Another Autumn Walk

I have to say that there are some stunningly beautiful , peaceful, quiet, memorable moments available to us, even in hard times. We must chase them down and live in them whenever possible.

This was actually an accidental take but I find it gets me into the walk quite nicely. Come along…
The place, Duluth MN, the Western Waterfront Trail (or Waabizheshikana if you have trouble pronouncing Western Waterfront) along the St. Louis River. At Indian Point Campground the Parks and Recreation Department is hosting a Glow Hike. The half mile trail is marked with glow sticks. It is dusk and light is fading.
The trail is not crowded, but there is a steady stream of couples, families with children in wagons and strollers, singles like me. People are talking quietly above the sound of feet on the gravel and leaf covered path. There is an almost reverent feel to it all.
It is the perfect time to catch the last light as it turns from warm orange to cool blue. Flocks of ducks fly low and glide into the sheltered marshes along the river. The sense of peace and grace is almost overwhelming.
Even the children, decked in their glowing accessories, find a place to sit and watch.
And we all take pictures because we think we will never again see something so beautiful. We don’t want to forget.
At the campground there are fires to roast marshmallows, cookies and treats for all, quiet conversation, smiles, extra glow sticks.
On the darker side of the peninsula, the lights of Duluth in the distance are almost like glow sticks
The wood around us is darkening, but the silhouettes of leafless branches still catch my eye. The trees are like living beings, exposed against the wide sky for the last few minutes of twilight.
But one last gift comes – a crescent moon among the tops of the pines. Could the world be more wild and beautiful in this place? I have to say that I don’t think it could.

Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 2

Most of the leaves are on the ground now and walking in them is fun and “autumn-ish”.

Tomorrow Gwen and I will finish the last section of the Birkie Trail, and it’s good timing because we are starting to get snow flurries and temps in the teens. Hiking this northern section of the trail has been quite different because we have used the actual Birkie trail rather than the single track bike trails. Another difference is that it’s about the busiest place “out in the woods” that I’ve ever seen. We are always crossing ATV trails, bike trails, logging trails and fire lanes and more than once we have been confused. Often we are telling ourselves to just enjoy the walk in the woods and see where we end up, because we have no clue where we are. Backing up, here are the finished sections.

September 12, 2021 Hatchery TH to Hwy 77 Bridge

I explored this short section myself one afternoon because I’ve been curious about the bridge ever since it went up. For years the Birkie ski race used to cross Hwy 77 near this spot and the road actually had to be covered with snow and closed while thousands of skiers crossed it. There was even talk of tunneling under the road, but the eventual decision was to put a bridge over it, making it much more convenient and safe. I’ve gone under this bridge countless times, and now I’ve also gone over it.

September 17, 2021. OO TH to Firetower TH. 5.53 miles, 12,410 steps

We had some logistical help when we hiked the section of OO to the Fire Tower trailhead. My brother dropped us off at the Fire Tower warming cabin and picked us up a couple hours later at the Johnson Center on OO. He rode mountain bike trails in the area while we hiked. In fact, there were quite a few bikers riding the trails that day. I guess some of them got hot and sweaty and had to change clothes, at least that’s the story we told ourselves as we passed the warming cabin at Boedecker Road where a guy was standing naked by his car. The things you see in the woods… I did not take a picture. It was a beautiful fall day in all respects!

September 30, 2021 Firetower TH to Timber Trail TH 6.9 miles, 15,484 steps

A couple weeks later we did the next section ourselves, doing a loop from the Fire Tower TH to Timber Trail warming cabin on the classic trail and back on the skate trail. It was another beautiful afternoon, but we had a later start. We didn’t make it back to the car until 6 pm and the sun was nearly down. Our days are getting noticeably shorter. This one got us a little tired. We did extra steps looking for trail signs and my real step count for that day was 19,172.

This map does not include logging roads and single track bike trails. We were often surprised to find out where we were. Thankful for the red arrows.

October 26, 2021. American Birkebeiner TH to North End TH. No idea

I could hardly believe we had taken almost a month off. It didn’t seem like that long a time because both Gwen and I started going to Ski and Tea. It’s a ladies ski group coached by some amazing, experienced cross country skiers. We’ve been getting together nearly every week for training on the Birkie. Since there’s no snow, we practice various ski techniques while hiking – it works. On the afternoon of the 26th we drove to the far end of the trail, the Birkebeiner TH in Cable and walked in some kind of a weird circle until we got back to the car a couple of hours later. Too many intersections, too many maps, too many trails. I think we set foot on enough of the Birkie to say we did a good section. My total step count for the day was 15,464, about 7 miles. Have I mentioned that there are lots of hills? There are LOTS OF HILLS.

No, not confusing at all…

And as I wrote, tomorrow we will hike our last section, Lord willing. I hope to post about our triumphant finish. Excited! Check in to see if we made it (and find out about our planned reward).

Fall Fun

I’ve just spent a considerable amount of time changing the header that you see on my blog from leafless, bare trees to beautiful fall colored leaves. I’m keeping this one up until the first snow because I want to remind myself of all the FUN I’ve had walking in the woods, taking drives, and photographing our beautiful autumn 2021.

Although I don’t have to go out any further than our parking lot to see some color, I do go out, taking Mom on drives in the car and hiking and biking on the trails. Things change daily. We’ve gone from mostly green with a few brilliant splashes to mostly bare with a few brilliant splashes. Even though the leaves are getting mostly on the ground now, they are just as beautiful. It’s like finding little gems all over the paths and lawns.

We’ve had an unseasonably long period of warm weather this October. Instead of being shocked by early snows, I’m still picking raspberries and working in the garden (in shorts and T-shirts). I know that will change and I can’t help it, I’m sad. Summer is too short, autumn is beautiful and winter is… long. Really long.

So here is a sampling of what I see and enjoy on a daily basis. It’s only a small percentage of the number of pictures I have on my phone and in the cloud. Finding things to photograph is definitely one of my “fall funs”.

Town of Hayward Recreational Forest
Out on the Birkie trail
A walk along the river
Driving the fire lanes with Mom
Even in the parking lot

The Beauty of the Earth

“For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies, for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

Looking Up

It was a day with clouds but enough blue sky to inspire a walk in Town of Hayward Recreational Forest.
The path I walk is wide in many places and the sky is visible as a backdrop for the trees. How seldom I remember to look up to see how awesome the TOP of the forest is.
We are seeing the fall colors coming on quickly. The maples are turning red.
And yellow. And orange.
The pines are straight and tall, so tall it’s hard to picture their height.
Even the dead, decaying ones make me look at them, and admire how useful they are as habitat for animals and insects.

Looking Out

The pond is wild, murky, reflective, full… and the shores are beginning to be decorated.
Fall has its barren places and looks. The dark water fascinates me when it turns into blue sky and white clouds.
Smaller paths through the woods get my attention
Even though at times they almost disappear. Finding a small clearing with a splash of sunshine is worth getting “lost”. (I wasn’t lost, really.)
There is a bench where I sit and look at this tree and wonder why it is so different from others, so prominent, simple… a minimalist tree?

Looking Down

It’s easiest to look down, and I tell myself that it’s safest too. There’s a lot down underfoot.
Some oak dropped this gift in the middle of the path. I think it was for me.
And this little maple is finishing its first summer with four red leaves which don’t have far to fall to the ground.
I always wonder why God made fungus so cute and fanciful.
See what I mean?
See?
Designed, orderly, yet unique and randomly beautiful.

Thank you for taking this autumn walk with me.

Mullein Hill

Often, I go over just to walk around it and marvel. It was a sand pile. We live in a wide river valley where the soil is more sand than anything else. My brother had the sand put there during a construction project just to get it out of the way, and for a long time it was just sand. Nothing much grew on it.

Then this started happening. A plant that I’ve seen and admired on my walks seemed to love this sand hill. It’s so different from other plants that I had to look it up. It’s mullein.

The young rosettes are a soft grey-green, and the leaves are fuzzy, kind of like velvet or fleece. They are biennial, which is to say that it takes two years for them to flower and produce seeds. But when they do produce seeds, they spread prolifically. The seeds can be viable in soil for up to ten years. Some people call them weeds because of that but other people plant them in their gardens.

The flower stalk, which you can see in my later pictures, is really pretty. In addition to that, the plant has been used for ages to soothe coughs, sore throats, and deep lung congestion. Early settlers would make tea from the leaves, and found it helpful for treating TB. Mullein originated in Europe and came here early in our country’s history but by the 1800’s, it had spread everywhere from one coast to the other.

I like this plant. It has taken over the sand pile, which is why I’ve named it Mullein hill. There are a lot of other wild plants and flowers filling in the spaces on the hill which make it even more interesting. It looks a bit magical and I wanted to share it with you all. Mullein Hill.

Mullein Hill one year ago with a few flower spikes
Mullein Hill now
The flower/seed stalks should be removed if you don’t want this plant to spread and get out of control.
Someday I want to write a story about Mullein Hill because it stirs my imagination. How about you?

August in the Garden

I was away from my garden for two weeks in July. The days were long and warm. There were a couple of good rains. Things grew and although I know that sort of thing happens I am always surprised at how quickly it happens. I came back to find out that the family left in charge had been “forced” to pick the green beans. They had started pulling beets and onions. There were a few raspberries. And, of course, they had pulled weeds.

A garden is an endless source of things to do and that is one of it’s most valuable characteristics. When I need to get away from frustrations, worries, work I don’t enjoy, I just go to the garden where I lose track of time. Total absorption. It’s kind of like managing a small kingdom. I spend money and time. I plan and lay out my plots and paths. I defend my ground from rabbits, gophers and deer. I look back and quit doing things that didn’t work. I look ahead and plant things that won’t produce for a couple years. And if the work gets too “over the top”, I can decide to pull up some plants and be done with them. I am queen. I am boss. (As a side note, plants do know when you have good feelings for them. They do. )

And a garden is beautiful, even with some weeds. Here is a bit of my August garden for those of you who love growing things. I will also mention that the food I get from my kingdom is delicious. I try not to waste any of it.

It’s June

It’s June, only 20 days away from the longest day of the year. The sun was still quite a way above the horizon at 7:30 pm when I took the picture above. In spite of this, last week we had a couple nights below freezing. The night it got down to 28 degrees, my new potato plants froze. They had just gotten above ground and were looking so healthy and strong. Everything else in the garden got covered with tarps and sheets and survived. It is light now at 5:15 am so maybe everything will grow fast and produce before the short summer is over.

I took several walks this week. It is scary how fast the trees went from bare to fully leafed out. It’s like they know they have to hurry. The wooded trails are SO BEAUTIFUL! My walks go slow because I am always stopping to take pictures, or identify bird calls. It all looks lovely to me and is like medicine for my soul.

Even things that are nearly spent can be lovely (and that should be comforting to those of us who are nearly spent…)
Birch trees are so unique. White trunks just aren’t the norm.
The streams and marshes are full of water, flowers, reflections.
Who could refuse a path like this?
Looking a fern in the eye is kind of amazing.
Black water reflections captivate my camera (and me).
Canadian mayflowers are even a little late here. A natural garden in the pine forest.
Such a contrast from my winter trail. And to think that all this was just waiting in the cold ground and appears in its season without any help from us.

Yesterday’s walk was past a beaver pond and a large marsh. I pushed through the bushes to get a view of the water and watched a family of ducks swimming. The cattails started rustling and moving and out of them came the largest raccoon I have ever seen. It had a grizzled white head and was prowling through the marsh, probably looking for nests with eggs. Later I saw a pretty box turtle digging a hole in the dirt for her eggs

It was a good walk. I am still counting steps – 13,000 yesterday and 10,000 today. The last two weeks I have been working on getting the garden going instead of walking, but even then it was easy to get 5,000 to 7,000 steps tilling, carrying mulch and fixing fence.

Suddenly, it is summer in this crazy, wild, northern place.

It’s a good thing it doesn’t have to be a very big hole.

Hope for Things Thought Dead

What is the story here? I can see it plainly, but I never know how plain it is to others – we are all products of our past thoughts and experiences and it can make such a difference in our outlooks.

Last fall I put these amaryllis bulbs in the garage for their winter dormancy period. Their long leaves flopped over, turned yellow and dried up. They got no water, very little light, and no attention. One of them started pushing up a new leaf during the winter but there was no chance of it surviving and I worried about the untimely appearance. They were all dead looking, didn’t seem very stable or rooted in their pots, and were soft like they might be rotting. Nothing hopeful about them.

And then they came to life, like so many things do in the spring. Tips of the new leaves were barely visible in the dead layers of brown wrappings. I didn’t know if the early started would start again a second time, but it did. It was much later than the others and seems a bit tattered but it’s alive.

For me, it’s all about the hope that is built into creation that dead things come to life. It’s one of those plainly seen reminders of the intentions of our Creator. Seeing how life is embedded into the DNA of plants and trees and animals of all kinds, I can’t imagine that it isn’t also built into us. I do believe there is a creator God and that he’s telling me on a regular yearly schedule, that he is all about restoring, making new, and starting over, no matter how unlikely it might look to me. I love the sound of that and the spirit behind it.

Funny thing, once I started believing that God was sending me personal messages through things I could see and touch, things he created for my environment, he became real and personal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science. Science is a process by which we study our world. But science is not a creator. Science is still looking for a creator.

I’m enjoying this season. I’m watching for green grass to come up through the dead, matted fields. I’m watching for the geese to come to the marsh to make nests. I’m looking at the lilac twigs to see how far along the buds are. I’m watching the sunrise shift rapidly from south to north on the horizon. There is nothing dead that doesn’t have some hope attached to it and it all feels very personal, now that I’ve decided it is.

February Goodness: Permission

YesterdayI stepped outside into several inches of new snow. It fell most of the day as well. I also saw that the next seven days were going to be our coldest streak of the winter – staying below zero degrees most of the time. It was as if February was giving me permission to “chill”. So I did.

January and February are our most serious winter months and often have the most severe weather. When I was a child it was with great anticipation that I listened in the dark, pre-dawn hours for the radio announcer to give the school cancellations. Back then -30 degrees was the bench mark for us to stay home, the buses would not be running that day. Or, at least, they wouldn’t be running until it warmed up a little.

I have that same feeling now when I see a blizzard, or a arctic freeze coming. It’s permission to curl up under a blanket, start the fireplace, read more books. Yesterday’s good things were:

A puzzle that got started.

At my house puzzles get covered with plastic. I have a cat.

Knitting projects brought out

At my house knitting has to be kept out of harm’s way. I have a cat.

I made soup. We ate it before I could take a picture. Sorry. It was Lentil Soup.

It was the kind of day that brings relief to the parts of you that have been getting tired (unless you’re the one responsible for shoveling the snow…). It’s okay to get sleepy and take a nap. It’s okay to sit by a window and watch snow fall. Spend a few extra minutes with a cat on your lap. Yesterday February gave permission for those good things.

Blizzard Blessings

Living in northern Wisconsin, I am used to winter starting early and ending late. We had a good snow earlier, but then it gradually melted. We’ve had bare ground for several weeks now.

Today Mom and I spent the whole day at the house we are helping to pack up for our friends. We’ve nearly got the upstairs conquered. Tonight, and by that I mean 5 pm, I went out in the darkness to put a couple things in the truck and was surprised and a bit alarmed at the weather. It had been raining, just above the freezing point, all day. The water had been dripping off the roof onto a pile of metal bound for the recycling station, making a loud sound like a running faucet. But now, it was snowing and the wind had picked up. There were two inches of white stuff on the ground already and clouds of it were being hurled around, blizzard style.

My truck door opened with a crack, breaking a film of ice. I hurried back in to help Mom out and once in the truck we wondered if the wipers would be able to clear the windshield. I have a scraper somewhere in the back seat but it was buried beneath the boxes of things we were taking home to sort out. We were able to see out the front after a few swipes of the wipers, and I lowered both front windows to clear them enough to see the lights of other cars on the street.

We live only about a mile from where we were working and I was glad of that. The road was snow covered and no longer had edges and lane markings. The few cars that were out were going slowly and following each other’s tracks. A deep enough layer of snow removes all boundaries and landmarks, making everything look strangely unfamiliar.

But it is exciting. Whereas we were having a relatively boring, predictable weather pattern, now, SOMETHING WAS DEFINITELY HAPPENING!!

The wind blew most of it off. The rest of it will melt and go down the drain.

We made it home without mishap. I was glad to push the button and see my garage door go up. What a blessing to have a warm, dry place to drive into. Tomorrow the blessings will continue because we will have a good excuse to stay at home and sort through the boxes and bags of our friend’s belongings. Staying at home will be restful, even though there is plenty to do. I need the change. For us, at least this time, the blizzard is our friend.

I got about 7,000 of my steps today going up and down the stairs where I was working. It was easy to get the last 3,000 on the treadmill. And now I am ready to turn out the lights and be snug in bed, listening to the howling fury outside.