February Goodness: More Snow

February had this one last day to show up with something good and it decided that snow would be its choice. I walked over to Mom’s to say good morning and the walkways were bare and dry. I came home an hour later wading through several inches of very loosely packed, huge snowflakes. It was clear that shoveling and plowing would have to take place again. February is known for being indecisive about its weather.

There are many features in this field, none of which can be seen. White, white, white.

It was worse by the time we traveled to the church. The highways weren’t completely plowed. The confusing thing about new snow is the way it seems to erase important things like where the roads and ditches are. Everything is just white and more white and even the air is full of flying white. The husband’s remark, “maybe we should have stayed home today?”

But I was kind of glad that I would have at least another day of skiing, possibly a whole week. We ended up with about 8 inches which was just enough to fill in all the ski trails I had made the last time I went out. It was a different kind of snow too – so very wet that I could not get the skis to slide at all. The walk was much like traveling in very large snowshoes. I only went for a mile but the scenery was amazing and the experience of being out while the snow was coming down was worth it.

My feet are kind of like snowshoes, right?

I knew this month would most likely be a difficult month, unless I purposely looked for the goodness of God in it. Winter seems too long in February, especially a pandemic winter. A good friend’s death seemed imminent and, indeed, has come to pass. I seem stuck in some patterns I want to move out of. There are things I want to do that seem out of reach. February is a month of waiting for change. I know that if I wait long enough, change is certain, and for that I am glad. Change is part of God’s goodness.

March 1st, tomorrow, in the year 2021 has never happened before. It is brand new, like our snow today. There are good changes to plan for, dream about, pray about, and bring about. Looking forward to it, just sayin’…

February Goodness: Volunteering

I can hardly believe February is nearly over! So many good things to report, and many I missed writing about because I was busy living them…

What an amazing event! And I have gotten to volunteer to help with it, in a very small way, for the third consecutive year. The American Birkiebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in North America and the third largest in the world, and it was created by a visionary man who lived right here in Hayward, my home town.

Part of my amazement is the way the race has adapted to pandemic times and become even more available to sports enthusiasts all over the world. The Birkie went virtual. There were still over 8,000 skiers participating this 47th year of the race but half of them were not here in person. Yesterday I got to watch some of them as they passed the Fire Tower Aid Station. Unlike other years, they had to bring their own water containers and food, but we dispensed water and electrolyte drink and watched out for those who might need medical attention.

Our cozy aid station with drink systems in place. Challenge was to keep the hoses from freezing.
Volunteer and Birkie employee, keeping the fire going.

It was a perfect skiing day with temperatures getting into the 30’s and barely any wind. Many skiers remarked about the snow being just right. What they complained about were all the hills. There are few places that have the kind of hilly, glacial terrain found in the 43 K forested trail of the Birkie, so skiers have a challenge to prepare for it. I talked to one man who thought he had prepared but was seriously considering cutting his distance in half after reaching our aid station.

Most skiers would expect to be skiing down hills like this, but not in the Birkie, no, no, no. Every “down” is partnered with an “up”.

What did I and the others on our team do? We set up the aid station with water hoses, touch-less dispensing systems for water and drink, got the fires burning for those needing to warm up (but seriously, there were people with shorts and T-shirts in this race and they still thought they were hot) and served as the cheering audience. No spectators were allowed this year. I mixed up several batches of Noom in the 10 gallon coolers, answered questions (like “how much farther do I have to go?”) and held ski poles while people filled their drink bottles.

It was a great day to be outside. We started at 7:30 am and were done by 2 pm when most of yesterday’s skate skiers had passed our station. As I watched some of the last stragglers wearily climbing Fire Tower Hill, I remembered my Grand Canyon experience, and was glad I was going home in my truck and not skiing another 12 K out in the forest wilderness of north Wisconsin.

These were the elite, early wave skiers. The later ones did not power up this hill with the same energy.

I will probably never ski the whole Birkie Trail – it’s not on my list – but I would like to hike the whole thing. Maybe this summer will be the right time to do it. Tell me if you want to come along. It will be epic, in one way or another, I promise.

February Goodness: Getting Outside!

After over two weeks of -20 degrees F. and even lower!!

Well, you know I live in northwestern Wisconsin where it’s cold and snowy. Many people wonder how we endure this long, frigid and dark season and the answer is, we get used to it. After the first month or so, we can go outside and have fun even when the temp is below zero. Actually, it’s not uncommon to see someone in shorts and flip flops, all it takes is a warm streak of 20 to 30 degrees F. And yes, it’s usually in Walmart that you see these people, but they are not the weirdest ones there by any means.

This is as close to taking a selfie as I can manage while on skis.

We dress for the weather. Today I went out to ski for my exercise. I have nine extra articles of protective clothing and shoes that I wear so it takes me a few minutes to get all geared up. Ski boots for my feet, snow pants and gaiters for my legs, head band for the ears and cap over that for the rest of my head, neck protector that I can pull up if my face gets cold, jacket of course, and gloves or mittens. I am usually sweating under all these layers.

I literally start at my side garage door and ski through the development to get out to the meadow where my paths are. It’s extremely convenient, although I am always hoping no one is watching as I ski past the other condos. There are many trails near by that are groomed regularly with machines and they get a lot of traffic. Those are nice if I have the time to drive but most of the time I stay at home and make my own trails.

Making my trails is something I’ve come to enjoy. There’s a lot of freedom in doing it that way. Skiing is a lot faster than walking in snowshoes and I can go anywhere I want to go. Breaking the trail is slow, but the second time over it’s much faster. I take the widest circle around our property and then do a lot of criss-crossing to add variety. I have no trouble getting in two or three miles that way.

Isn’t this snow so clean and beautiful?!

I’m still in beginner stages and spend a lot of time looking down at my skis to make sure I’m in the track (if there is one). Somehow, it is easier to keep my balance when I’m focusing on the ground in front of me. Unfortunately, that means I sometimes run into low hanging branches that I don’t see until it’s too late. Today I did that again. I felt the branch as it loosened my hat and knocked my glasses crooked and for a few seconds I thought maybe I could correct things and stay upright, but no. My skis were too far ahead of me.

Falling is not the hard part, and doesn’t even feel dangerous. Getting up again is hard. I have learned, the hard way, to take at least one ski off when trying to get up. It still doesn’t look graceful, but it cuts down on the failed attempts.

It is really an un-natural state, this being on skis. It’s like having shoes that are over five feet long, and having arms that reach down to the ground. The “shoes” are so narrow that any tilt to the track, or a sudden sticky patch of snow, creates a challenge to my balance (an alternate way of saying I might fall down…) And the long arms (poles) seem to be life savers during those frequent off balance moments, but not at all helpful in getting up after a fall. They are one more thing that has to be retrieved from the ground after I’m standing again.

The mess under this tree branch tells the story…

One day last week a rather large dog came silently loping out from between two trees. I looked over at it briefly to assess whether it was going to eat me or be friendly, and again got a balance challenge. I think we were both equally alarmed when I landed in the snow with my skis crossed. It took me so long to get up that the dog got bored and wandered back where he came from. He appeared again today and clearly remembered me – probably wanting me to get down on his level again.

Now that I am learning so much (the hard way) about skiing I will probably continue to share these insights until the snow is gone. This week, for the third year in a row, I will be volunteering for the Birkiebeiner Ski Event. I expect that will be an adventure. The Covid Birkie is going to be way different than it has ever been and I will tell all about it in the next post!?

Something Good in February

It’s 2021, it’s February, it’s still winter. I’m challenging myself to find something good to be celebrated every day this month, in the interest of mental health. I need help, and thinking on good, deserving things is going to do wonders. Yep.

A lot of my southern friends have felt sorry for me, having to live “up north” in the winter. I will be the first to admit that the winters are long and can get pretty cold, but there are bright spots to being here.

Entering Wisconsin from the southern border, most of what one sees are farms, lots of farms, and small cities and towns. About 2/3 of the way north, things change and when you finally reach Hayward, you find… trees, lots of trees. Real forests, that go on for a long ways.

Mosquito Brook runs through the forest. There were no mosquitoes. None.

Thirty years ago when I was living here, logging was a huge industry. I used to see the logging trucks, fully loaded, on the roads, and wonder how there could be any trees left in the forests. That was years ago and there are still as many, if not more, logs being hauled out. The forests are so well managed, and so BIG, that there is no apparent shortage of trees.

Back view of sweet machine

And now for the bright spot. Today I got to go out in the forest with my brother on his snowmobile. We rode tandem for two hours. On the way home we switched places and I got to drive. Miraculously, we did not fall off the trail. The experience is a cross between riding a boat in choppy water, riding a dirt bike on rough roads or maybe a bit like posting on a horse with a rough trot. All done out in the forest, at speeds between 0 and 30 (40) mph and at temperatures usually below freezing. We call it winter recreation.

Recreation is pretty big here in the Hayward area because there aren’t a lot of other ways to make a living. People take ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing and snowmobiling very seriously. There are about eight snowmobile clubs in this northwest corner of Wisconsin that have found ways to get from here to there, mapped them, created apps and invited the “world” to get up here and have fun in the snow. On good weekends the motel parking lots are full of trucks and trailers from as far away as the Dakotas, and the sound of snow machines is in the air. The trails are groomed often. Some are like the “interstates” of the forest and some are “one laners” complete with mile markers and signage.

Not exactly crowded out there, but we weren’t alone either.

My brother’s new machine has heated seats, hand grips, and the throttle (for that cold thumb). Even the helmets plug in and stay warm. It’s a very comfortable, maybe even luxurious, ride. However, they haven’t yet learned how to make them quiet. We live close to a major trail into town and I hear the snow machines a lot. I can only imagine what the deer, bear, wolves and coyotes are thinking now that their forest homes have been invaded.

Groups of snowmobilers travel for hours, stopping for “refreshments” and fuel at designated resorts and bars, bringing a lot of business to our area. All this happy influx of business hinges on two requirements. There has to be snow, preferably quite a bit of snow, and it can’t be so cold that it’s no longer fun but dangerous. This winter has not been bad so far, but we have February to get through yet.

I did enjoy my ride today. The forest was wild, the trail was full of twists, turns, hills and ravines – just beautiful! Most of the time I had no idea where we were, but I was glad to be there anyway. Something good happened today, just sayin’…

December Wreckage

I crashed. Taking off from my walking challenge was intentional Christmas Day. I don’t know what happened the day after that but no walking was done then either, (Oh, that’s right, it was the husband’s birthday. He got my walking time.) By Saturday night I was like wreckage. I sprawled in the recliner and looked terrible, felt terrible, and probably acted terrible. I was complaining and practically weeping as I tried to explain it to mom and my brother and niece. The frustrating part was not knowing why the sudden drop in energy, motivation, positivity. Was I sick (Covid, aaaagh!) or was I having endorphin withdrawal? Was that even a thing?

Yeah, two in a row. Not good.

I forced myself back on the treadmill last night and tonight. I guess I feel better, but it was really strange and I’m not completely out of that bad space yet. Honestly, it was having to report in here that kept me from quitting – and the fact that my family was laughing at supporting me and being sympathetic. Thank you guys.

After my pity party over at Mom’s I was walking back to my condo and momentarily all the bad stuff was forgotten. The snow that had been drifting in all day, and the dark, and the lights were so arresting I had to stop in the freezing cold and just look. The snowflakes were so large and flat that the light reflected off them everywhere. The dark sky was a complete contrast to the glittery, sparkles on the ground. Winter moments like these are the reason I can stand to live up here.

I wish pictures could do justice to what I saw. Not even close…

White and Cold

This morning the snowplows were running before daylight, when it’s still kind of hard to see where you’re plowing. I shoveled myself out and had coffee with Mom. My brother got off his snowblower long enough to join us and then went back to work.

But the sun did come out. Walking outside seemed a possibility and I did have some things to deliver at our church, which is only about a mile away. I put on every possible winter layer, including a mask which, for once, was a help, not an aggravation. There was a breeze which was chilly when I was walking into it. Our temp was about 5 degrees F.

I stomped into the church with frost on my eyebrows and semi-numb feet. I didn’t realize that I had arrived at the same time as the work party for the coming Christmas Eve event. By the time I delivered my envelopes to the office I had also been given a job. I had nothing better to do so I put up lights, erected a wooden menagerie of animals, and carried decorations here and there. Every time I took off my mittens, even for a few seconds, I was amazed at how fast the cold became painful.

Can you imagine celebrating Christmas Eve outside when it’s below zero weather? Blame COVID for that.

By the time I set out for home, my feet were more like blocks of ice but I hadn’t gotten my steps in for the day. Hitching a ride was out of the question. I knew I could make it, and I did, but it was the fastest section of my walk for the day. My app said I was walking 5.5 miles per hour at one point, but that would be more like running so I think it must be wrong. All I could think about was getting warm again… fireplace, hot drink, my “blankie”.

It is beautiful after a snow, and I did snap a few pictures because I couldn’t not do that. (There are times when nothing says it better than a double negative.)

I might rest tomorrow instead of taking a walk. It’s supposed to be even colder. Just sayin’… May you all find a blessing in your Christmas celebration.

My view right out my front door. Clean, white, and cold, very cold.

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.

All Trails Project: Henks Park Trails

This trail was not on the All Trails app, but it should be! I have learned how to suggest it be added and plan on doing that.

Millions of leaves, from millions of trees…

Another warm fall day was given to us in Wisconsin so I took another hike. In case you think time spent walking is time wasted, let me tell you it is not. Something about the rhythm of walking, and the peaceful, natural environment is perfect for creative thinking. If only I could remember all the ideas that come to me out in the woods…

If only the deer could read the signs.

Henks Park has recently appeared off a road I have traveled for years. Only about five miles south of Hayward on State Highway 27, it is well marked with nice maps available at the parking area. There are numerous loops of varying lengths. I explored today and was able to walk three miles without retracing my steps. All loops are in beautiful, deciduous woods with glacial ravines and hills. The nearest highway is out of sight but close enough to be heard – it is not a remote area and it would be hard to get lost.

There are picnic tables near each loop and a gazebo at the parking area. This kind of wooded area has deep ravines, most of which have a marsh or pond at the lowest elevation. There are hills to climb. I tried to photograph the ups and downs of the trail but the topography is hard to capture. The trail is well groomed and leaf covered in most areas – great for walking but I would not have wanted to be riding a bike up the leaf covered slopes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this bunch of trails and want to go back soon and record them for the All Trails App (unless the technology is more than I can figure out). Check out this beautiful park!

All Trails: Spring Creek

Seriously, I am going to love this app

I needed this walk to clear my head, and my lungs. The day was just too beautiful to stay inside.

I’m excited. After a couple weeks of recovery from travel (and from the broken wrist and surgery) I’m exploring a new app on my phone called “All Trails”. It’s designed to show hiking trails all over the U.S. and today it led me to one only 15 miles away that I hadn’t been on yet. One thing we have a lot of up here in northern Wisconsin is hiking trails and many of them are within a few minutes or hours of home – so why not make it a project to see how many I can explore? I needed an interesting challenge and now I have one.

Spring Creek Trail was a 2.5 mile loop that was labeled “easy”, and it was. Part of it was through the forest on a bike trail maintained by CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association) and about half of it was on a dirt road called Spider Lake fire lane.

I enjoy hiking with friends but sometimes I’m glad to be hiking at all, even if it’s alone. I didn’t mind being alone today. I didn’t see another person, or even another vehicle once I got off the main highway. The app tracks my progress on the trail, so I wasn’t worried about losing my way. But, I should have started with a fully charged phone battery, and will have to make that a priority in the future.

Bridges on bike trails are usually like this one…

I assumed the water I crossed over right away was Spring Creek. It was moving fast from our October snow melt. Yes, we’ve had 6 inches of snow on the ground already and some of it was still visible in the ravines, but today’s temp was 73 degrees! Several times on this walk I was aware of a stream of cold air coming off the low spots in the woods. There was ice on most of the pools.

I kept hearing a noise that sounded like a muffled motor starting up and assumed I was somewhere near a road. It took me a while to realize I was stirring up grouse on the trail. They take off through the trees and make a pretty cool sound. I also saw several deer on the trail ahead that turned to stare at me before running off into the woods. They were dark and almost invisible when they were looking at me, but hard to miss when their white tails started bouncing away. So beautiful.

This was an afternoon hike, around 3 pm, which I thought would give me plenty of time. It did, but already the days are short and the sun was getting low on the horizon, making the woods dark in places. The slanting light, shadows and silhouettes kept me using more of my limited phone battery for pictures – I couldn’t resist. Here’s my photo log of the Spring Creek Hike.

Spring Is Real

Here in Wisconsin, spring isn’t just a date on the calendar. It’s much more real than that. After being in various degrees of frozen for nearly six months, big changes have to happen and they have to happen fast because winter’s a comin’. I think spring happened today.

Mom and I were sitting on her patio this afternoon when my brother called her.

“What’s the weather like there today?“

“It’s been pretty stable, in the 40’s and 50’s, ever since it stopped being in the 20’s and 30’s .” (Last week)

“Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to happen? It’s spring, right?”

“I guess it is. Shirley is sitting here with a T-shirt and no coat.”

That’s right. It was so warm today that I didn’t see anyone wearing a coat. Yesterday was a different story. I was out in the soon-to-be garden in my heaviest hoodie and a scarf when neighbors Bob and LuRae, also coated and capped, came up to gift me. He had bought too many lily bulbs and just didn’t have room to plant them anywhere. He wanted to give them to me. Last year he did the same thing with daffodil bulbs.

I said yes. I had a pot with nothing in it but dirt and lilies would be nice. He came over with a rather large box. When I inventoried what he had given me I found eight bags of 10, with large sprouted bulbs begging to be planted. I spent a couple hours putting them around the lampposts of the twelve condos in our development. That’s a lot of digging.

As much as I shovel snow in the winter, I dig at least as much dirt in the other months. The major project is the garden. It has to go in pretty quick or not everything will get ripe before summer is over. But not too quick because it might still freeze at night. I absolutely know that I could walk over to Walmart and spend far less for the same amount of food, but I tell myself that the food is better and I need the sunburn and sore back exercise. I mostly try not to think about the logic in gardening.

I’ve only been “up north” for one “garden year” so far and didn’t have time to start perennials, so last month I ordered asparagus plants from Gurney’s. I was about to order the world’s most expensive raspberry plants from them too, when a friend let me thin her patch for free! I probably won’t get any asparagus or raspberries to eat this year but it will be good for me to exercise patience. It’s all about the future…

This morning Mom and I did the most definitive spring thing. We went shopping for flowers. We actually traveled 39 miles to a fabulous greenhouse where we bought almost nothing because the prices were… pricey. We stopped at two other establishments on the way home just because flowers are SO BEAUTIFUL! I bought, and got them all planted this afternoon. I have big pots of petunias, coleus and herbs on the patio. I am stiff, sore and a bit dehydrated.

It’s spring and spring is real. Putting my feet up now, just sayin’…