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“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.
It’s been four months since the Pinery Lakes wildfire which seared 685 acres about ten miles from our house. My daughter and I were lounging in her Manhattan apartment when we heard the news via Facebook: “Pinery Lakes Fire, 2009“. I remember feeling so sad with memories of cross-country skiing (and falling on my butt way too many times) and hiking with Denise and her dogs and the Anishinabe “spirit houses” in the nearby cemetery. How could the land be burning? How could this be happening?
Please read this FIRE!!! blog if you would like to learn more details about the actual May 20 fire.
Lately I’ve been wanting to return to the fire scene. To see what difference four months (well, almost 4 1/2 months if we want to be a bit more accurate) might bring. My last memories were of ash and smoldering logs. Fried landscape. The acrid smell of fire. The remnants of fire crews standing by.
What would it look like now?
OK, here’s what it is like. You get out of your car and head into the woods. Ferns and plants are growing up everywhere. Some of the brambles are already chest high! The ground still lies covered in black ash, but Mother Nature has waved her magic wand across the landscape and there grows wintergreen, labrador, ferns. There bloom asters, raspberry, Queen Anne’s lace. New life springs up everywhere from the ashy soil. Ahhh, the soul sighs in relief: Life Returns!
I wandered for a long time, up hills and down. Let me tell you, it’s a bit dangerous. Roots have been up-rooted and holes punctuate the earth everywhere. If you’re not very careful, you will trip in a hole. (Yes, I tripped. But not to the point where I fell unto the ashy earth.) You must, I repeat, be completely alert. The fire has consumed so much. It’s not a hike for the unwary.
I really wanted to show you photos of the Native American Spirit Houses which sit atop the graves at the Indian Cemetery. But I can’t. For some reason it seems sacrilegious to do so. Perhaps not to me (after all I casually put in photos of cemetery graves from the Marquette Cemetery for a June 26th blog). But it seems this might perturb some of the local Native Americans who do not believe the graves should be photographed. So I shall leave them photographically undisturbed.
The weather has turned lovely today, by the way! The temperature soared to 52 degrees and the sun nudged the clouds away for a while. The weather forecast has the “S” word in it for the weekend (that would be “SNOW” for any of you non-Upper Peninsula folks) but we’re thinking that means the Highlands. Not the lowlands around the lake. Surely we won’t get snow. It’s not even October 15th for goodness sakes. And my parents are coming to visit. No, snow is not allowed.
That day, last May, when my sneakers almost started smoldering while taking photos of the fire seems so long ago. How strange nature is. On that day in May the temperatures soared up into the 90’s and the fire sparked. How many other times did we reach the magic 90 degree mark during the summer? Once? Never? How very unexpected the weather can be.
I think of us humans and how fires sometimes sear our hearts. How death and pain and suffering can uproot our trees, our sense of security, our confidence. And how, if we let them, the ferns and the wildflowers and the trees grow back. The landscape heals. Perhaps slowly, but it heals, if we let nature ease our sorrows.
I am glad the land heals. New seeds sprout. New flowers bloom. New life bursts forth from the wildfire ash and the ancestors smile in their graves as the cycles of life turn again and again.
For weeks now I’ve been in love with the sides of the road, driving into town. Truly, the wildflowers are breathless. They’re alive, stunning, amazing! The Gardens of Eden lie on the edges of the roads during the summer months. Don’t you think so?
Every day, driving into town, I oooohhhh and ahhhhh over this flower arrangement and that. It looks like families of Queen Anne’s Lace sprout villages everywhere. Thick villages of Lace. Later on down the road a bit, colonies of Birdsfoot Treefoil gleam in yellow splendor. Over there–Tansy towns! Over there–Black-Eyed Susans! Everywhere you look, another race and color and culture sprouts.
Today I decided to actually get out of the car and take photos.
Were we humans as tolerant of other races, colors and creeds as we are of wildflowers… I think the Universe needs us all. We’re all flowers of beauty sprouting on the roadsides of this planet.
I kept dashing out of the car and running up toward flowers and signs to capture their beauty. Of course, passerbys in zooming vehicles stared open-mouthed. They obviously couldn’t figure out why someone was taking a picture of a “Do Not Pass” sign. Obviously, they weren’t looking low enough at the ground. At the carpet of wildflowers surrounding the sign.
Let’s move up a few hours, until tonight’s dinner. This has nothing to do with wildflowers. More to do with my main outdoor stint: weeding and harvesting in the garden. The pea pods needed picking! The carrots needed weeding! The onions needed pulling!
And the reason the onions needed pulling were…you’ll never imagine this in 100 years…Blueberry Sauce for our lake trout. Yes, you read that correctly. We made Blueberry Sauce to slather atop our lake trout for dinner tonight. First you heat up a couple teaspoons of oil. Add to that a small minced onion (with some sea salt). After that sautes for two minutes, add a fresh jalapeno chili, seeded and minced. I substituted dried peppers from last year’s garden. Later add 1/4 vinegar, 2 T. sugar and 4 T. spicy mustard. Finally, 1 cup fresh blueberries. Simmer 10-15 minutes, then blend in food processor til smooth.
It’s…interesting. We will make it again. (I adjusted the recipe from 1 T. of sugar to 2 T. because the recipe tasted a bit too tart.) It does not taste too sweet. And it definitely creates an intriguing sauce for fish. Especially if you eat a LOT of fish and want to try different sauces. The recipe comes to you, modified, from Christina Pirello’s book Cooking the Whole Foods Way.
We ate on the deck. Which made it an outdoor adventure, even before we spooned the blueberry sauce on that fish!!
I am one day behind in reporting outdoor experiences. The letter to Mother Nature yesterday took precedence to actual occurrences. So we shall re-wind the tape, back up, and pretend it’s yesterday.
Here’s what happened yesterday. I stopped by the empty beach and took photos. Then suddenly spotted The Bog. The Bog across the street from the Beach. What’s a lady to do? Obviously, tramp on over into the bog and take a look.
Bogs, as everyone knows, are mostly unapproachable without waders. Boots, at the least. I wore sneakers and jeans. Why not attempt to enter? Would the bog let me in?
The answer was: Yes! And No. It let me in for about ten feet. I followed ridges and jumped from high spot to high spot. But then it seemed like too much work to advance further, so I decided to peer down and see what treasures the bog contained. A friend of ours referred to this bog as one of the “most unique bogs in the Great Lakes”. Wonder why?
There are rumors that prize wild orchids grow here. Flowers and plants rarely found elsewhere. I am so curious about the identity of the above plant! My “Michigan Wildflowers” book refuses to identify it. Here is another view, in case anyone else knows the Secret Identity:
I saw a deer bounding into the fringe of woods which surround the bog. Glimpsed birds chattering and calling. Would have loved to wander deeper and deeper into the depths, but alas. A rainstorm was gathering. Thunder grumbling. Time to go home.
So I drove home, and upon reaching our porch spotted this moth. It seemed to be missing part of its wing. I apologize, but needed to prod it, seeing if a damaged-wing moth is capable of taking flight. The answer is YES. The moth fluttered up to the sky.
Now we’re caught up to today. But let’s continue the Weird Creature theme. I went picking raspberries and thimbleberries down the road. In between stuffing my mouth and filling a yogurt container, found this fungus-like mushroom-like creature growing on the soil:
And, finally, a Spider.
It was eating a raspberry. It looks like Miss Muffet sitting on a tuffet. I have never known that spiders are lunching on our raspberries and thimbleberries before we get to them. I had to prod this one, as well, to see if it was alive or dead. Answer: definitely alive. It’s a good reminder to wash our berries before eating! But I paid no attention and continued to stuff the delicious berries into my mouth…
Well. It’s time to report back to you today about Day # 221 of the outdoor commitment. Yes. And, truly, there’s not much to say.
Here’s what happened outside: after work and running errands in town and having lunch with a friend, I came home and lugged the new laptop out on the desk and wrote a blog for another site. About (and I suppose this does not surprise any of you) “Did you remember to meditate while brushing your teeth?” Then Barry and I picked pea pods in the garden for a Szechuan tofu pea pod stir-fry. Later we leisurely ate outside on the deck, enjoying good garden food. Ahhh…the joys of a simple times outside.
I didn’t even pick up the camera today, so there are no new photos. The above photo of dusk along the Huron Bay occurred during a visit two nights ago with our company. The following photo (taken yesterday morning on the way to Little Mountain) has a small story attached.
Amy, Daniel and I were driving leisurely through Aura in our separate vehicles. First we witnessed a partridge couple crossing the road. Then…what could they be? Wild turkeys? Or…could it be?…sandhill cranes? Yes!
I leaped from the car, and conferred with the visitors. Should I try to get a photo? Even without the zoom lens? Someone must have said “yes” because I proceeded to scurry through the mostly-open field dotted with trees, attempting to photograph the four majestic birds. Forget the fact it was private property. Forget the fact that the birds were backing away rather quickly, alarmed at the human apparition attempting to reach them.
I never got close enough to get a really good photo. The photo below is what the actual picture looked like before the computer’s crop function accomplished its good deed:
My friend Catherine could tell you lots of information about sandhill cranes. They nest in her fields each spring. She knows so much about these birds. I only know that they look beautiful, and seem elusive. And would like to see them up close. Perhaps you have to earn that honor.
This is probably enough for tonight. Will leave you with a photo taken near the strawberry fields a week or two ago. I believe they’re fireweed which grow abundantly around here. If we could get a little closer up (for example, perhaps cropping the photo) we could determine if they are actually fireweed or purple loosestrife, which has a bad reputation. Loosestrife is an invasive plant, so they say, and should be rooted and disowned and scorned. I don’t like the sounds of that. How ’bout we appreciate all the plants on this planet, even the invasive ones? Why declare war on plants?
On that note, a peaceful goodnight to all.
This morning I opened the door and walked outside just after 8 a.m. Let the feet meander where they wanted to go. Which proved to be down the ravine behind the house, up the steep hill and off into the woods.
I walked slowly, breathing in the morning air and light and interplay of shadows when suddenly a comment by Susan (from our conversation yesterday at the Aura Jamboree) penetrated awareness.
She said, “I am loving photography and taking pictures. Because of the light.”
Yes, yes, I nodded, pretending to know what she meant. It seems like two or three people have uttered that same sentence this year. I, however, in my beginning photography efforts, have remained oblivious to light. It might be happening, but the awareness remained on some other level.
Until this morning.
Suddenly…everywhere in the early morning…light swayed through the trees. Shadows danced on logs. Light illuminated. It softened. It expressed. It had its way with whatever in touched. Oh my, oh my! Light!!
Perhaps it’s because the sun was actually shining this morning after an absence. Absence doth make the heart grow fonder, so they say. Perhaps it’s because I was walking in the early morning hours when the light illuminates so fantastically. They also say evening casts the most interesting light and shadows, as well, and people urge beginning photographers to catch the early or late light.
Not that any of this advice penetrated until this morning.
Then the camera couldn’t stop snapping pictures. Dozens, dozens, dozens of photos of the Dance of Light. And realizing that it’s not simply an easy matter to figure out how to “use” light. I don’t suppose we actually “use” light…but how to work with it. To bend to the interplay. To know when to tease shadow to the forefront, and when that simply deadens the subject.
You could study this for a hundred years!
It’s funny how you can be so absorbed in noticing things like light and shadow that you hardly even remember where you might be.
So much more happened on this walk I could write three more blogs about it. Instead, let’s fast-forward two hours until re-tracing my steps up to our lawn.
Here is my advice to all readers. Get up as early as you can one of these days. When the sun arcs above the horizon and illuminates the world. Explore it. Notice the flickering light and the amazing shadows. Perhaps even bring your camera and capture some images.
Let there be light. And shadow as well. And may we truly open our eyes to see them! 🙂
So you’ve got lots of pictures of flowers. That’s cool. But where are the photos of bears, moose, fishers, wolves, coyotes, porcupines, skunks and beaver? Where are the pictures of mountain lions, spotted fawns, bobcat, weasels, raccoons and frogs?
If you live in the woods, don’t you see animals all the time? C’mon, you’re stepping outside every day…WHERE ARE THE ANIMALS?
Ummm, I don’t know. I keep looking. Every single day. Wanting to see a bear, just maybe not nose-to-nose. Maybe the kind of bear you can photograph hunching beautifully out the driver’s window. Maybe a moose munching on grass at the end of our road. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead…this is the only animal (besides birds, squirrels, chipmunks, bumblebees and mosquitoes) that I’ve seen lately:
I did see a spotted fawn a couple days ago. The poor little thing started across the road and I (somewhat shame-faced admit) pulled the car over to the side of the road and followed it into the woods. “C’mon, little fawn…time for a picture!” but it proved more wily and smarter than the photographer. Saw another fawn and its mama about a half mile down the road from the mailbox at lunchtime. They stopped and we eyed each other before they sauntered back into the forest.
The fawns are usually born around Memorial Day weekend. Their mamas will leave them curled up in a ball in the woods. If you stumble across one, the fawn will remain motionless and stare at you with big wide eyes. We’re instructed not to pet them, not to come close. Instead we stare back with even bigger wider eyes until common sense says “leave, now!” Now the fawns are growing up, and following their mamas everywhere. Sometimes they get confused and remain frozen in place in the middle of the road. Then it’s good manners to wait until they decide to move.
On the way home from downstate I thought about sharing with you my one and only moose sighting story. It was back in the late 1980’s. The kids and I were driving home from Marquette when this huge awkward–what could it be? a gangly horse? a cow? (the mind sometimes refuses to cooperate when startled)– MOOSE loped in front of our vehicle. Our mouths dropped open and we slowed. Within five seconds of the moose crossing every vehicle approaching or behind us pulled off to the side. At least a half dozen people with cameras dangling from their hands ran after that moose into the woods. I couldn’t believe it! How could people be that silly? Were they nuts? (now, all these years later, I would be the first one following that moose into the woods….)
So, thinking about sharing that twenty year old moose tale, lamenting that you rarely see a moose around these parts, Barry gleefully announces all the animal sightings he’s experienced in the past week or so. And, leading the list: A moose at the end of our road. And from our deck a bear cub in the ravine right behind our house. And a partridge which hit the side of his car so hard that feathers flew up everywhere.
OK, I hope you all have enjoyed the flower photos. Sorry about the lack of animals, except for that rather strange-looking dead wasp. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled. Prepared to dash off into the woods at any moment…
Today’s outdoor adventure: Climb a mountain. Yes, I know we live in Michigan. No, we don’t have the Rocky or Smoky Mountains nearby. But we do have…the Huron Mountains! And today was the perfect day to gather with seventeen friends and scale the rocks for a panoramic view of our beautiful landscape of Lake Superior and the forests of Baraga and Marquette counties.
The mountain of choice for this last weekend in May: Bald Mountain. The real Bald Mountain. Locals have been climbing a smaller nearby hill for years and calling it Bald Mountain. Who knows how the two peaks got confused. But they did. Whenever someone says, “We’re climbing Baldy” it usually means the closer shorter hill nearest to one of the logging roads after Big Erick’s Bridge.
You simply can’t give directions to anyone about how to get there. You can direct someone to Big Erick’s Bridge, but beyond that you need a local guide. You follow two-tracks and then turn off onto grassy side roads and wander up among rocks until you reach the top. Then you stare breathless and amazed and congratulate yourself on living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. That’s what happens.
About five vehicles caravaned out to the base of the mountain after meeting at our friends’ house. After several of us tucked pants in socks and sprayed with lethal tick spray, we ventured upwards. First, we passed a tranquil mountain beaver pond. Beautiful, don’t you think?
Then we admired the columbines growing trail-side. The stones jutting up along our path, over which we walked carefully, attempting not to trip. (OK, we tripped!) The hardy blueberry plants with their bell-like white flowers. The bright blue sky overhead. What a wonderful afternoon to be out in nature, perhaps panting a bit as we aimed our steps higher toward the summit.
The highest point in Michigan, Mount Arvon, measures between 1,979 and 1,981 feet(depending on which on-line source you believe) and the mountains in the nearby Huron range have a few feet less altitude, but grander views. Nonetheless, these hills are mountains in Michigan! They are the oldest rock (granite) outcroppings in North America. Small ones, perhaps, but still towering crags over our rather flat state.
Years ago, four of us camped up in a nearby mountain with our six month baby boy and three dogs. (One of the dogs was ours.) My husband carried our baby in a front pack and we kept him safe zippered in our little tent. What I remember most about the hike was that he lost his pacifier during this little adventure and discovered his thumb. And didn’t lose the taste for that thumb for a couple years after that. The adventures young folks have in their twenties…
Little rock cairns dot the mountain. You can utilize them in your climb, keeping you moving in the right direction. One of our friends even placed another rock atop this cairn before we left. Just to prove we were there, I guess.
For the triumphant hikers there were treats: cherries, green grapes, walnuts and almonds, trail mix, sausage and cheese. Assorted beverages. We munched, sipped and admired the view. The wind blew a little chillier on top of the mountain than in the valley, but no one seemed to mind.
All too soon it was time to descend. A potluck awaited us at our friends’ house. It was one of those afternoons when you lament, “Why don’t we do this more often?” I am feeling grateful for the opportunity to climb a mountain today…
What an evening it was. First, several weeks ago, we decided to visit a bear’s den up in swamp-country, with a friend who is a biologist. Then, because of fierce brambles and a million wood ticks, we opted for the birding tour. Later, we switched the date until Sunday night (which actually ended up being a good thing, as Saturday’s winds blew fierce and flakes of snow might have ruined the ambiance).
On Sunday night we planned to meet at the Hilltop at 7:30 p.m. I parked right in front and waited for the ladies. No sign. They parked right over to the side and waited for me. No sign. Finally, about twenty minutes later we finally spotted one another. After much laughter, we piled into one vehicle and headed for our bird tour.
One small detour. We stopped at Nancy’s sister’s house and admired her beautiful home along the rushing river. Her perennial gardens were beginning to bloom and the gardeners among us looked closely at every single flower while Pam and I trailed behind talking about how fun it is to dive into brambles and explore the woods.
Then we drove further up the road and began to listen to bird song and look for the black throated warbler. And lots of other birds.
We learned quite a bit. I never realized there are so many birds that you never even see. Somehow you think that the birds around your bird feeder are representative of the birds in the woods. Not true. There are dozens and dozens of birds building nests, singing, and fluttering above the swamps and woods that we’ve never even spotted.
Pam knows so many bird calls and songs. We would try to be quiet (the birds quit singing when four ladies are talking animatedly as they walk down the side of the road attempting to find birds) and Pam would identify, “That’s a red-wing blackbird”, “That’s a yellow warbler”, “No, ladies, that is a chorus frog.”
It really was a lovely evening. Part of me would like to begin learning the individual bird song notes and bringing the bird book back in the swamps and woods for better identification. There is so much we don’t know!
It truly was a delightful walk. Truly. What followed next was perhaps not-so-delightful. We decided to get our original vehicles and travel the back roads home. “It’s much closer,” said at least two of the birders. “You should know how to get home this back way,” said another.
OK. I looked a bit anxiously at the time, as I have a plane to catch tomorrow morning. I have to write Monday’s blog at 6 a.m. And Sunday’s blog wasn’t even posted yet. OK. Let’s try the back roads.
The sun was preparing to set.
We headed off toward home. I was the only car in the group, following the three-vehicle caravan.
Over rocks and rutted trails, skirting downed trees covering half the road. It got dark. We kept driving. One of our party consulted her GPS regularly. We drove. It was 9 p.m. 9:30. 10 p.m.
At one point we discovered we had gone too far in one direction, and re-traced our tracks back to a previous intersection. They were not worried about being lost. And I suppose, given a different day, it might have been a fun adventure. I just wanted to get back home and finish packing! Really wanted to make that plane Monday morning…
Finally, finally, we recognized our road! Almost home now.
The blog was posted by 11 p.m. and I fell exhausted, but grateful, into bed dreaming of airplane flights.
Stay tuned for tomorrow night’s posting! You won’t believe where outdoor adventures will take us during the next week. (And don’t worry, I will get outside today before that plane takes off. Promise.)
So you know how intently I’ve been searching for the first wildflower, right? And how we spotted that dandelion up in the Copper Country last weekend…but couldn’t decide if a dandelion is a “real” wildflower. (I am of the opinion that it is.)
Well today there’s no more need to keep the eyes peeled 24/7 looking for wildflowers. They’ve sprouted! They’re blooming!
The first one announced itself early this morning in our yard. I’ve tentatively identified it (above) as a Canada Violet. All flower identifications in this blog come from the handy field manual “Michigan Wildflowers: Includes Upper and Lower Peninsulas and the Off-Shore Islands” by Harry C. Lund. Any mistakes in identification are all mine. I’ve stared at the photos in the book, eyes scrunched up, comparing, comparing. But some of them are really hard to give the 100% stamp of identification.
Today I had the most lovely adventure, of which you’ll hear more tomorrow. But tonight it seemed important to dedicate an entire blog to the elusive wildflowers which we’ve so longed to see spreading their delicate beauty on the forest floor.
There seems to be more wildflowers near the river. Except for the violet yawning in the morning sun near our house, all the rest of these photos were snapped in an area near the Huron River. The trees were old-growth big trunks, and there seemed much more space in between them to let the wildflowers reach their blossoms toward the sun. At least that’s my theory right now.
OK, you’re wondering about that snapping turtle, right? You’re wondering if a snapping turtle is a kind of flower…no, just kidding. Here’s what happened. About two days ago I thought, “It’s really time to see a turtle.” And kept the old eyes peeled for one in the marshes and swamplands. To no avail.
Until today, heading over a small hillock, I almost crashed into the most magnificent fella. He eyed me with his majestic eyes, his head barely sticking out. Then I sat very still a long time next to him, admiring this calm feeling of wisdom which seemed to be exuding from him. It’s hard to describe. It was an honor just to spend time sitting near him. Asked his permission to take his photo, but don’t remember his reply. It must have been yes.
I never once thought it was an actual snapping turtle. Wasn’t even thinking along the lines of identification. Until Barry saw the photo later and announced, “It’s a snapper!” Although he recommended googling for better identification. Upon googling, sure enough, it looked like a snapper. Although I am not sure of any identification in this blog. Maybe should have left it with “A bouquet of wildflowers and some sort of turtle.”
Oh, and another view of the turtle, in case you’re interested. I’m kind of glad I decided not to touch his shell. Although maybe we had bonded enough so he wouldn’t have snapped off my finger?