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Welcome to our little blizzard. Yep, parts of the Midwest of this United States of America have been hit hard. We have…how many inches? I brought the yardstick outside to try and gauge the exact amount. Twelve inches? Fourteen inches? And the storm has not stopped yet.
I awoke at 5:45 a.m. and blearily logged onto the Internet to see if school/work had been cancelled. No announcements. But I was pretty sure that we would not be having school. The wind rushed and screamed outside the window at maybe 40 miles per hour. The snow blew sideways. I predicted: no school. But settled down beneath blankets on the couch to wait. I admired the way our little ceramic Christmas tree reflected in the window as dawn approached.
The call came at 6:30. Our principal announced “No School”. Hurray! A day off work.
Most of my day was spent inside with the front door securely latched. But, never fear!, I remembered the outdoor commitment. Divided it into three mini-portions. The first involved a meandering to the mailbox. One truly must meander very slowly during a blizzard. The foot goes up in the air, sinks down in the heavy snow. Slowly one makes her way through the leaden snow drifts. The wind blows snow sideways in your face. You persevere. You get the mail. You head back to the house.
The second trip outdoors…what did I do? I don’t remember. Maybe I just stood around hoping to catch the wind whipping up blizzard-like snow. My eyelashes turned snowy. It didn’t feel too cold, though.
The third trip outside, after dark, involved digging out buried cars. This was truly a job. A snow scraper isn’t enough. One must find a push broom in the garage, and then broom off the foot or more of snow. It helps to blare Christmas music from the car’s speakers. It helps to have one’s husband atop his tractor, fitted with a snowplow, beaming light around the driveway.
On the bright side, I accomplished much indoors today. (Shhh…this is suppose to be an outdoor blog. I’m not suppose to tell you about indoor activities.) I finished the novel that I’ve been writing for NaNoWriMo since November 1st. It’s somewhere between 60,000-63,000 words. It all ended rather well. The heroine did not die, although she almost did. She married the hero and we hope they are going to live happily ever after. The novel combined a true historical setting from around our area…and some of my favorite things, spirituality and dreaming. I am happy. The characters in the novel are happy. Now, with a little editing, it might someday be possible to actually SHOW the novel to someone! Excuse me. I mean a LOT of editing.
All good fairy-tales start with “Once upon a time.” Do you remember sitting on your mama’s lap, perhaps with a thumb in your mouth? Her voice gently soothed you as she read stories of long ago and far away. Her voice sounded like a lullaby as she brought you to lands from the past. You no longer lived in the present on your mama’s lap; you were gone into a story. So far gone that you later blinked and wondered where the time disappeared and how that story was so real, as real as your living room and your mama’s voice.
Stories have the ability to send us into other worlds. Where would we be without stories, without books, without tales of overcoming and learning and crying and loving?
I am thinking a LOT about stories since starting NaNoWriMo three days ago. About the value of stories, and the challenges of stories.
As some of you may have guessed, my fictional story is set in our nearby ghost town of Pequaming back in 1932. Henry Ford bought this village and aimed to make it into a model town, a sociological experiment. He insisted that the villagers get rid of their chickens and cows claiming the animals were unsanitary and that on $5.00 a day wages each family could afford to buy milk and eggs. He required each family to cultivate a garden. He banned drinking, insisted workers save a percentage of their wages and did “general surveillance” of their homes. He maintained stringent village rules, and pioneered an educational system in his private school system accredited by the University of Michigan.
Henry Ford was especially fond of Pequaming and annually spent a few days in his Bungalow, a seven-pillared, fourteen room home. When he arrived, the whole town turned out to greet him with a band concert and old-fashioned dances. Both the Mr. and Mrs. enjoyed dancing.
You may be wondering: what the heck am I writing about? OK, here’s the scoop. This is actually a story which has been rambling around in my head since I was in my late 20’s. It’s the story of a young school teacher who comes up on a train from Chicago and teaches in one of the four elementary school buildings in Pequaming. She has two suitors, a Ojibway fellow named David and a Finnish socialist (yep, there were a lot of Finnish socialists living here at that time) named Christian.
Barry, by the way, raised his eyebrows at the name of the suitors. What kind of name is “David” for the Ojibway suitor? Or “Christian” for that matter? I refused to budge. That was their names. End of story.
And, strangely enough, I later opened the history book of Pequaming and discovered that a chief named David King had sold Pequaming to a white logger named Hebard in 1879. Perhaps my make-believe David could be a descendant, do you think? And when wandering in the Pequaming cemetery on Sunday I noted one of the old-time graves belonging to a fellow named Christian.
Perhaps the ghosts are whispering the story to me…
Here is what I have learned about writing in three days:
1. Don’t believe your thoughts about the quality of your writing or whether you have a story to tell. Just keep writing. You can edit later.
2. Don’t believe your feelings of frustration about what you are writing. Feelings are like the weather. Changeable. One minute it’s raining and the next sunny on your inner landscape. Just keep writing.
3. It doesn’t take much time to sit down and write 1,600 words a day.
4. Just face the empty page and let the words come out. Just keep writing.
Every lesson I have learned while writing this novel has mirrored the lessons of this outdoor commitment. Do not believe your thoughts and feelings about why you don’t want to go outside. Why you prefer to stay inside. Why it’s too cold, too hot, too rainy, too snowy. JUST GO OUTSIDE. You won’t regret it.
** Outdoor time today~~raking. And then more raking as Barry drove the little lawn tractor around chopping up leaves. Another autumn chore checked off!
This post is really about an indoor adventure. But since our indoor adventures sometimes mirror our outdoor adventures, they sometimes require announcement.
Here is my announcement: starting tomorrow morning, November 1st, I will be writing my first 50,000 word novel.
Did anyone choke on his or her coffee at that announcement?
I hope not, for it is most assuredly going to happen. We hope it’s going to happen. We’re pretty sure it’s going to happen…
This novel-writing month is happening courtesy of NaNoWriMo. (I dare you to say this really fast at least ten times!) Here is what the folks at NaNo say about this process:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.
In 2008, we had over 119,000 participants. More than 21,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.
Starting tomorrow morning I will now be maneuvering between TWO commitments, at least for the month of November. Writing between 1,600-2,000 words a day on a novel AND going outdoors and writing a nightly blog. Does this sound crazy? Yes, it’s crazy. Lets not forget two part-time jobs and a trip to San Diego mid-month to visit my son.
You want to know what the novel is about? Hmmmm….. I don’t know. I have a rough idea, a baby idea, a tiny plot. But who knows what will come out of the typing fingers tomorrow morning? You can start writing a love story and end up with a murder mystery. A historical piece and end up with fantasy. Fiction and end up with truth. Or, probably more accurately, you start off writing fiction and end up with a reflection.
Just wanted to let you know that my attention might be a little preoccupied this month. Knock me on the side of the head if you ask a question and I don’t answer. If I forget to read some of your blogs with as much diligence. If I start writing outdoor adventures that sound a little…strange. You guys keep me “real”. Please.
Actually, I think we need our outdoor times even more when we’re deeply involved in indoor activities. We need to breathe fresh air, to exercise, to walk slowly in the weather, to clear away the cobwebs words string in our minds. Don’t you agree?
P.S. I raked leaves today. Not once, not twice, but three times! Usually Barry is running his little lawn tractor around, chopping up leaves. But this year our grass is too wet for efficient chopping. Hopefully it will dry out before snow.
Once or twice in a lifetime, if we’re lucky, we stumble upon a hidden lake. A lake we’ve never seen before; a lake we never dreamed existed.
Other people may know about this blue-treasured lake, but until this magic moment we remained innocent of its beauty.
Perhaps the blue of a damselfly will lead you along a forest path to surprise you with the serenity of the hidden lake. Perhaps you’ll emerge from a meander in swamp-lands to suddenly gasp at the jeweled surface of the shining blue. You never know how you’ll find it. You’ll only know it’s a gift reflected in still waters.
The secrets it carries underwater whisper beneath the azure sky. Gently a fat golden fish flutters by near your outstretched fingers. Frogs croak love song melodies near the banks. A dragonfly settles nearby, drying its many wings before bursting upward in flight.
The lake lay placidly here all along, all these long years, when perhaps you’ve passed within singing distance unconscious of its lapping waves. How many more treasures exist so close to us, so very close, and yet we never swim in their coves, never dangle our feet in their waters, never glimpse the eagles diving and careening from the skies above?
The wild rose nods toward the hidden destination. She, for one, hints with her heady summer scent.
“May you find your hidden lake,” she murmurs and we listen silent to the loons calling in the waterlily of our heart. We’re so close. Just around the bend, she waits.
Before I start sharing about Nancy’s gardens, we have a little blog housekeeping to do. First of all, today has been 179 days since the beginning of this outdoor commitment. Hurray! It’s going well (except for that evening in Munising at 9 p.m. in the rain last week. That was a challenge I’m still remembering…)
Second, the contest to give away a free nature book ends this Sunday, June 21st, the anniversary of my six month commitment. Anyone still wanting to enter should click here and make a comment. Doesn’t have to be a fancy comment. Just a comment about one of your favorite experiences in nature. Otherwise, one of the winners will be Cindy, Amy, Melinda, Gerry, Emma, Margo, Deb or Sahlah. Good luck, Participants! It makes me so happy that you’ve entered.
OK, on to Nancy’s Magic Gardens.
I’m calling them “magic” because they are soooooo relaxing. Here’s what happened this morning. Nancy called me at work with excitement in her voice. The azaleas were blooming orange and beautiful in her front yard. I should stop and take a photo. They truly were magnificent. (Nancy is so in love with flowers and gardening. She gets that soft note in her voice when she starts talking about flowers blooming.)
Last winter we did a photo shoot at her house, admiring the gardens covered with snow. Anyone who didn’t view that blog can click here and remember the days when the first winter-melt arrived back in February.
She was headed to work, but she invited me to stop anyway on my way home from work. So I pulled up and started snapping photos. Then, decided to sit in one of her garden chairs. And sit. And sit. It felt so peaceful. The birds chirped, distant wind chimes rang, bees buzzed on flowers. The scent from the blooms smelled magnificent. Suddenly I felt very very drowsy…
Now I really should call her and ask her the names of these flowers. I haven’t a clue. What is so appealing about her gardens is the way she mixes in the flowers and the human decorations. Aren’t the bride and groom way cool? Isn’t that trike the sweetest thing you ever saw? Every time you turn a corner there’s something interesting to intrigue the eye.
Part of me would love to create gardens like this. Filled with natural spiritual signs and symbols. Filled with wind chimes and rocks and shells and flowers and art. But, so far, I haven’t the patience. If a spare moment presents itself, I would rather scribble together sentences and paragraphs.
In the meantime, Nancy’s the gardening queen. And she’s creating lots of magic…
I feel like I’m on a small emotional roller-coaster the last couple of days. One minute happy and joyful and buzzing…the next minute kind of sad and cranky. The above leaf picture described my mood as of Friday afternoon. (By the time this is published later tonight after a dinner with friends maybe everything will be fine again.)
Two nights ago I felt a little overwhelmed about our rather large wood pile that needs to be split, hauled and stacked. But last night I tried to “play” with the work and turn it around into a fun chore. It actually worked.
The bugs are out and crazed and sucking blood and biting. Nothing unusual for June around here. You put a log in the splitter, swat at a mosquito, take the log off, scratch your bite. Oh well. We all expect this at this time of year.
It’s been a cold spring. Our garden vegetables are very very slowly poking their heads above the soil and leafing out. Peas, lettuce, spinach, onions, kale, collards, beets, green onions and carrots sit in the garden wishing for rain. They have to settle for cold sprinkles from our hose. They’re not happy about it, but have no choice if they wish to drink some water.
Do you ever wonder if Nature herself gets moody? I think she perhaps she does. That’s when the hurricanes and tornados roar through and whip us around and mess things up. When the Earth gets fussy, perhaps It quakes. Swallows entire towns as it shakes and shifts. One minute Nature is hot and then she’s cold. She weeps buckets of tears on us sometimes, and then coldly withholds her rain making the poor pea plants suffer. Sometimes she freezes us with ice-cold snow and bakes the tropics. What an emotional lady, do you think?
Then again, Nature is probably neutral and we’re the ones telling stories about her motives. She’s just shaking herself, blowing up the winds, shifting toward and away from the sun.
Maybe the “truth” lies half-way between both stories. Maybe she’s more than scientific, but less than our fanciful tales. Maybe she does feel emotions, or responds to the emotions and thoughts on this planet. Who knows?
Maybe this goose family has a clue…
P.S. writing this blog always makes me happy, strangely enough. Maybe Nature is happy about it, as well.
Good evening. I’m tempted to start counting days that remain here in southern Florida before the big silver & red plane rises through the clouds and soars toward the Midwest. Tomorrow, Tuesday and then…heading back to snow country on Wednesday.
But we won’t dwell in the future for more than a second. Let’s stay here in the present. I’ll show you some more random photos tonight, probably not embedded in any coherent tale. The above photo shows the view you’ll see peeking through a curtain of leaves overlooking a backwater channel. I love tiptoeing back there and peering in the underbrush.
A wise person looks around for alligators and snakes. Mom says there’s a small alligator sunning away over on the golf course, about a mile away. Otherwise, you never see any of the scaly exotic beasts. If I see one, I want an escape route, especially if it starts slinking this-away.
So, what was today’s outdoor adventure? Let’s pick two. The first really fun time happened this morning around the pool. After looking for a manatee or dolphin for you for ten minutes (sigh…) I gathered a notebook and began writing down by the pool. Oh can you imagine the joy to write outside? No freezing fingers! Oh luxury!
I probably shouldn’t tell you about what I wrote. You will scurry away from this blog and never return, convinced you’re dealing with a mentally-suspect person. But it was such fun! Since it was Sunday, I was praising life, the Universe, God and the swimming pool with gusto in the white notebook pages. Trying to put it all on paper, you know.
But then I got a little carried away and started imagining if inanimate objects could talk…what they might say. When I started writing about the beach towel on the nearby reclining beach chair, and what it might say…it was probably time to close the notebook and take a hike. We creative folks tend to get carried away sometimes. (This is an exercise in the book “The Artist’s Way” called “Morning Pages” where you write whatever stray thoughts wander through your mind…a fascinating and fun process.)
Later in the evening my mom, dad and I took cold drinks out to the boat, along with our books and magazines, and read. The folks own a deck boat, which resembles a pontoon. We’re hoping to go out on it tomorrow or Tuesday. It’s been so windy we’ve not ventured out on the Back Bay yet.
As we were reading, a few boats motored by in the channel. My mom uttered, “I wonder if there would be an interesting picture…” and just as she spoke a manatee surfaced! I grabbed the camera, turned it on and focused. The manatee disappeared. Never to re-appear. It’s going to be a gift of the Universe if we photograph one of these elusive fellows in the next few days.
I bought three books today at Borders, using a Christmas gift card. No lack of reading material now!
Finally, one of the best parts of being in Florida: enjoying the tropical fruit. Oh look at this papaya cut open! Are your taste buds salivating? Leaving you all now and heading to the frig for a juicy morsel…
Let’s set the scene. Inside the house the wood-stove hums in the basement. It’s warm and cozy and toasty. Heavy blankets hang against our deck and basement windows, encasing the heat. Sun glimmers through other windows, creating patterns on the rug. Water boils in the tea kettle. A pot of pinto beans simmer on the stove.
Outside it’s 12 degrees. The wind blows snow sideways, capturing it, gyrating it into mini whirlwinds. It’s a blustery wind, a fierce wind, a vicious wind. It’s whirled in from the north with ferocity, banishing temperatures in the 40’s. The weathermen lower their voices, using phrases like “wind chill warning” and “advisory”.
Take heed. Do not venture out unprotected. Who wants to hazard out at all with such a cozy inside world? Unless one has a commitment to spend time each and every day outside. Then one must enter that white and blowing world.
And of course, as always, it’s not as terrible as the Mind has conjured. Allow the feet to guide you wherever they want to go. And it’s OK if you return to the house to warm up. Just go outside again for your allotted time.
Snow shadows never cease to fascinate. I never really noticed them as vividly until this winter. No two shadows look alike. They have a personality almost separate from their physical counterpart. A shadowed world exists with vague look-alike caricatures parroting solid reality. Watch out! You never know where a shadow is lurking…and what it might try to communicate.
Trees speak their own language, one mostly unintelligible to us humans. We must listen very slowly to even catch the edges of what oak or poplar or maple or spruce might whisper. Every once in a while they communicate in hieroglyphics. I almost know what this fallen log, stretched over a frozen stream in our ravine, attempts to say. Any ideas?
The snow spoke today. In no language we’d understand verbally it said: walk on my back. You won’t sink in! The Moon of the Crusted Snow sits fat and white in the night sky, providing ease for local folks tapping maple trees for sweet syrup. No sap runs today. One waits for ideal conditions (cold nights and warm days? or warm days and cold nights?) and the inner sap-life of the tree begins to swim in the veins and corpuscles, moving outwards towards its dream of summer leaves. The sap drips into buckets pegged on trees, or into lines attached together, until it’s finally boiled fiercely to sweeten our cookies, our grain, our pancakes.
I walked by these cedar logs in the driveway and thought about last weekend. I was jabbering away on the phone to someone, probably my daughter, when a knock rapped on the door. A fellow from across the Keweenaw Bay stood, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He wanted to know if my husband was home. “No,” I said, but he was already nodding, “Yep, bet he’s out fishin’.”
That husband of mine has a reputation. Of course he was out fishing.
“I brought him some cedar,” he said.
Brought him cedar? What? The fellow turned back toward his truck. I tossed the phone on the table and scurried after him a bit. “Do we owe you any money?” I called.
“No,” he said, “I was out in the area. The logs on the log truck were from my property, I’m just delivering some cedar for kindling to go with it.” (As some of you know, we bought a load of logs a couple weeks ago.)
Amazing! I thanked him profusely and retrieved the phone. I am sometimes awed and amazed at the kindness and giving-ness of folks. People who stand ready to offer a hand, to share, to help. That’s one of the best parts of living in a rural area. There’s angels like this fellow, giving of himself, without asking anything in return. May he be blessed…
Another afternoon near 40 degrees. There’s a bite to the wind today, though, so it doesn’t feel as balmy outside. However, dripping continues throughout the woods as the snow melts and compresses underfoot.
You can almost sniff spring in the air. That is the biggest illusion of all. Back when we lived 500 miles south in the Lower Peninsula (dozens of years back) spring arrived almost coinciding with the Equinox. March showed her pretty face and the snow retreated. Dirt showed, seeds sprouted, and April wore flowers, sunshine and warm temperatures. Winter behaved like a gentleman and retreated on time.
Here in the Upper Peninsula, Winter is no gentleman. He refuses to leave. He hovers, he lingers, he stays endlessly. Two to three months from now, after we’ve been teased mercilessly with the prospects of Spring, he’ll finally depart for good. In the meantime, we learn to sigh with this cycle of freeze-warmth-melt-cold-freeze. Just when we’re ready to blossom ourselves, we’re back to frozen icicles hanging from the eaves. You’ll see. Just keep reading this blog for a few months and see if I’m right.
(A few years ago we still witnessed ice floating in the Keweenaw Bay near Memorial Day weekend. Perish the thought!)
See the above snow ready to slide off the garage roof-top? It hangs precariously off the edge, moving lower and lower down the metal roof as the temperature warms up. Then, suddenly, always unexpectedly, it lets go. My husband, who was in the garage at the time, said the force of the roof releasing its snow shook the walls and the cement floor of the building. It’s like a freight train suddenly arrives. The weight is immense as it releases and falls to the ground. No wonder roofs occasionally collapse around here. No wonder we’re forced to shovel our non-metal house roof.
I love the melting. There’s no dirt coming forth yet, as the snow on the ground measures too deep. Pockets begin to form along logs or branches, hollowed-out spaces where darkened wood or other mysterious factors melt the undergrowth. That spring-smell is exquisite; I suspect it’s wet wood or earth wafting upwards.
Let’s not get too attached, shall we? The weather fellow is predicting a few more days of this before another system from the west or north drops in and chills out the air once again. We have many weeks of winter to go; the ice still is forming on the bay.
In the meantime, enjoy the melt. Do not try sitting down by the bird feeder in your snow pants, though. It’s so wet you’ll soon be soaked.
I’m having a crisis of faith with this year-long assignment. Everyone else in the world has been making resolutions yesterday and today. They’re bright eyed and optimistic and enthused. Today is New Year’s Day and they’re sure they’ll get it right this time.
I’m almost two weeks into this adventure and suddenly the glow looks less rosy. In fact, I want to know where this crazy idea came from anyway. What was I thinking? It all seemed so easy back then….just go outside everyday and write about it. Oh, and take pictures. Won’t it be fun?
Actually, the going-outside-part isn’t the challenge. Neither is the picture-taking sidebar. What is proving the most challenging is the one part I looked forward to the most: writing this blog. That which seemed the easiest is actually proving to be the most demanding.
And why? you ask. First, because my “true love” has always been writing about ideas and relationships, concepts and ponderings. It’s usually at least a few degrees removed from physicality and the Earth. I could write a somewhat interesting blog about, say….enlightenment…..or loving people….but what in the world can entertain people for 365 days about the angle of a leaf captured in the crevice of a tree?
Therein lies the rub. I think I’m going about this all wrong. There’s a part of me that doesn’t care two hoots if anyone is reading this at all. There’s another part (my numbers loving side) that checks the stats daily. To see who has stopped by to read. I really don’t care about comments, but readership seems to mean something.
And I’m not liking the direction this desire is leading. The Mind begins its litany, “Well 11 people have read this blog today; I might as well give it all up” or “wow, it’s a high count of 64 readers! This must be worthwhile…” The Mind begins its analysis by determining worth by external circumstances. And we all know we’re bound to be unsatisfied if we attempt to depend on others for our happiness.
My new friend Baker (Hi Baker!) who is a seasoned wordpress blog-writer with a large audience is helping me through this Crisis of Readership. He said that for the first six months he had zero hits consistently. He advises writing because it feels right, because you enjoy it. Readership will grow.
And, you know, I know that. But sometimes we need to hear it from others. They provide a mirror which says, “Just keep doing what you love. Would you do this if there was zero readership?”
The answer is Yes. I will go outside for the sake of learning about the outdoors, for the opportunity to learn the language of leaves in trees. To craft sentences about birdsong. To feel the icy pellets of snow against the cheeks.
The sharing will happen because it feels good to share. We’ll let the internal voice that desires readership to express itself, but we’ll remind it what really counts, what existed as the desire birthed.
As everyone is making resolutions today, remember this. The honeymoon of your enthusiasm may dwindle in a week or two. That’s when we begin to see ourselves more clearly and to ascertain some mixed motivations that perhaps threaten to collapse our intentions. That’s when we need to peer more deeply inside ourselves and see what might be limiting our manifestations. Don’t be afraid to look deeply. You might be amazed what you’ll find.
Happy 2009 dear reader!