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I started for the daily walk. Today, November 30th, is the last day of Hunting Season. Tomorrow we woods-lovers can return to tramping through the forest without fear of getting shot. (Except I think some other kind of hunting season starts December 1st. But it’s not the kind of hunting season that has lots of visitors from downstate and Wisconsin and Illinois and Ohio.)
Headed to the mailbox, humming a little, pondering all the outdoor suggestions you folks have offered (my poor mother experienced a few minutes when she could not sleep last night worried about what her daughter would write for the remaining days of the outdoor adventure, can you imagine that? Note to self: quit complaining! Something always comes up. And look at all these good new ideas.)
When suddenly. Several feet away. A deer. A doe. Staring at me eye to eye. We considered each other.
I fumbled with the shutter. The camera sang its little greeting song, but the deer didn’t move. Snap, snap, snap! The camera shot its photos.
You see, the deer wanted badly to cross the road. But I stood too near the road. We waited at an impasse. The camera kept shooting. Snap, snap, snap.
“You better be glad this isn’t a gun, dear Deer!” I said. “I’ll bet you’re glad it’s the last day of hunting season, aren’t you?”
The deer flicked its ears and looked impatiently at the other side of the road, bored with my conversation.
Let’s take a short commercial break before we see what happens. Will the doe move? Will Kathy get another shot? Will deer season end with a trophy photograph on the wall?
Yes, indeed, this is the stop sign I told you about yesterday. Our neighbor AJ had spotted the bullet hole which threatened the letter “T”. Someone obviously felt a little frustrated because he or she couldn’t shoot a deer. So they shot a stop sign instead.
Back to the exciting final moments with my deer.
The camera is shooting wildly! The deer’s white tail is up in the air! She’s leaping! She’s crashing through the brush! She’s running to escape the shutter lens!
And the final photo, in dream-like haziness:
I proudly returned to the house with my photo-trophies. The deer happily bounded into the woods to meet its compatriot.
Hunting season is over!
Until, of course, the next deer crosses the path of this camera.
It finally happened today. Three hundred forty-four days into the outdoor commitment and the Moment came.
The Moment I had always feared.
I opened the door, walked outside, aimed the camera at… Aimed the camera at… Aimed the camera at… And there was nothing interesting in front of the camera. Nothing. Not a darn thing.
Everything looked too ordinary to even focus the lens. I peered everywhere. Up close and far away. Up close all you can see are the following: dried reddish leaves, smatterings of snow, dried plants and flowers, leafless bones of trees and… Well, that’s it.
I marched down the road in a tizzy. What to photograph, what to photograph?
It was getting more desperate by the moment. How can you write a blog when there are no photographs? Why oh why have I put in five to seven photos a day recently? What stupidity! I should have only posted two a day, and then there would be plenty of leftovers to make it through the November/December stark days of gray and white.
I met our neighbor, AJ, a blog reader, on the road. He was dressed in his hunter-orange jacket to avoid getting shot by errant guns during hunting season. I was wearing red plaid. (Why oh why didn’t I think to photograph AJ?)
“AJ, there’s nothing to photograph, nothing in the world!” I moaned pathetically. “Everything has already been photographed!”
“Yes, there is,” he replied patiently. “You could take a picture of the stop sign at the end of the road.”
(The stop sign at the end of the road? The stop sign at the end of the road?)
But then he explained.
“There’s a gun hole through the stop sign at the end of the road. Somebody shot the stop sign.”
Now I suppose I could have gone up to the end of the road and taken a photo of that stop sign, but I was walking the other way and already planning a blog about how there was nothing to photograph. We said our goodbyes and I continued my mental fretting, “There’s nothing to photograph. I have photographed everything in this county for 344 days…how in the world to get through the next three weeks?”
Of course when I got home Barry then had to offer sixteen suggestions during the rest of the afternoon. How about this? How about that?
So now I’m not stumped anymore but because the only available photo was a stump…
P.S. And since the majority of readers tend to drop in on Monday, all I can suggest is this: If you want to look at photos, how about review some of the older blogs? As Barry just said, even Jay Leno has re-runs.
P.S.S. Anyone else have any ideas? Any outdoor adventures left undone? Please?
I have Christmas shopping plans for this weekend. Maybe not for the Official Shopping Day, Black Friday. But at least for Saturday. I’m headed for Marquette (before or after a delightful luncheon with special twins in the Ishpeming/Negaunee area). But there are a few key Christmas items which must be found. I will join the throng of shoppers and…shop.
But I decided to first discuss the matter with the Forest on my walk today. Just to see what the Forest thinks of our Christmas Shopping plans. And specifically Black Friday.
Me: Hi Forest! How are you today?
Me: I know you’re not into talking too much in words. But I have a question for you. What do you think about all of us humans shopping like crazy this weekend? What do you think of Christmas? What do you think of exchanging gifts? What do you think of all the money we spend?
Me: You’re not going to say too much are you? Please? Just a few words? Even if the words don’t really explain too much. Just try. What do you think of Black Friday?
Forest: Look at my red strawberry leaf. Look at my little spruce tree. Look at my goldenrod balls. What do they tell you?
Me: Umm, I think…they are telling me…keep it simple. Don’t make it so complicated. Don’t shop just to spend money. Really think about what we’re buying. Try to buy gifts that express our hearts. Is that it?
Forest: give from your heart. It’s not about the money. It’s about the small things. Spending time with family and friends. Sharing food, drink, beauty, gifts. Don’t try to buy love or feelings or presence. Give simply, from your heart, no matter how much money you spend.
Me: But Forest, maybe we shouldn’t spend ANY money at all. I know that would screw up the economy and everything, but maybe we should just forgo money and not give at all. Then we wouldn’t be taking anything from You. We wouldn’t be cutting down your trees, taking your minerals, using your resources. Don’t you agree? We shouldn’t spend at all?
Forest: Don’t be a stick in the mud. I keep telling you. It’s not a matter of money. It’s a matter of your heart. It’s a matter of looking deeply to see: What is your real intent? When you look closely at your real intent, you’ll give simply when simple is required and lavish when lavishly is required. Don’t just give the way you’ve always given before. Look into your heart and intentions and then you’ll know what you’re suppose to buy.
Me: Oh. OK. But that’s still hard. Especially when you’re in the stores and everything looks so good and interesting and entertaining.
Forest: Don’t just give or buy to satisfy the voice inside you that wants more, more, more. That doesn’t help any of us.
Me: So when I go to Marquette this weekend…I am suppose to buy Christmas presents that mean something. That share the love that I feel for family in friends. Maybe I should give them some pretty Lake Superior stones for Christmas? Do you think they would like that?
Me: I wonder what everyone would say if they just got one stone for Christmas. Hmmmm. Maybe better visit a few stores, just in case…
Tonight I am going to come clean. Admit a huge psychological problem. Time to tell you the ugly truth.
And the reason I can share this truth with you tonight is: I am almost cured.
But it’s been a long haul, a long road.
Imagine yourself moving to your Little House in the Big Woods. (I am suddenly fascinated with the parallels between this life and the Laura Wilder Ingall’s Little House on the Prairie books that I read to my children before they could toddle. Well before they started kindergarten anyway.) Imagine yourself building an idyllic little cabin in the woods and raising children who ran wild and free building forts and playing amidst the trees.
Really imagine what this feels like. You are surrounded by trees. Trees everywhere. Trees to the left, trees to the right, trees behind you, trees in front of you. You carve out a space for a house and perhaps garage and lawn, but you’re in the forest.
What does this mean? It means there is no visible horizon. You cannot see the sun set or rise, except through the blanket of tree branches. You are always surrounded. Your sight can no longer stretch infinitely to the north or west or east or south. It stops. It stops when it meets trees.
And you have to learn to live in this forest-world, without the gift of a horizon.
So I must tell you the ugly secret. For much of my life here in the wood I have experienced horizon envy. Envy of those who have a horizon. Yes. It was quite painful. In the early years I begged my forest-loving husband “Please can we move down by the water? I must have a view! I must have a horizon!” But my pleas fell on deaf ears. He loved the woods. He couldn’t imagine what his crazy wife was talking about. And I certainly couldn’t articulate about horizon envy.
The years passed. I scurried on down to the lake as often as possible. The kids and I camped on the doorstep of the neighbors for a long stretch. Well, actually we kept inviting ourselves for coffee. Because they were such wonderful people and because (this gets really ugly, I know): they had a horizon.
Until one day I started looking at the Little Things. The tiny plants. The texture of bark. The mosses. The leaves. Really looking deeply. Appreciating what was there under my feet and all around in the forest. Wow! Details that had never before been noticed. Subtle gifts.
The forest came alive and suddenly, one of those days, I realized I was no longer desiring the horizon. Well, not as much anyway. There still is a little bit of horizon envy. It may never go away. Especially when the best sunset you can sometimes view is a reflection in a mud puddle in your driveway.
Pa Ingalls moved his family out to the prairie. They left the Big Woods and moved to a place where the horizon was all they could see. No more being surrounded with trees. They were on the big wide expanse of endless view.
Nope, not me. I’ve decided. I like this woods just fine. As long as there is a lake you can walk to a quarter mile away. There are Michigan mountains in this county, as well. You can climb ’em and admire the horizon all you want. And some of my friends have farms. Fields stretch in all directions around their house. You can go and breathe deep and feel like you are an eagle, looking in all directions at once.
My friend Melinda visited from California once in the middle of our green and leafy summer. She lives atop a mountain. She couldn’t get over the claustrophobic feeling of being surrounded by trees.
I understood what she meant.
Yet I have learned that sometimes the things we need to see next are given to us in life. I needed to open my eyes and look at the little details, the little things. Some people may need the wider view, to live atop a mountain or beside the sea. Sometimes what we want aren’t the same things we need.
Yep. That’s what I’ve learned from this challenging case of Horizon Envy.
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.
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?
Every year come November 15th, I’m outa the woods. Goodbye forest! You won’t catch me wandering lazily through the poplar and maple trees, shooting with my trusty camera. No. Not even with a bright orange vest and hunting garb and orange cap could you convince me to hike in these beloved forests.
I’m outa here.
Although, it seems, at least a few thousand extra visitors do fearlessly enter our north woods, ready to bag their seasonal deer. That’s not counting the local guys and gals who have been excitedly planning and plotting and checking their guns and preparing their bait piles for the last few weeks. They are all dreaming of venison stew.
Everywhere you go signs appear: Deer apples. $2.00 a bag. $5.00 a bag. $7.00 a bag. (Makes one wonder if the sizes of the apple bags are all different. One sign, I noticed this weekend, showed a picture of actual bag with the words “Actual Size” penned beside it. Just to avoid confusion, I suppose.)
Nope, I’ve been properly scared over the years. Stories of people getting shot by stray bullets. (Not that it’s ever happened to innocent hikers…I don’t know.) Dire warnings by loving grandmother-type neighbors, “You stay out of those woods now, Kathy!” Sounds of gunshots at dawn: bang, bang, bang!!!
Usually this is the time of year I say Goodbye Outdoors. Forget you. I am staying in my nice warm cozy house and hibernating until spring, thank you. You can’t make me go outdoors. Just try.
Although some years I stay inside for the first week of deer hunting season and somewhere around Thanksgiving emerge and start cautiously traipsing up and down the road. There aren’t a lot of hunters in our rather populated woods, after all. Most of the out-of-towners who don’t know any better than to shoot indiscriminately on private property have left to return home to turkey dinners downstate or in Illinois. Then it’s safe. Or so I think.
Today I wandered in the woods, “Goodbye trees. Goodbye birch-bark face, aren’t you precious? Goodbye pine cones. Goodbye old fort that the kids built. Au revoir. Enjoy your time with the hunters. Show them some of your beauty, eh? Let them see your magnificence.” And then I saw IT. Litter. Right there on the forest floor, behind our house. How dare someone litter back here? What were they thinking?
And then, with utter clarity, I realized that We were the Litterers. This was our missing grill cover! It had flown off in a whipping wind sometime earlier in the summer and we could not find it again. So we traveled to Marquette and brought a brand new cover, to better prevent rust and exposure to the elements.
And here was the original cover! A few sprays of hose water and surely it would be ready to do its duty once again. When the new one flies off on a windy day, that is. We’ll keep this one handy somewhere. What a lucky find!
What a lovely afternoon it has been. Temperatures in the 50’s. No sounds of bullets, yet. The forest floor littered with leaves.
I paused beside the old bridge which once led across the ravine. Our son nailed it together, all those years ago, back when he was still a youth building forts all over the woods. I looked at the bridge and smiled.
Because I am really OUTA HERE! I am going to San Diego tomorrow to visit this beloved son! Have not once visited him on his turf since he moved to southern California three years ago.
Would you guys like to come too? Let’s leave the woods together. Meet you tomorrow (or the next day) in San Diego, OK?
You guys remember that post last winter, right? The one where Barry made me…I mean convinced me…to banish my fears and come up on the roof on roof-shoveling day. Remember the shaking in the boots? The utter fear? The palpitating heart?
But I did it. Stepped off the ladderand gingerly inched across the slippery roof to the chimney. It was a day to remember.
I did it for the Blog. And later did it one more time for chimney cleaning. To overcome fear. To reach for the skies, as they say. And to have something to write about it for the blog.
Something happened on Saturday that brought those memories immediately to the forefront.
Barry is building an addition onto the garage to house his new 1976 twenty-four foot Sea Ray boat. I shouldn’t call it “new” any more. He’s had it for almost a year and a half. It’s his baby. Right now the boat is still at the fiberglass “doctor” up in Chassell getting medical attention. (It’s been up there a lot this year.)
The boat wouldn’t fit in the garage, so guess what? Several months ago the husband gets the smart idea he needs to build on to the garage. So he can work on the boat during the winter months. (Heaven knows how much this boat is going to cost us by the time it gets in the water…and then we don’t even want to think about what it will cost us then…)
So he’s been steadfastly building the little addition despite all the weather challenges this autumn.
The other day he comes in the house looking rather sheepish. Oh no, Trouble. You can just tell.
“Honey, can you come out and lend me a hand on the addition?”
“Oh sure,” I agree breezily, not really thinking what this means.
Out we go.
We reach the garage. He gestures toward the ladder with his hammer.
“Can you climb up there and hold the end of a board while I pound it in?” he asks.
(Here’s where all my maturity, spiritual or otherwise, completely deserts me. Here is where whining sets in. It is terrible.) I am back to quivering knees, a pit in the stomach, absolute fear. At first I tell him “No way, absolutely no way, am I going to climb that ladder, what are you thinking about, I can’t do it, where are your friends? No, no, no!”
But then, sucker that I am for attempting to overcome fear, I climb slowly slowly up the darn ladder, almost to the top….and then scurry down to the bottom almost in tears.
“NO I CAN’T DO IT!” I cry.
“Yes, you can,” the carpenter says. “Come on, Kathy, I really need you to help.”
But once again I climb up the terrible ladder, and with shaking sweating palms thrust the feet onto the scaffold. Yep, I’m up there. OK. It’s been done.
Carpenter-husband starts to work, pounding. I obediently hold my end of the board. Pound, pound. I start peeking around, wishing for the camera. Where is the camera when you need it? How could you go anywhere without it?
Then it’s time to descend the ladder. Almost as scary. It’s a long long way down there. OK, breathe deep. Don’t think. Just step down, one foot at a time. (Excuse the crappy-looking shoes. They are the garden/work shoes, not the dressy sneaker variety.)
So fast-forward to yesterday. I kid you not, this is what happened. Before we decided to drive to Silver Mountain (or in the middle of deciding) I realized I had no blog. And remembered the scaffold incident. And said to Barry, “Hey, give me the camera, I’m going up and taking pics for the blog.”
And proceeded to climb up the ladder, all nine and a half feet onto the scaffold, without even thinking. Without a moment of fuss. With no fear. Stood around and snapped photos and effortlessly walked down the ladder.
Which goes to show you. When you need photos or material for a blog, you’ll do just about anything.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?