Name-your-color Friday

Color it white Friday? This year is a tabula rasa for us, a blank slate, because we dared to make our own plans, to sidestep tradition and celebrate our nuclear family.

Paint it a blue, brown and red Friday? On this last day of our little getaway, we visit a nature preserve not far from the hotel. The day unveiled the kind of blue sky only visible  in the cooler months, after the humidity lifts its haze. Cirrus clouds etched the blue, making a stunning backdrop to the blacks, grays and browns of a denuded boreal forest. We hiked miles on leaf-littered trails, through dense brush, small clearings and wetlands. Dog walkers, one or two other families, and chattering chickadees were our only company.

It’s another antidote in the medicine chest of elixirs we’ve self-administered this Thanksgiving. Our family of three (the fourth opted to spend it with her biological father) sought a refuge of sorts in a hotel room on the other side of the state. A pretty area with rolling hills, wide rivers, and thick forests. We played cards on the bed, ate in bed, swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, ate a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner in a nice restaurant, walked the quiet streets. No cooking. No alarm clocks. No stress.

Color it a rainbow Friday, accented with unicorns and sparkly stars, sprinkled with fairy dust. It’s that fabulous.

 

 

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Symbiosis

Spring:
Natural order is in disorder.
Problems crack open like chicks from eggs.
Gardens wither in the shadow of neglect.

I cast the problems to the wind
thinking nature takes care,
who am I to interfere?

Summer:
I flee west to dance on mountains,
where the gods’ gardens grow without my help.
Sun bleaches clean, rain rinses despair.

At home on the flat land,
vines choke delicate blooms,
weeds squat in empty beds
of nutrient-starved soil.

Stooped in defeat, the plants curl into themselves
and break my heart.

As payment to sun and rain
the healed becomes healer,
tending with tools, rich compost, and the sweat of debt.

Heal me, nature,
so that I may heal my garden of neglect.

Thirty days’ penance: dig, pull, yank, trim, turn, prune, nudge, drench, wait

Harvest:
Stalks and vines, heavy with fruit, offer thanksgiving and reward.
Leaves reach upward to caress the sun and cup the rain.
I collect the offerings in gratitude.
I thank the sun and wind and rain for nourishment and restored health.

 

 


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Wordless Wednesday:
waning autumn

Day nine of National Blog Posting Month, affectionately known as NaBloPoMo. Considering that I’ve posted more in the month of November than I’ve posted in the last two months, I need a breather. If you also live in a temperate climate, enjoy these last days of fall. (Picture taken at Maybury State Park, Michigan)

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Travel journal: the unexpected, Part I

Town of six buildings includes a coffee barn

To sum up my vacation: bears and bars.

The dichotomy of obsessing about grizzly bears and full Internet connection on the same trip is puzzling even to me.

Let me explain. I had in mind a somewhat outdoorsy trip. I wanted to do some challenging hiking and climbing, but I also knew that with a five-year-old in tow I was not going backcountry camping. So, I left the tent at home and instead hauled my laptop computer and digital camera along so that I could post daily. (I don’t know what made me think I’d post more while on vacation than I do at home.)

The plan died a quick death. Immediately outside Wisconsin, I began experiencing spotty service. When we arrived in southwest Montana, it became clear there would be no Internet unless I was willing to make an effort to find it. Phone service? Forget it. So much for the mighty Android on Verizon. No bars for this girl.

Feeling like a pouty baby who lost her binky, I wondered when connectivity became a vacation priority. For a while, I let my disappointment and frustration cloud the treasures laid out before me. I realized I’d once again become disconnected from nature. My online world threatened to dominate my life.  And damn is it hard to shake that monkey off your back. (Later into the vacation during a mountain climb, I almost lost my footing on algae-slicked log stretched across a rushing stream. I didn’t think about hypothermia or broken bones or a bruised ego that would follow a spill, I thought about my camera and phone tucked in my daypack and what would I do if they got wet.)

Here we were in this rugged canyon a few miles outside national forest north of Yellowstone National Park. While the cabin had modern amenities such as a dishwasher and a laundry room, only the log walls and metal roof separated us from true wilderness. Hike a small distance outside the door and find mountain lion tracks and animal bones. Signs and notices beg us to remember we are in grizzly country. On the kitchen counter, nestled with the salt and pepper and sugar, is a large canister of bear spray. (More on this in the next post.)

Here we are for a week in what we called a cabin; the proprietors market it as a retreat. After discovering a little wooden buddha carved from a log and perched amid the landscaping, I knew I had to honor the sentiment. I was on a retreat. I took my morning coffee alone on the wooden deck overlooking the valley.  I attempted to memorize the zigzag horizon carved by rock and pine. I inhaled the stiff breeze infused with sage, juniper, and ponderosa pine. I listened to the sighs and whistles of wind sliding past limbs and leaves, the mechanical whirr of the unseen humming birds, the roar and gush of the river below.  I sat in the perfect balance and harmony of the world.

I read two books.

I napped by the side of a snowmelt lake.

I scribbled in my paper journal.

I climbed scrubby, rocky mountain sides, my heart racing for signs of wildlife.

Unless we ventured into the valley, we saw no one else. When we did explore, rarely did I see anyone with their attention and energy directed toward a little screen. Folks were casting fly rods, paddling kayaks, hefting backpacks, pedaling mountain bikes, adjusting lenses on cameras, working with horses or cattle on their ranch, or just relaxing. They were living in the now.

I paid attention to that. I pondered this unnameable “thing” that draws me to this part of the country, that opens something inside me that is fused shut most of the time. My mind assembled a scrapbook of images: well-muscled bodies, beautifully weathered natural faces, an ethos of survival and practicality, a need to live on the edge, an understanding that nature is a powerful force, one that you cannot outwit or outrun.

Just when I felt this “thing” infuse every cell in my body, when I was truly a transformed person, we moved on to Wyoming and Colorado. I gained a strong, clear signal. The door to my online world opened, beckoning me to return. The more platforms I opened, the more I realized how one week can set you behind, how easy it is to slip into the endless stream of other people’s minutia. I felt the anxiety boiling inside. I closed the laptop, grabbed a blanket, and huddled outside under a dome of sparkling black. I counted shooting stars.

The Internet is as vast as the universe above. Why does one soothe while the other agitate?

Much of my anxiety stems from too much online and not enough outside. Oh, and then there’s the need for thrills and drama. What of that?

More in the next post.

 

It's time to unplug

needle

Last night, there was too much noise. 

There was enough noise and mayhem to send me running for the sleeping bags and outdoor gear.

We’re heading out of the city to unplug, recharge, refocus and relax.

I’ve traveled in too many directions lately, juggled too many balls. This week, I lost my way and dropped all the balls. I feel a little like Humpty Dumpty.  This is surely a sign that I need a break.

I need to get away from a lot of things. Mainly I need a break from the noise.

Yesterday, within a few miles of our home, a home exploded from a natural gas leak, then a tanker truck crashed on the freeway, resulting in multiple explosions, causing a raging inferno, followed by a bridge collapse.

Once I read about the accident online (thank you, Twitter) the wail of sirens, the buzzing of helicopters, which must have been in the background all along, came to the fore.  Toss in the jerk neighbor and his endless supply of illegal fireworks and the marching band practicing two blocks away and you get the idea of the Symphony of Chaos.

Independently, these things do not bother me. I like marching bands. Fireworks, when ample warning is given or it’s a holiday, are dandy.  A random siren, a chopper overhead, are not really a big deal to me. Last night, the cacophony nearly unhinged me. 

I had a hard time falling asleep last night. Too much to worry about. Not much in the way of solutions. Not to mention the thoughts about all the folks involved in these disasters. What traumas are they working through today?

It’s time to escape for a few days. It’s time to get off the grid. It’s time to unplug and unwind.

I know not everyone is into camping or roughing it. It’s a lot of work. But it renews my spirit to follow the rhythms of nature. 

We will not have: television, cable, Internet service, or electricity of any sort. We will not have running water. Phone service will be spotty at best.

We will have: peace broken only by birds calling, deer snorting, assorted woodland creatures gnawing and shuffling and clawing about. We will have the sunrises and sunsets to ourselves. We will have a starry night to take our breath away, complete with shooting stars, and if we are lucky, aurora borealis. 

While I am breaking out in hives and hyperventilating about the idea of disconnecting, I know it’s what my soul needs now.

I need time to wake up with the sunrise and bird calls, to collect fire wood and cook over an open flame.  I need to spread a blanket  on the forest floor, crack open a book, and read or daydream or write stories in long hand. I need meditation time on the banks of a woodsy stream.

I tell myself that I do not need to know what’s going on with everyone and everything at every given moment. I do not need to relive Michael Jackson’s hair fire or  to know whether the Jonas Brothers are still chaste.

So, I’m giving the keyboard a rest. I won’t  be Facebooking; I’ll be facing a book. I won’t be tweeting but I’ll be listening to the chatter of birds.  I won’t be blogging, but I will be gathering logs and maybe even hiking by a bog. Maybe I’ll carry some logs along a bog. 

I hope it’s quiet where you are.

Art in the woods

pines

Sometimes a girl just needs a day to herself.

A day without yard work or house work or bill paying or  snot wiping or litter box scooping.

Some girls go to the spa.

Some go to the mall.

Some go to a movie with a friend.

What does this girl do? She hops in the car and drives to the opposite end of the state to traipse around in the bug-infested woods for an afternoon.

Not just any woods, though. This is a special forest I’ve visited for four summers.

windowtrio

Nestled in these woods, standing along the sandy shores of a shallow inland lake, is an arts camp. Along this shore and through its maze of forest trials are rustic cabins named after musical composers, writers and artists. Between these cabins and through the thick stands of pines and maples are open-air studios,  classrooms and theaters, and an arts colony. The whole area just oozes creativity.

If gas prices weren’t almost $3 a gallon, I’d drive out here just to visit. This time, I had a reason to spend $500 on gas in one day: Girl from the West is participating in a camp alumni concert series. Today is the first show; the second will be in July at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

 After depositing Girl to her designated rehearsal hall, I grab my camera and sunglasses and hit the trails. Through the birdsong in the canopy above and the crunch of gravel under my sandals, I hear the sweet notes of pianos being played, of voices hitting high notes and harmonizing. As I navigate the pathways, this music seeps between the branches and boughs, rises up from the ferns, floats on the breeze,  making the forest seem almost magical. 

signs

Awash in all this natural beauty and talent, I feel a pang of envy for my Girl, who had the privilege of three summers at this camp and a tour of Western Europe last summer.

I wish to find my own arts colony, my own creative escape. I say good-bye to this hideaway and head home, thinking this visit will be my last.

It seems that at the end of every summer, Girl from the West tosses her blue camp uniform in disgust, declaring it “the last time I wear this — I swear.”

But somehow, when the next summer comes around, we find ourselves picking up the polo shirt and skirt and heading back to this little gem in the woods near the shores of Lake Michigan.

We have our reasons.

The best remedy

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

–Frank Lloyd Wright

buds

red maple buds

 

sign

urban nature preserve

path

following the path

beetle tracks

vernalpoind

vernal pond

 

 

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.

–Anne Frank

 

sit

happy to be outside

The deer hunter

 

It’s been 13 years since my father’s premature death. 

I think of him often. On his birthday. On his death day. And on opening day of firearms deer hunting season.

It’s a big deal here in Michigan. It was a big deal to my dad. He always set aside vacation days to spend in the woods stalking his prey. It’s ritual and tradition and it’s something I’ll never understand. 

Growing up as the daughter of an outdoorsman meant I posed with every dead thing my dad brought home. Every fish, rabbit, bird or mammal he snared, trapped or shot. And in each picture I have the same expression on my face: a forced smile in response to some off-camera plea-turned-threat.

My dad took his outdoors skills seriously. We had property in the north woods. A rugged plot of land without modern amenities. We were supposed to get in touch with nature and learn how to survive without creature comforts. One of those ways was to get our own food. I think my father fancied himself as a sort of Jeremiah Johnson, just one step ahead of the Indians and starvation. My childhood memories are peppered with experiences of hunting for mushrooms and cattail roots and berries.  One year we even tapped maple trees and made our own syrup.  

There is a story my father told me years ago that may have foreshadowed later events in his life. It goes like this: A man gets to be an expert on survival in the wilderness. He gets a little cocky. He makes a fatal mistake.  Nature wins.

My father had a selective memory. He also made executive decisions about how much information his family needed to know. Like the wilderness man in the cautionary tale, these things led to his demise.

Being an outdoorsman appealed to my father because he loved nature. He also liked the role of provider. He wasn’t really in it for the glory. Our home didn’t feature mounted animal heads or stuffed carcasses. I’m guessing that when my dad hauled in that big stiff dead deer to the butcher, he may have been asked about the head. I’m imagining that he declined the offer all those years but one.

In that particular year he must have given in, imagining for one small moment some use for a deer head. But that moment passed quickly. So fast, in fact,  that when he pulled a cardboard box out of his trunk later that day and placed it on a high shelf in the garage, he must have imagined it was hunting gear or some other seasonal item that could be tucked away and forgotten.

The ghost of that year’s deer would haunt us for quite some time. The last person to ever guess it was my father.

The following spring we began to detect a faint odor outside. Thinking a small animal had died on our property, we began a search in earnest. Several investigations later produced nothing. This prompted spurts of frantic cleaning and clearing and some small amounts of digging in the dirt as the season advanced and the temperature climbed.

Odor turned to unbearable stench and with that came flies in swarms. This made it easier to narrow down the source: somewhere near the garage.  Still, without a corpse, a crime scene, we were stumped.

Finally one sweltering July afternoon, when some errand drove me up a ladder and onto a storage platform in our garage, I accidentally overturned a cardboard box.

The box tumbled to the concrete floor below. The momentum of the fall forced the contents out. Splattered below me was a decomposing deer head inundated with maggots in such large quantity that the whole arrangement looked like a rice stir fry platter smothered in brown sauce. The smell was unbearable.  I managed to scoop up the whole mess and quickly haul it to the curb for trash pickup.

Later that evening, when we told the story to my father, he looked over the newspaper at us with squinted eyes, pursed lips and shook his head as if we were making it all up. A deer head? In the garage? It had simply escaped his memory. 

Dad was like that about some things: He could name very Roman emperor in chronological order, all the U.S. presidents, too. But remembering something like a deer head in a box or that he had a life threatening medical condition, those things were niggling details that took up valuable brain space.

Later, I will tell of his undoing.

High times

On one of our many visits to Colorado we went to a theme park took the roller coaster road from Independence Pass to Aspen. It is considered one of the highest paved roads in North America. We flatlanders had been in the mountains only for a few days so the initial shock of altitude change had worn off, we thought, but I guess it takes much longer to fully acclimate to the environment.

This picture was taken at Highway 82 overlook, a breathtaking stopover at 12,095 feet above sea level. In my travel journal I describe the air as thin and cold. I observe that we are on tundra, above the tree line.  The views are dizzying and exhilirating. I realize the little squiggle below is really the road we took to get here.

The drive to Aspen is nothing but a series of hair-pin turns and switchbacks through the peaks and valleys of the central rockies. It was the equivalent feeling of stepping off the Tilt-A-Whirl at the local carnival — after you’ve unwisely ingested a hot dog with everything.

This picture was taken in 2004. I could have sat on that bench all afternoon, soaking up the sun, feeling the wind whip my hair, and inviting the utter peace and serenity of the landscape to infuse my soul.

It’s a feeling I can only get in places of nature’s extremities. The surf crashing on the rocks at the seaside or on a snow-covered peak in the mountains. I’m not a religious person, but these moments are the closest thing to feeling a God, a higher power, a presence greater than myself.

Why I can’t get that feeling in a Michigan cornfield I don’t know.

Relationship Rx

Mother Nature has issued me an ultimatum: “Get yer ass outta the city this weekend or we are through!”
This came in the form of a shower of acorns pelting my skull as I stood in my yard the other night. I’m not an idiot. I can take a hint.
See, Mother Nature — or MN — and I have been drifting the last few summers. We’ve had a few uncomfortable dates that I thought made the appearance of love and devotion, but she saw right through my air kisses and empty gestures.
Staying in a cabin with a roof was cheating, she charged. A few hikes and an afternoon nap under the pines do not a relationship make, she warned.
MN looked the other way because we had a new baby and were insecure about laying her on the earth to sleep. But I knew, deep down, that MN was hurting. Why else would she have visited pestilence upon us in each of our last three trips away from home?
Once upon a time, MN and I were tight.

Backpacking the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, 2000.

We spent so much time together; only the thin material of my tent separated us. I rode her rivers and streams, climbed her mountains and marveled her beauty from one end of this country to the other.
I thought our bond was solid when I went so far as to camp in January and withstood her bitter embrace.
But I drifted more than the snow that winter. Girl from the East came to us and kept us close to home.
I know this is my last chance. I am packing my tent and camp gear and going on a reconciliatory date. I’ll sleep on the forest floor, gather sticks to spark a cooking fire, walk barefoot on her soft skin and gaze up at her breathtaking night display. She really is a beauty.
This weekend, I offer endless devotion and penance.