Inner Child

I am very much in touch with my inner child.  The “kid” inside loves mystery, loves playing outside, loves activity, adventure and all that stuff I used to be a part of when I was ten.  I think that’s why I love playing with kids when I get a chance.  I love it when I see them really having fun, being inventive and using their imagination. I especially enjoy when they are old enough to talk about what’s on their mind.

This last week children were visiting next door and I got to play. They were trying their hardest to enjoy the snow but they needed a sled and I had noticed one in the attic. I knew they liked animals so I introduced them to Scruffy the dog and had them join us on a walk. And on their last day to play we walked through the deep snow to see the hidden fort in the brush pile out in the wetlands. We sat inside on the carpet of dried grass and rushes and marveled at the construction, how “cool” it was. Kids love forts.

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Except for this entrance, it’s just looking like a big brush pile.

However, most kids also love playing with fire at some point in their growing up years. And it was this thought that had been bothering my brother since last fall. Knowing that quite a few people, many still school age children, were aware of the fort and its “coolness” he was always imagining the horror it would be to have the fort go up in flames with someone in it. The wood was tinder dry and the winter air had made it even more ready to burn quickly. He decided it was time to return to his original plan of burning the brush pile.

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The inner sanctum with its bed of dried grasses.

Around suppertime, I went out to say goodbye. I took pictures, crawled inside the fort and sat for a while. I took the small tin that had been left there as a souvenir. There was a little war going on in me – the inner child was having a small tantrum.

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The first match…

Later, with my brother and his wife, I watched the flames eat the brush pile nearly flat. It was a glorious fire, hot and fast. One match to the inside of the fort made quick work of the bed of dried grass and I could understand the wisdom of getting rid of a fire hazard.  It was a pretty sweet fort and it was fun just knowing it was there, while it lasted. But it was time. My adult self was glad that potential danger was going to be averted.  As an adult I’ve learned to ignore tantrums, even my own.

 

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My souvenir, all that’s left to remind me of an excellent fort.

I’m saving this little tin as inspiration. This is a rather large property with a lot of interesting wooded areas and I’m already getting ideas on where the next fort should be. Long live the inner child. Just sayin’…

Winter is so great…

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Today I found out who (not a bird) had discovered the bird feeder. He comes from somewhere via an under-the-snow tunnel to the area beneath the feeder where the birds have tossed out a lot of sunflower seeds. I think he got tired of hunting in the snow and decided to go for the source. It was fun to watch him hang upside down by his back feet while chewing. He looked skinny.

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Following the drifted trail, which at this point I can still see.

The snow is really deep out there in the untrodden places. I decided to take a snowshoe walk today because it was relatively warm, with a clear blue sky and sunshine. It was odd at five o’clock to still have plenty of daylight, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, and thanks to spring which is just around the corner, I’m sure.

I so, so, so wish I could have had a video of this excursion to cheer me someday when I’m living in the nursing home.

I set out following a drifted trail that had been packed down by several previous walks, but it disappeared rather quickly. The last snow and the accompanying wind had drifted it over and there was nothing except innocent looking whiteness to indicate where I should walk. The field was wide, the trail was narrow. I lost it completely.

At the point in my walk where I was as far from the house as I was going to go, it started getting frustrating. Every step was putting me in snow up to my knees, in spite of having snowshoes on. I had to pick my feet up high and with the weight of the shoes and the snow clinging to them – kind of like working out with weights on your ankles. I started looking for the beeline back to a plowed area, but it looked equally far in all directions.

Then I started experiencing unsteadiness. The snow was giving way unevenly and my shoe would tip to one side or the other, or go toe-down so steeply that it would throw me off balance. This is how I ended up in a rather deep, soft hole with my face in the snow and my feet up higher than my body. Pushing one’s self up does not work well when you can’t find a “bottom” to push against. My arms sank in even deeper than my legs. Did I mention that the snow is really deep now?

Luckily, there were no hungry carnivores chasing me. Actually, I saw no animal tracks at all today proving that the other animals were smarter than I was and either found a path or stayed put. If you’ve never had to get yourself up from this kind of position, you have no idea of how difficult the logistics are. I tried several different tactics before finding one that worked, and once up, I made sure not to fall again. I did a lot of stopping and measuring the distance with my eyes… closer that way? No? Maybe this way? Maybe it’s time to call my brother for that snowmobile ride he’s been promising me? No, too embarrassing.

It felt ridiculous to be talking myself down from pseudo-panic when I was within sight of a dozen houses. I knew it was just a matter of trudging on until I could climb the last snowbank and get on a road, which I finally did.

I would have paid someone to give me a workout like that, and it was free! This is me, convincing myself that winter is so great. Yeah, so great, I love winter. No more walks like that, just sayin’…

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Isn’t it pretty out here? And this is not even where the snow was REALLY deep.

Thoughts on Extended Winter

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I am thumbing through the photos on my phone – the ones taken out the living room window.  They are mostly black and white because those are the only hues out there most days, snow and not-snow.  The “Charley Brown” pine tree, sorry little thing, is my yardstick on which the snow level creeps up and up, storm after storm.  We have lost all sight of the shrubs planted around the condos. Everyone’s attention is being drawn to the heavy snow loads on their buildings, and guessing how many warm days it will take to melt the huge snowbanks. It is snowing again today.

And so goes the winter in Wisconsin. It is much as I imagined it would be. I am amazed that people lived here for ages without modern heat and shelter, and I suppose some still do. I have my own childhood memories of our family around the oil stove in the living room, and ice building up on the insides of the windows. How different it is now. Our two-bedroom condo is often too warm. We walk around inside in our bare feet, and even our car is warm and ready to go in the attached, heated garage.

It’s been a winter of doctor’s appointments. I think that’s what we did in January, although my memory doesn’t serve me well when the days and weeks are all so similar. February was marked by the big international ski race held in our area, followed by my aunt’s health crisis and several days in the hospital with her, followed by my own winter cold/flu and ensuing isolation. March has brought a return to the time change – we “sprang ahead” an hour this morning. When it stops snowing we will have a couple hours of playing in the snow, plowing out and shoveling.

While we are experiencing winter, the larger experience has been learning to live with “our” changing health status.  Because of this diagnosis the husband has received, Lewy body dementia, we are constantly surrounded by the fight to understand and reverse the disease. No detail of his bodily condition has gone unexamined, and since his way of processing his thoughts is to talk about them, we are all kept aware of each day’s change or lack thereof. He is very aggressive, or proactive about his condition and spends much of his time looking up research papers and discussing them with his brother. We discuss how it wears on us and colors our days, but there is very little else for him to put his thoughts on. I have some understanding of his preoccupation and can’t say that I wouldn’t be searching the same way if I were the one with LBD.

I am trying hard to save some attention for the many blessings that come along with winter isolation. There have been good conversations with Mom and my Uncle Wendell and Aunt Lois. They are my elders who hold much of the family history in their memories and are happy to discuss it.  I’m also very thankful for the many faceted relationship with my youngest brother and his family. They are my closest friends who share activities and meals, joys and sorrows, concerns and silly moments. I am often comforted with their words and aware of us having thrown our “soul anchors” in the same deep waters.

It helps me to write about my new life, and although the words don’t often appear here in my blog, they are being written. There will be a time and a place for them.  I have much encouragement in my writing life, having joined a group of writers whose theme is hope, always hope. The snowbanks are high and it may be June before they are completely gone, but spring is coming. Change is the unchangeable characteristic of the future and keeps me curious and ready to experience more. Bring it on, just sayin’…

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Up North: Polar Vortex

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My super warm (super crazy) hat, drying out by the door.

Wanting to get my definitions down “cold”, I looked up the word vortex. It’s a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything into it’s center.  I’m guessing that the word polar means the air is circling around the pole, North pole in this case. We’ve all seen the maps on the weather reports about the circle dipping down into regions it doesn’t usually affect. That’s what happened this last week.

I don’t want to make light of a weather event that resulted in loss of life. Those things that come unexpectedly like storms, tornadoes, tsunamis, forest fires, etc… and catch people off guard are always going to be a problem for the unprepared. But frankly, we hardly noticed the vortex here in Hayward.

It’s winter and everyone expects it to be cold. When it’s more dangerous than usual, a few things get cancelled and we stay inside a little more. The one outstanding consequence for us, particularly the husband, was that even the mail delivery was cancelled one day. Obviously, whoever made up that postal creed about “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can keep these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” did not live in northern Wisconsin. Nope.

The polar vortex was here for about three days. On one of them we had an appointment with a nurse at the court house. She was there as usual. We got in our vehicle, which is kept in a heated garage, and drove there and kept our appointment with no difficulty.  On the way out of the building I noticed that someone had ridden their bike there and parked it in the bike rack. Personally, I wouldn’t have done that in below zero temps, but that just shows you what people do up north when they have to.

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The weather station. 74 – 32 is 42, right? I don’t know why they make us do the math.

My biggest decision these days is whether I want to be too warm when I’m in the house or too cold on my frequent, but brief, trips outside.  Almost all days I wear two layers on my legs, wool socks and shoes with a good thick sole. I do layers on the top too, but count on shedding them inside. Sweatshirts, down shirts, fleece jackets are hanging in the closet, handy, and on the backs of chairs, on the beds – wherever I happen to be when I get too hot.  Sometimes when I get an irritating flash of heat, I look at our indoor/outdoor weather station and it will be 78 degrees or higher inside.  What a problem to have…

People like the husband, who are pretty much limited to walking as their form of exercise, have it rough in this weather.  We don’t have an exercise bike or treadmill that he’s comfortable with, so I have to take him somewhere to walk. We go to the local hospital where the hallways are wide, with handrails and frequent places to sit, eat or use the rest room. We can walk for nearly a mile if we visit all the connected clinics and facilities. They are getting accustomed to seeing us at the assisted living Bistro where we often stop and have lunch. They serve the best $3 soup and sandwich in Hayward.

One of our oft-used mottos up here is “if you don’t like the weather you’re having, wait a few minutes for it to change”. This weekend it’s supposed to be 41 degrees and raining. It will probably get icy and melt some of this nice, dry snow. I’m actually hoping they’re wrong and it will stay below freezing.

I know I looked forward to our first winter back in Hayward – the afternoons reading, the evenings sitting by the fire with my knitting, the quiet snowfalls, the dazzling white, bright and sunny days. I’m trying to think of those things instead of wondering when the lilacs will bloom, or when the garden can be started. It’s best to stay “in the moment”. Just sayin’…

Happy January 14th

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I have an orange envelope with pics of me and the husband, including these that are seen very seldom. Hmm… even then I was driving.

Anniversary Eve (January 13th)

Tomorrow afternoon, we will have been married 46 years.  This has been an eventful year, with retirement for the husband, an interstate move and our house going up for sale, and then a diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia that the husband was not expecting.

We may have many more anniversaries. But however many there are, we have this one to look forward to. We have an appointment with a lawyer in a nearby city, to discuss estate planning. As long as we are there, it will be nice to stay in a hotel and not to have to make the two-hour drive home.  As long as we are staying for the night, we are going to dinner at a nice steakhouse as a celebration. It is all planned and will be more of a “night away” than we have had for a long time.  It’s just hasn’t been something that we find ourselves doing.

It will be a celebration of another sort as well. Today we got the first real paper offer on our home in Florida.  It’s been over six months on the market and this is the first offer we have had, although there have been lookers. It is the kind of family we had been hoping for, and although we feel we must make a counteroffer, we are hoping to come to an agreement with them. In a little over a month we could possibly be closing the sale. I have been looking forward to this for so long! (at least it seems like a long time).  It would solve several other problems as well if this could come to closing. Prayers appreciated.

The husband has not been feeling well, but he is pretty certain he will feel better tomorrow. Don’t ask me how he knows.  It’s as much a spiritual/emotional matter as it is physical, although it involves physical discipline to keep to the diet that he wants to be on.  I am hoping the restaurant will have at least one good keto meal to choose from so he can enjoy the evening.  I chose a hotel that has no stairs to climb and a nice hot tub to soak in. That should also be a treat, if he has the energy for it.

Things do fall in place at some point. I am glad it is now, or at least seems to be now. I know we could yet be disappointed, but I’m taking care not to find out until after our anniversary. Congratulations to us. We are in it for the long haul.

 

 

 

 

My Uncomfortable Life (and how God uses it)

I love to play the piano.

I am not a virtuoso, but I have played enough over the years, that I can relax and enjoy expressing myself through music.  I’ve played hymns in churches most of my life, and always offer to do so when I move to someplace new.

And so it happened that I offered to play for the church that I am attending here, “up north”. and am collecting quite a collection of piano stories with a common theme. Embarrassment.  It’s got me thinking.  But, as always, what I let myself think is important. Humility and embarrassment are related, but not quite the same and that is where the importance starts.

This morning I arrived early enough for church that I could make sure the electronic instrument, a clavinova, was plugged in, turned on and sounded appropriate for the small early service. I only had to play for the communion portion of the service – one hymn.  All was set.  The service went well, the message was moving and the invitation was given for communion. To my surprise, when I started to play there was a pop drum beat and a very weird bass thing going on with my reverent, calm hymn.

I hunted for any button on the control board that had STOP written on it, and tried several times to make the hymn sound like a hymn, but no. What finally came out of the machine was barely recognizable and was probably more distracting than having no music at all.  Stuff like this is a musician’s nightmare.

This particular service is early, 8 am, and has small attendance, so the music crew does not do a lot of practice for it.  Other times when I’ve participated, I have played the wrong song at the right time, played the right song at the wrong time, and played when I was not supposed to play at all.  I suppose the regular attendees are getting kind of used to me and my uncomfortable adventures.

I am filled with mixed emotions. Why do these things keep happening? It always takes a bit of courage to put myself in a place of service to others where what I do is noticeable if I do it poorly. I am aware that music sets the mood and can influence people. I desperately (yes, desperately!) want to not distract people from their worship, or make them uncomfortable because they are worried about me.

On the other hand, I realize that music is not what it’s all about.  Worship is not about me at all and how I respond when things go poorly is what God is probably watching. What does my embarrassment lead to? What discouraging messages am I giving myself about my performance, my usefulness? Will I be intimidated and unwilling to serve again? Those would not be good choices. However, I have to consider that God might be telling me that my time playing for church is finished.  Maybe I am to move on to something else, and it would be okay.  It has to be okay. Kind of makes me look at my pride issues and wonder what God wants to teach me next.  That is always a good thing.

This morning, the pastor asked me what I was going to write about next.  I had no idea then, but God inspires in strange ways and look what happens. Just sayin’…

 

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Bottom line – I can always make music in my heart, and maybe that’s the best place for it…

A Different Kind of Whitewater

S N O W

So Now Over Winter (just kidding, I love it…)

We got more snow last night.

I was awake at 3:30 am listening to the plow over in the Walmart parking lot. There are fences and tree borders between our condo and Wally World so we don’t see it, but we do hear most everything. That’s how I knew there was more snow.

I didn’t actually get up until 5 and since it was still super dark, and I think it’s a little ridiculous to shovel snow in the super dark, I waited another hour to go out. It was simple dark then, and my brother was out with his Bobcat, clearing the parking area for his employees to arrive.

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In case you are wondering, this is simple dark, and my footprints.

It was a whole different kind of shoveling today. The shovel no longer slid easily over the cement. I had to kick it every few inches because there was an immovable layer in there somewhere. If you’ve ever had a pan with food burned on it, that’s what it was like. It was also quite slippery – made it hazardous to get in a good kick when the leg I was standing on was slipping out from under me.

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This is all I do – walkways and a few feet in front of garage doors. My brother takes over from here, with the machine.

Frequent rest periods were the answer. Every time I would stop and look around I was amazed all over again at how beautiful the world is when covered with snow. And to be out in it is an experience so different from looking at it.

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Look how pretty.
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Outlined in white…
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Lights and darks,
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Snow…

My snowman looked a little stressed this morning, just sayin’…

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I didn’t make him bending over like that. He did it himself.

 

December “Up North”

For a month now, we’ve been waiting for snow. We had such a good start in November but since then the temperatures have been between the high teens and a bit less than 40. The early snow has gradually melted in all but the shadiest, most protected places. In some ways this mild streak of temperatures is nice but it puts a damper on those who are waiting to ski, snowmobile or just see more of the pretty white stuff.

We were very hopeful about the winter storm that was forecast for last night. And sure enough, when I looked out in the dark this morning, I could tell by the streetlights that we had new snow. We also had a good chance of more precipitation in some form, but it was 37 degrees – that meant it would likely be rain not snow.

My brother is responsible for snow removal in the small development that he manages. I help him when I can. He runs a small machine with a plow, called a skid steer, and I shovel close to the houses where he can’t easily go with the machine. There are 12 dwellings. It’s a good upper body workout, yes it is.

But I like to shovel snow most of the time. This snow was wet and heavy. There really should be different names for all the different kinds of snow, and there are a few, I guess. This snow was white and pretty on top but slush underneath. Slush is heavy, being mostly water trapped in collapsing snow particles. When I pushed the shovel through 3 to 4 inches of this stuff it would curl up in a roll until it was too heavy for me to make it move. If I’d been out to play instead of work, it would have made super, sticky snowballs.

And the more I thought about it (play), I decided I was not an “all work” girl. Making a giant snowball is a pretty nifty way of clearing a path, so I did that a couple of times and ended up with a snowman. By this time it was raining instead of snowing. I had a hard time getting Frosty’s eyes and nose to stay on his face for a picture but I persisted. Mom is not “all work” either. She suggested one of her hats would look good on him, so that’s why he got photographed twice – the second time with a somewhat more glorified nose.

Mystery in the Meadow, conclusion

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The response to her brother’s note, left at the door of the fort, came two days later. It didn’t quite match any of the compelling situations she had imagined, but Shirley was okay with that.  It was a relief to know that there was no criminal in hiding, no homeless desperado, no Bigfoot out in her meadow. It was still a safe place to walk. And it turned out that the real situation was as interesting to her as the imaginary one.

It was a survival class being taught at the charter school whose property bordered the wetlands and meadow. The teacher called to remind Dennis that he had contacted him months ago about permission to use the property. He had been taking small groups of students there frequently to practice skills like finding shelter, finding food, and starting fire.  No one had noticed them out there.

The fort had been his idea. He had led the others out to the meadow to construct it. They had made fire probably four times for a simple meal, maybe six more times for keeping warm, preserving the fire bed for the next time. They were kids, but someone had to help them know that campfires were for more than roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Shelter and fire could mean their survival. It had been a fun class.

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It didn’t take her long to find him on Facebook and ask for a meeting. Sitting in the local coffee shop with their hot drinks, Shirley got whole story from the teacher himself.  He was clearly passionate about the outdoors, about survival in a myriad of environments, and about teaching basic skills to anyone who needed to learn them. He had stories…

Survival was a recurring theme in his life and was extremely important. He learned that at an early age growing up in Alaska.  He learned it in the military. He learned it traveling to foreign countries. There were countless experiences that reinforced that lesson.

He would present scenarios to his students. What if the plane they were on crashed in the middle of an uninhabited area and there were 50 survivors, or 100? What would be the best course of action to save lives, to survive? What would you do for the wounded? Where might you find food and shelter until help arrived? What resources might be right there in front of you but go unnoticed? He believed everyone should have a chance to think about those things. Those were the kinds of things they talked about out in the meadow, as they built the fort.

Not everyone responded warmly to the experiences he offered, at least not at first. There were the silent ones, the thinkers, the watchers. Some had been fearful and guarded all their lives. But as young people they were flexible, they learned what he was teaching and it gave them confidence, allowed them to trust and work cooperatively. It was life changing for them and rewarding for him.

“So what comes next?” she asked him as they finished their lattes and prepared to leave the shop.

“Maybe, if the fort is still there for the next class, we’ll figure out how to keep it warm. I want to see if the kids can figure out something solar, although you would be surprised how warm it gets with a dozen kids in there…”

Thanks to John (or Scott or whoever you really are) and  Angela for the latte and a great conversation. Hope to hear more of your adventures in the future.

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The meadow and surrounding wetlands.

 

Mystery in the Meadow, cont.

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Sunrise “up north” when we’re lucky…

Shirley gave up trying to sleep, swung her legs over the side of the bed and cautiously made her way out of the room, in the dark. It was kind of early to be getting up, but that was happening a lot lately, and not just to her.

She found her glasses in the bathroom, wandered out to the kitchen and punched the button on the coffeemaker until the red light popped on and the noises started. She checked the digital thermometer, the third step in her routine, then opened the blinds on the kitchen window. Thirty-five degrees, and everything outside had that dark, wet look. Something was falling out of the sky. She could see it reflecting light from the string of Christmas lights she’d arranged on the patio, but it was hard to tell if it was rain or snow. Probably rain, but the temperature was dropping. They wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise today.

She and her husband had recently moved “up north” to the family farm in Wisconsin. Her mom was not liking being alone since dad had died. Her brother Dennis and his wife lived close but they were in a different stage of life, with younger children and an expanding business to deal with. It made sense for them to pack up and go help. It made more sense in the summer than in the winter, but oh well…

She and her mom, more often than not, found each other about this time in the morning and had the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun come up. Mom, especially, had a fascination with the sky and clouds and would raise the blinds on the east windows, wanting to see what would happen out there that day. They would talk, solve world problems as they jokingly called it. Shirley also had the sky watching disease and usually jumped up three or four times to step outside and snap pictures.

That’s why the photo gallery on her phone was predominately orange, red, pink, purple, with sunrises and sunsets. They were all amazing pictures, but how could they not be? It wasn’t her talent that made them amazing. She was not yet a photographer. She was also not yet an author. She was not yet a grandmother. “Not yet” was kind of like her title of nobility. She was not yet a lot of things, but most importantly she was not yet dead. She was going to make the most of that one.

A while later, breakfast out of the way, she was over at her brother’s place of business. Her brother was an entrepreneur and owned a small awards and recognition company, doing most of their business online out of a neat, up to date building only a short walk away from her mom’s condo.  The prospect of getting some employment there was part of the reason she had made the move north from Florida to live with mom.

She was in the learning phase of making plaques for a sports team. Being “not yet” a proficient worker and having just made some wrong cuts, necessitating a complete do over on a print job, she was glad to stop when her sister in law came in the shop.

“Are there some packages here for us? Dennis said they were here but I don’t see them in his office.” M.P. said as she took off her gloves and outer layer of winter armor. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started flipping through photos.

“Claire flew back from Duluth last night, in a small plane. A friend of hers rented the plane for a week and he needed to get in some hours for his next level. She took some great pics from the air of the Christmas lights in Bentleyville. Oh, and did you see what Dennis found back in the meadow yesterday?” She stopped her searching and held out her phone.

On it was a picture of the meadow behind the barn and the large brush pile that had been growing there for over a year. There was a rather large, rounded out hole showing in the pile.

“You wouldn’t believe,” she went on “someone made some kind of fort there. It looks like they’ve been making a fire outside too. Dennis can’t figure it out. No one has seen anyone out there. He was thinking of burning the pile, and what if someone had been hiding in there?”

Shirley Not Yet looked at the photo. “I was just out there a day ago. I didn’t see anything like that.”

“That’s what Dennis said too. It’s really hard to see if you stay on the path. The entrance is on the other side.”

“Did it look like anyone was staying there?”

“No, nothing was in it except a cup. But there had been a campfire outside, so someone had to have been there for a while.”

Shirley had made a few forts as a kid, but not usually in winter and she certainly never thought of starting fires and hanging out. It sounded like more of an adult thing. The thought of an unknown adult spending time in the meadow where she frequently walked was… unsettling, maybe.  Likely not dangerous though. She decided to go out and have a look.

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Incognito, that was the focus. If you blend in, don’t get noticed, make use of what’s around you, but be careful, you’ll be safer. It had only taken about three hours to build the shelter. After pulling out a bunch of debris from the pile, he had found the pallets and even a sheet of old plywood. He’d made four “lean tos” and put them together with the plywood over the top. Water would run off and it would stay dry inside. Piling the brush around the outside hid everything. It was perfect. Done close to dusk, no one had noticed. The fire was kept small and smokeless.

All of his life he’d had opportunities to practice survival. It was kind of a passion with him. Well, who wouldn’t want to survive?