasure to drive up to visit.  Herman is known as the snow belt of Baraga County.  In many years it’s common for us low-landers (near the lake) to get an inch or two of snow during a snowfall while a foot or more buries them up in Herman.  Shoveling or plowing up there takes more fortitude than down in Aura or Skanee or Bovine.  (Please!  No rebuttals!  If any of you disagree, please buy a plot of land in Herman next winter.)

Herman apparently has 117 inches of total snow this winter.  My unofficial and guestimated count down here near the lake averages more like 60-70 inches.  It’s been cold this winter, but we’re not buried in snow.  It’s often colder up there on the hilltop, as well, according to friends when we compare thermometer readings.

12 degrees this afternoon

12 degrees this afternoon

We went snowshoeing this afternoon down by the beaver ponds.  But not before four of us met for our monthly Artist’s Way meeting.  Every month since last July we’ve been joining together to study “The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron.  Usually the participants meet once a week for twelve weeks.  Because we’re all busy and located at far ends of the Keweenaw we’ve decided to stretch the course for a year. 

You discover ways to open creative channels, explore possible blocks to creativity, and dive into new possibilities.  It’s been a fascinating seven months thus far.  We start Chapter 8 for next month.  I highly recommend this process for anyone wanting to grow, to develop the inner artist, or simply to explore more self-discovery.  We have at least one seasoned artist in our group who is utilizing the course to assist her in expanding her already talented portfolio.

After a lively near-four hour session (complete with a fabulous orzo pasta and vegetable stew) Catherine and I said goodbye to our fellow artists and pulled out our snowshoes.  We drove down to the mailbox a half mile from her house, put on the snowshoes and hiked back to the ponds.  No beaver in sight, but we weren’t expecting any at mid-winter. 

Driving home near sunset, I glimpsed an orange-pink fiery sky over the bay.  Living in between tall poplars and maples in the woods, it’s hard to get a good view of sunsets.  I pulled over next to the ice fishermen returning from their shacks on Keweenaw Bay and snapped the following photo:

Sunset on Keweenaw Bay, end January, 2009

Sunset on Keweenaw Bay, end January, 2009

Look at that violet sky and evening-blue snow…..ahhh….another gorgeous day in the north woods.

Sea shell of a leaf

Sea shell of a leaf

I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I enjoyed snowshoeing outside today.  Have you ever had one of those meanders in nature where everything seemed utterly beautiful and meaningful and fascinating?

Everywhere my camera and I walked something leaped out of the snow and woods to reveal an alluring angle, an inspiring possibility, an interesting view.

I wondered:  is this beauty available all the time and we can only truly see it when we’re not focused on our everyday thoughts, internal conversations and hasty paces?

Through the veil of branches

Through the veil of branches

I paused in front of three tiny spruces and wondered if they were a family of sorts.  I peered in all sorts of nooks and crannies of rotting trees.  Fierce woodpeckers and other tiny wood-burrowing creatures had hollowed out many a hole.  I looked deeper and deeper into these crevices, marveling at the stalactites and stalagmites of the wood-world. 

Threads of beauty in the inner realms of a dying tree

Threads of beauty in the inner realms of a dying tree

I ambled on the snowshoes in between whipping branches attempting to bring any unsuspecting walker to a standstill.  A partridge burst upwards towards the sky, a squawking flutter of wings and panic.  I am dying for a picture of a partridge (the reason which will be revealed in a future blog). They move so quickly there’s no time to point the camera’s shutter and capture the feathers in flight.  There’s only the noise and the startled thud of your fast-beating heart.

Snow careened across branches and limbs in odd angles.  You can marvel for ten minutes at how the snow retains odd shapes against the wood.  Look at the following picture:

Sagging sculptures of snow on branches in the woods

Sagging sculptures of snow on branches in the woods

How does snow do that?  How does it hang in such beauty without collapsing onto the ground?  How does it remain like that for days or weeks? 

I am in awe viewing nature’s art.  She is the most fantastic artist.  Always changing her designs, always creating anew, always catching us unaware as we stumble across her incredible beauty. 

When I returned to the house to download the photos, a moment of disappointment arose.  It felt like the pictures couldn’t capture the stark beauty of the morning’s wanderings.  The photos hinted at the exquisite song of nature, but didn’t fully encompass it.  The beauty was so large it couldn’t be framed in single images, tamed into limited viewpoints.

Perhaps sometimes the beauty refuses to be captured to continue to lure us outside, into the magnificence of nature’s own gallery.

Modern blue snowshoes

Modern blue snowshoes

Today was a big day.  You betcha.  I opened our shed door and dug around inside until discovering….you’re right….the snowshoes!  Although it’s still possible to walk very slowly in the nine to eleven inch snow base, it’s simply not practical to hike far distances.  Yesterday my knees hurt while exploring out in the snow, so today the snowshoes made their Winter ’09 premier appearance.

Let me tell you — walking in snowshoes is not for the out-of-shape.  Anyone who snowshoes regularly knows it’s a real work-out.  Those of us not in optimal physical shape start huffing and puffing before we’ve maneuvered up and down one or two ravines.  You don’t need to go to the gym if you snowshoe daily.  Do give it a try.  (you may want to build up slowly until your stamina increases to match the pace of the snowshoes.)

One of the ABC’s of Snowshoeing is:  tamp down your first trail and then re-use it daily.  If you break through a foot of snow on Monday, Tuesday is bound to be an easier hike.  By Wednesday you’re grinning at the relative ease.  By Thursday it’s snowed again and you start all over breaking a trail.

This area boasts a famous priest from Slovenia who settled in Baraga County from 1843-1853.  His name was Bishop Frederic Baraga.  He came to minister to the local Ojibway (Annishnabe) people.  Some people think he was a saint; others hold opposite opinions…..yet I admire the fellow for one reason alone.  They called him “The Snowshoe Priest”.  He supposedly walked across the Upper Peninsula on snowshoes many times.  It’s reputed he walked 700 miles across this countryside in the wintertime serving his parishes.  His regular circuit covered distances of more than sixty miles.

Any of you snowshoers believe that?  I can barely walk a mile without panting and this fellow regularly walked 60 miles!  He’s a Snowshoe Hero.  At least he’s my snowshoe hero.  I’m not sure he needed to “save” the Natives, but that’s another subject.  His crowning glory (in these eyes) was his ability to put one foot in front of the other, snowshoe after snowshoe, for long distances.

One thing snowshoeing teaches is the necessity of paying attention.  If one loses concentration it’s likely the two shoes become crossed and….the next thing you know, you’re buried backwards in a snowdrift.  Another lesson:  do not approach a ravine and travel straight down.  Instead, snowshoe sideways.  One usually does not wish to flop head-over-heels down a hill.  Although it’s sometimes possible to slide down the hill as if the snowshoes were skis.

Finally, are you in the market for a pair of snowshoes?  If so, you have your choice of several options.  The pair at the top of the page might be referred to as “modern” aluminum snowshoes.  However, for your consideration, please view the two alternative wooden varieties.  I wore these wooden varieties for many years before begging a modern light pair for Christmas several years ago. 

The snowshoe on the right is called a “bearpaw”.  Doesn’t it look like a bear’s paw?  It’s best for navigating through cedar swamps, in brush, in challenging areas.  The snowshoe on the left is called (according to my husband) a “Michigan” snowshoe.  I couldn’t find this verified on-line, but apparently many locals refer to it by our state’s name.  In the past, long-distance snowshoers would utilize this longer fellow for lengthy cross-country hikes of….say….700 miles across the Upper Peninsula.

The "Michigan" and "bear paw" snowshoe varieties (and me)

The "Michigan" and "bear paw" snowshoe varieties (and me)

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