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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.
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!”)
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?
Happy Thanksgiving all you blog readers!
Even if you don’t celebrate thanksgiving, I am thankful for YOU.
Today (besides being the once or twice a year our mostly-vegetarian lips touch meat…that’s if you don’t count fish) we ate Thomas Turkey. He tasted quite good. Baked to that fall-apart perfection. Add some mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade stuffing and you’ve got a dinner to be grateful for. We said our words of thanks. I read a poem by Rafael Jesus Gonzalez entitled Grace. We included our family and friends, near and far, into the heart of our prayers. We ate.
It was snowing this morning. A very light snow, dusting the ground and then melting into it. Flakes danced from the sky and melted in odd patterns everywhere.
I was truly fascinated with the way the snow melted on the car. How interesting! What loops, what hieroglyphs, what symmetry! One has a lot to be grateful for when the snow melting on one’s car is more entertaining than a movie or a Macy’s parade, don’t you think?
Barry put up the bird feeder a couple days ago. We’ve been waiting breathlessly for the arrival of the chickadees and nuthatches. They have been calling and chirping all around us in the past few days. They kept singing, “Where is our bird feeder? Where is our bird feeder?” but when we finally put it up, they were nowhere around. Until this afternoon when we put the turkey in the oven. Then there were a dozen of them pecking away in the feeder. I was too busy to photograph their majesties.
Excuse the insertion of this green moss photo. It was taken yesterday, before the world turned white. Isn’t it a stunning color of bright green against the autumn leaves?
Another interjection: Remember when I told you about the NaNoWriMo commitment of writing a 50,000 page novel during the month of November? How many of you placed bets it couldn’t be done? Well, I am here to tell you that 51,214 words have been sprawled across 96 pages and I now have the official “prize”. You want to know what the prize is? I will upload it for you:
However, of course, the novel is not done. Nowhere near done. The characters are still deep involved in their drama, romance and historical fiction. Who knows when it will be finished. This month? Next? I do vow to finish it. Some of the writing is so raw I’m sure you could scrub countertops with it (ha ha, how’s that for a metaphor?) but other passages are almost…almost…fairly decent. The editor would have to utilize an eraser and thesaurus before anyone could ever read it.
Just wanted to let you know the status of this secondary commitment. Which didn’t really interfere with the outdoor commitment at all, did it?
What else can I tell you about this Thanksgiving night? How about the bald eagle which landed in the tree over the garage and sat there a long time? Barry said he’s seen it there two or three times lately. I tried to grab the camera and capture his majestic wings in flight but he flapped away with his broad wingsweep the very moment the front door opened. Like all good trackers, I followed him up the road. He landed in a tree. I approached; he flew away. I shook my head and wandered back home, photographing ice crystals instead.
As for the front porch: oh my! Very dangerous. An unsuspecting walker, say, someone with birdseed in his hands, could take a sliding dive on the icy steps. Luckily, we maintained our wits. We walked oh-so-carefully. No one tumbled. No one fell.
We were truly thankful as we said our Thanksgiving prayer this year.
Sending you all Thanksgiving blessings, as well.
****Darn! Darn! I almost forgot to tell you THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Phew. Memory is not always the best. Dawn, Sahlah, had a great suggestion for Black Friday. I will paste her idea here:
I have an idea – we can all give virtual rocks/feathers/twigs/puddles whatever to each other in our blogs!
We could spend Black Friday searching for those “just right” images…
So that’s going to be MY Black Friday shopping. I’m going to officially shop for rocks. And a few other goodies from the woods. Virtual presents for all of YOU!
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.
It’s a delicate subject around here. Toss a coin up in the air and decide. Should the land ever be clear-cut? Should the trees be sliced off like a razor cutting whiskers on a stubbly chin?
Foresters often say that in certain areas a clear-cut is advisable. Many tracts are not good hardwood sites; they refuse to grow beautiful hardwoods like maple and yellow birch which have high-quality value. If foresters selectively harvest on these sites they never see much improvement. If they want to have productive tracts, they will sometimes choose to clear-cut. The result will be thick aspen (poplar) stands. In 40-50 years these will be big harvestable trees. The mills need these stands to mix with their hardwood.
There. I have just given you forestry-speak.
I could share the perspective of someone who loves trees; someone who doesn’t much like the labels of which trees are “valuable” and which trees are “junk”. I could share old Native American stories about the trees being our brothers and sisters, the lungs of the planet earth.
I want to talk about the clear-cuts of our soul.
What times in our own lives have we felt like we’ve been clear-cut? When everything has been torn away? When things safe and familiar and loving have been ripped asunder?
Have we all had clear-cuts? Some clear-cuts come on the heels of endings of relationships. The endings of friendship, of love, of romance, of marriage. Some come with the tears of loss: the death of a child, a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Others have lost their home, their money, their job. A clear-cut is a place in life where our beloved past meets destructive saws. The dear trees fall. So often don’t we weep? We weep from the loss, the pain, the absence of the loved one.
Afterward the brush lies all over the ground of ourselves. We wipe our tears and stand straight. We have to walk with faith, then, through the clear-cut of the soul. The seeds are growing beneath the tangled brush, but we don’t know it yet.
In a few days or months or years the new trees will be growing. We will persevere.
I have known many forests who have been heavily logged. In my lifetime, I have not intimately known many forest tracts completely clear-cut. Yes, we see clear-cuts everywhere. But they usually aren’t on land that I have walked, loved, whispered to, dreamed upon.
Once, a long time ago, while crying in some beloved logged forest, an inner thought arose, “Just sit here until you can feel the sacred beauty of the place.” I sat for a long time surrounded by impenetrable brush and jagged logs and wild disarray. I sat with the memory of the tall hemlock, the sturdy maple, the feel of the forest. I was not going to move until it felt sacred once again, until the invisible seeds of hope and new life showed themselves.
And finally, I saw it. A flower. Blossoming. And over there a precious sweep of branches. And over there a bent cedar.
Slowly the logged forest started revealing its promise.
We will grow again, the trees said. We won’t be the same trees. But we will grow again.
I think of a dear friend who lost her husband three or four years ago. The first year of her clear-cut was agonizing. She wondered if she would survive. I wondered if she would survive. The second year was filled with many tears, but slowly the young sprouts grew. She still grieves, but she’s stronger now. Her new roots are growing into the earth. It wasn’t something she wanted, but she’s learned to see the sacred beauty in what remains.
Blessings for all of us in times of the clear-cuts of our soul.
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?
“Tis the season when the leaves blow madly out of the trees.
The wind sings and the leaves fall.
The earth gleams lush with a yellow carpet of golden leaves, interspersed with bright red of maple, lavish green of birch, dusky- orange of oak.
The skeletons of trees remain, silhouetted against an autumn sky.
So you look up in the late October sky. Watch out! Duck! There’s a leaf flying in your eye! Swat it away and look up again. Look at the skeletons of tree limbs on the horizon. We are now at the time of year when the trees become bones. No wonder we celebrate Halloween. The world is filled with bones of trees everywhere…empty of colorful leaves…skeletons against the sky.
It is indeed a miracle to discover a flower blooming at this time of year. Everything looks so sparse. So empty. And then, in the oddest places, blooms a flower! How could this happen? It is as if the Universe kindly and gently speaks to us, saying very quietly, “You will find my miracles even in the darkest days of your life. There I will bloom.”
A Native American friend once said, “Even in the deep of winter you can dig beneath the snow and find green medicinal plants.” Even when we think the world is stark and empty and void, plants grow beneath the surface, beneath the obvious, available for those with faith.
I always gasp a little, glimpsing the unexpected flowers. To imagine that they exist even after the hard edges of frost browned most of the landscape. These flower-children have been hiding in ditches and protected areas. They offer the world new hope in these days of freezing.
The wind blows and the rain spits and it’s 62 degrees at mid-afternoon. Barry and I sit on the deck before dinner, perhaps the last time this season. I sweep leaves off the deck, unto the lawn below. Later I rake up some of the leaves (although he will mow the majority of them with his lawn tractor).
The wind keeps blowing fiercely, sending dozens of leaves to their winter resting-place. It’s almost impossible to photograph their final plummet. You snap picture after picture, but only photograph dots in the sky. The wind also shudders the leaves on the grounds, making their autumn whispering sounds as they blow around in circles in the driveway.
But wait! One lone leaf drifts downward. Can we capture it?
Another miracle, indeed.
Make a wish. Open your hand. If you catch the leaf, your wish will come true.
Let’s face it. If you live in the middle of the woods and like to wander…you’re going to get lost. Sometimes a little bit lost and sometimes you start wondering if you’ll ever find your way home. Sometimes that fear of being lost begins to rise like the inland tides and you suddenly remember the Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy clicking your magic red heels together you begin to chant, “There’s no place like home. No place like home. No place like home.”
They say the mineral deposits beneath our Keweenaw earth will confuse even a compass at times. Your trusty reliable compass might suddenly go wacky, refusing to point to True North. What can you depend on when the compass fails you? Or, worse yet, when you’ve stupidly left the compass at home pointing to True North in the cluttered desk drawer?
You gauge the sun (if you’re lucky and the sun is out) or the slant of the ravines. All of our ravines near the house run down to the bay, so you’re pretty safe if you remember this. You listen for far-away cars. This can help identify the location of the roads. This helps when there is ocassional traffic. Doesn’t help much when one car crests the hill every half hour. You become alert; you look for signs. You try to remember the landscape. You remember that you know how to build a debris hut out of leaves from your Wilderness Survival class. You know somebody might come looking for you if you’re not home to cook dinner.
But, best of all, you can surrender to a Higher Knowing. And let that Higher Knowing guide you out of the woods. Thank goodness we have that!
Just so you know…I haven’t been lost walking in the woods…at least not in the last month or so. But yesterday came another encounter with Being Lost. Sigh. Do we ever get used to it? Do we ever simply laugh and say joyfully, “I’m lost!” Hasn’t happened yet to me. Usually you have to deal with low-level fear, even if it never blossoms to full-fledged panic.
It started because I was looking for photos of stunning leaf colors. Trees turning red and orange and yellow. The color-changing season is upon us. The trees are starting to zing! Just beginning to peak, but I wanted to document the way the woods is starting to shimmer. Especially when the sun shines bright between rain showers.
So the car turned here, and there, and around this corner, and up that way, and down this hill. I thought I knew exactly where I was. Isn’t that always the case? Until suddenly the road petered out into a muddy two-track and it became apparent…I only vaguely knew where the car might be.
Then some niggling thoughts began warning, “It’s been so rainy, what are you doing back here in the woods without four wheel drive? You’re going to drown in a mud puddle! You’re going to be shot by hunters! You’re going to be lost here FOREVER.”
Oh honestly. Here’s what you say to reassure niggling thoughts, “Calm down, you guys. I think we’ve been here before. I think that’s the lake up ahead. We’re somewhere near Pike’s Peak. We thought we were on Ford Farm Road, but we must have turned on Haataja Road. There really aren’t any challenging mud puddles and since when do we worry about hunters?”
So the thoughts calmed down and I didn’t even have to start remembering how to build a survival debris hut.
And ten minutes later, there was hard pavement and familiar houses. I was “found”, yet once again. The magic clicking heels or the Higher Knowledge or the road had wound its way back to comfort, a sense of safety, a Knowing of Where I Was.
But truly, folks, do we ever know where we are? Is it possible to simply relax and know that we’re always lost and we’re always found? Ooops…getting way too philosophical on this outdoor blog! I’ll leave you with a photo I may have already posted on this blog. Can’t remember. But Jessica of Jessica’s Nature Blog asked to see some photos of pebble-faces or shell-faces. This is the only one I have.
We shall call it “The Scream”. How we sometimes feel when we’re Lost.
Hey, what do you know, it’s the last day of August!
And you know what that means when you wander outside around these parts?
It means that apples are loaded upon the trees, apples upon apples, weighing heavy upon the branches, dragging them down toward the earth.
We don’t have any apple trees nearby our house in the woods. We’re in a “new” part of the forest which hasn’t been inhabited by people too much. The apple trees lie in orchards in “old” parts of this land, parts of the land settled by old-timers who have long since passed on. They’ve left the shining orbs of apples behind; and this year they are hanging ripe and heavy on almost every gnarled tree.
I actually grew up among an apple orchard. In the backyard of our house in Yale, Michigan, grew a dozen noble apple trees. They were getting old even then, back in the 1960’s. We built sandboxes and tire swings beneath their mighty branches and climbed high in their limbs, attempting to reach the skies. (My brothers climbed higher than I did; I quaked in the lower branches closer to the safety of the ground while they dangled ‘way up there near the clouds.)
I recently have been reading a book sent by a dear blog reader friend named Sahlah (or Dawn). It’s called “Peace at Heart: An Oregon Country Life” by Barbara Drake. The author talks about how she samples dozens and dozens of wild apples. She records the taste and look on a chart…I was in awe of this upon reading the way she discriminated between the hundreds of apples, noticing their differences and similarities, their sweet and sour, their tang and twist. It made me want to begin sampling these apples today. But no, it’s still too early. The apple-juices are still coming ripe on their twigs; let’s wait til September or early October to sample their sweet fruit.
I wandered among the apple orchards for a half hour today, lost in the sound of singing cicadas (well, maybe that’s what they are), enjoying the last half-way warm day in August. The ground lay littered with pine needles and the birds sang a quarter mile away. There is a hush one hears and feels in woods like these; it silences you.
The silence lies so enchanted you forget to dream of apple pie or apple crisp.
Instead your eyes notice a spider web spun perfectly between in a tree. You marvel at its perfect symmetry, attempting to capture it gleaming in the sunlight.
Later will come a time for baking the earth’s offering of apples, for tasting the cinnamon and struesel. For now, we wait.
The juices continue to ripen as our sun turns toward its equinox…