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.

Not Tired of Winter (yet)

Not really tired, no. It’s still fascinating that snow comes in so many forms. Last week it came with wind, and was in fine, round particles that stung when they hit my face. A couple of days later it fell straight down out of the sky, so slowly you could watch a single snowflake on its way.

The snow on the ground this morning is definitely flaky, intricate, lightly and loosely stacked, and reflecting the bright sunlight. Beautiful.

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This beauty and variety is stunning, and straight from the creative genius of God. He allows me to observe it scientifically with my mind, that he also created. He allows me to enjoy it with senses that he created.  That is a large part of why I am not yet tired of winter.  I’m actually thankful for it.

Things to wonder at are everywhere outside.

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I could not begin to pile snow 3 feet high on a table and have it be done so neatly. Notice the line showing two snowfalls.
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It’s just a bush, with an artistic hole in the center. But how curious?

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Evening Walk

Today I spent a lot of time sitting in the car, sitting in waiting rooms, sitting… and trying not to fall asleep. When there were a few free minutes at home before dinner, I had to get out and stretch with a walk.

This world is such a beautiful place, and if you don’t have places that bring that fact home to you, you need to find some NOW.

You can come to my place. This is how it looks at sunset on a fairly warm (34 degrees F.) winter afternoon. Enjoy.

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The Lodge

Nothing refreshes me, body, soul and spirit, like being outside in the woods and marshes. I had a good dose of nature today.

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I have a fascination with the beavers here on our wetlands. (I feel like I’ve said this before, at least once.) Today I was dressed well enough and had no time constraints so I went off the track into the woods to make my way to the beaver lodge – not that beavers live in the woods, but the wetlands are complicated. The water flows into ponds that have fingers of marsh that spread out into all the low places in the woods. I could see the beaver lodge from the path but to go directly to it would mean crossing a bit of ice with occasional open spots. I like to stick to the wooded areas around the edges.

 

The path, and I was surprised to see that it was an obvious trail, led through the most awesomely beautiful snowy wonderland. There were a lot of animal tracks, but a person with their dog had left prints as well. It’s kind of special when I get to go someplace that I know not many people have gone. I could hardly stop taking pictures.

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Ice, followed by snow, piled high on every little twig and branch.

 

We’ve had some storms in the last few year which have taken down a lot of trees. In addition to that the high water levels have killed trees, and the beaver have chewed a few down too. The woods look like they’ve a rough time of it, but even that has a beauty, in that life and death are there, entangled with each other. The starkness of winter leaves it all visible.

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Life and death, in close proximity.

 

I found the lodge. I walked out on the ice. I even found a place that looked like it might be an entrance into the watery world below the ice – a dark hole, under a log at the edge of the marsh with open water and lots of animal tracks. Could it be where the beaver come and go? I was looking for tracks that might look like a beaver tail was dragging behind, but I couldn’t say for sure that I saw any.

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The lodge – easily as tall as I am.
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and the nearby hole into open water, that has obviously been well investigated by animals.

 

The lodge is quite a large structure, a mound that can be seen from quite a distance away. On the way there I crawled into the fort built by the survivalists in the burn pile. There was snow in the entrance but further in it was dry and cozy looking. I imagine it could look a little like that in the beaver lodge.  I hope they are in there, safe and warm.

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Beaver tracks? I don’t know… probably not.

Winter is awfully long here. I don’t know what beavers do in the winter, but it’s probably eating and sleeping for the most part. I hope they don’t get bored…

 

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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.

——————————————————

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.

 

Hello Winter

Although it might sound like I’m complaining, I’m calling it explaining. Northern Wisconsin is a special place, with special conditions that are a bit extreme at times. I’m happy to be here and I’ll deal with it…

I know it’s winter everywhere in this hemisphere, but it’s like REALLY winter here. It’s only 16 days away from the shortest day of the year. They seem shorter than I remember.

I think my sister-in-law has detected some seasonal affective disorder craziness going on and has offered me a light box. I need to read up on SAD. There is definitely a shortage of light here, “up north”. It’s been overcast for the last week or more, and it’s almost like the sun never comes up. It looks like dusk even in the middle of the day.  By 4:30 street lights are coming on and by 5 it’s pitch dark. This makes for a pretty long night.

I miss the colors of fall, spring and summer. It’s not that snow isn’t pretty because it can be stunning.

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Stunning, right?

But many days are so gray, in all directions, that it’s hard to believe there are that many gray things in the world. Here at Par Place, we are not in the woods so there is a lot of sky visible. On cloudy days half the field of view, from the horizon up, is varying shades of dirty white, soft gray, to angry gray.  The other half almost mirrors the same shades, with the snow and a few dark green pines thrown in once in a while. Some days a light sprinkle of snow falls constantly. Several days this week there was wind, steady wind, coming off an iceberg somewhere north of here.

One of the windy nights, we were awakened by a noise, repeating itself at random intervals. I tried to figure out what was rapping on the outside wall of our bedroom, until I remembered a clothesline I had coiled up and hung on a nail. It was worth waking up to see the night sky, with the clouds and the moon, and the wind.

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the night sky

So, I’ll borrow the light box.  I’ll walk on the treadmill if I can’t get myself outside. I’ll try not to stay up too late at night, reading (which I’m prone to do). I will keep busy with all the things I’ve heard people do here, in the winter, in the house, in the dark.  I’ll wait for December 22, when the days start getting longer.

River Fascination

I am becoming more and more fascinated by a river that has been almost in my backyard without my paying much attention to it. The Mississippi. Most people don’t think of the state of Wisconsin when they consider the “mighty Mississipp” but they should. A good deal of the state’s western border is marked by the Mississippi and the geography it creates is often breathtaking.

Those of us in northern Wisconsin have always had to cross it on our way to the closest major airport in Minneapolis. I grew bit more familiar with it when I was in nursing school years ago, going back and forth from home took me through river cities like Red Wing and Stillwater where beautiful bridges afford views from the car windows. Most recently I’ve enjoyed the land around the river at La Crosse. It’s here that three rivers come together, the Black River, the La Crosse River and the Mississippi. Throw in some 500 foot bluffs, a wide alluvial plain and what early French traders called coulees and you have some pretty interesting terrain.

A few steps up the hill and I am above the roof line of my brother’s house.

My brother lives in Onalaska, which is close to La Crosse. His house is on the assent to one of the bluffs that looks out over the river valley. He and his neighbors all have wicked steep driveways and some of their houses hang on the sides of the hills in a precarious way, but the oak forests and the views are worth it to them.

We stayed at my brother’s house on our last trip and I decided to take a hike up the bluff in the late afternoon. There were still lots of leaves on the trees, but the view through them was good enough to be impressive. This kind of natural beauty is so refreshing to me that I have to share it. Hope you love it too.

First, you have to look at the forest floor. The trail was a bit steep in places and I had to watch my feet, but the leaves were so gorgeous I didn’t mind.

Somehow, trees are born knowing how to make these perfectly lovely shapes over and over every season. Thank you God, for trees.

I tried to get some good shots of the river down below, across the plain, but the trees made it difficult to focus in the distance. It’s a forest up there and it was getting dark.

Yeah, I know, what a mess. 

The sky was full of dark purple clouds that cast deep shadows over the landscape.

Trying to show the incline, lots of downed trees and rock outcroppings on the way.

 

And lots of mossy, green places. I know I said this was fascination with a river, and then had almost no pictures of it at all. But it’s the geography that the river produces that really catches my attention. The bluff was remarkable, even though I didn’t quite reach the top. I decided to turn back to honor the sign that said it was private property and to keep off.

Thanks for walking Wisconsin with me!

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Up North: The First Snow

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The hydrangeas never give up, and they look real good with a dusting of snow.

Today it snowed. It wasn’t dramatic. The temperature has been inching down toward the freezing mark over the last week or two. We have had a lot of rain, which usually will spoil the fall color and make the leaves turn uniformly brown and dull. But this year the colors have held out brilliantly. Today, every time we looked out the window the weather was changed from our last observation. The sun would come out briefly and be followed within minutes by a snow squall.

Since I will so soon be taking pictures of snow, I need to finish letting you all know how beautiful autumn has been. I am so blessed by God the artist, that I don’t have to take a vacation and travel to see the woods in glorious color. It’s right here in my backyard. Last Sunday, after lunch with the family, we didn’t want to go straight home. Mom, the husband and I drove out in the country, to the lake, just to see what the trees were doing. Later, I got to explore a park I had never been to with my brother and his wife. It was a wonderful day – that’s what “full of wonder” means. My  phone is so full of pictures – no way could I show them all – but here are some.

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Seriously, the air itself takes on a glow when there is this much gold and yellow overhead.
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But it’s the abundance of reds that stand out this year.
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A path to remember – my hiking companions Den, MaryPat and Scruffy.
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I love the color contrast with the remaining green. We came upon this pond in the forest – magical.
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At the lake, a bald eagle did a circle of the shore while we watched.

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Spatter technique – there was a lot of it this year.
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The color is close and touchable. It is easy to feel submersed in it.

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The goodness is everywhere to be seen, even down on the path.

There are so many more – it was hard to choose. I wish you all could see it. Part of the reason it is so beautiful is that it’s also so short lived, fleeting. As I said, today it snowed…

FMF: A Marvelous Thing

This is my Five Minute Friday submission. I’m sorry, I don’t write very fast. I rather like to think about what I’m writing and that takes time. The prompt was SHARE.

When I was a child, to share meant letting others eat some of your cookies, or use your toys. You didn’t have to give them away, but you did have to peacefully watch while someone else enjoyed them. I guess that’s still what it means to me but it has become more of a “show and tell” experience for me. It is now about sharing moments of joy, or sorrow. It is about sharing experiences, doing things with others. It is about sharing moments of importance, in the hope that someone else will enjoy them along with me.

For instance, I came across a red maple tree today. It has been vividly green all summer. Now it is suddenly and perfectly red. This is a marvelous thing. The science is behind it all, I know. But even without the science, it is just a marvelous thing to look at and enjoy. I share it with you.

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Birkie Trail, Next 6 miles

This is the second weekend that we have put on our hiking shoes and taken to the trail. After a week’s work, we really enjoy a good long walk in the woods. We skipped a shorter section in favor of a longer hike than last week. We will go back and pick it up someday when we have less time.

The trees were still more green than colored. There were only a few brilliant ones, but that didn’t keep it from feeling like autumn.

I was a little obsessed with the fungi, but you’ll see why. Strange stuff.

Enough talk. I just want you to see what I saw.

Makwa Trail, here we come.
First spot of color.
The trail skirts this lake except for here, where it gets a little crazy. This is a single track bike trail.

Moss abounds. Lovely, right?
Time for some fungi.
More fungi.
And more…

And this one!

This little guy, about head high on the trunk of a tree, amazing!
Can you spot the camouflaged picnic table?
One more.
No, one more.
Some trail worker forgot their saw.
I spent a lot of time looking at the path because it was always so lovely.
About mile 6 we left the single track trail and did a mile on the larger ski trail. We (the girls) were getting tired and the ski trail was straighter and smoother.