Quietude: A Relationship Baseline

My story is not everyone’s story, of course, but some will identify with it. My relationship with my children has revolved around quiet times more than any other type of activity. I won’t say that we abhorred noise (got some stories to negate that) but our household was quiet, and I think we came to associate that with comfort, safety, calm, peace, refuge and rest.

When they were small, the girls did a lot of quiet playing. We read a lot. During their school years, they studied at home so the house was quiet during school hours. They liked being in their rooms, having friends over to talk or play games. As music got more prominent in their lives, there were occasional loud moments but there didn’t seem to be a time when they were afraid of silence.

Sunset silence, on a walk.

This is a very loud world and I’m kind of glad that we adopted quietude as a way of life, a baseline. I still see Julie and Esther doing their best to plan quietude into their lives. I have many memories of morning coffee time with one or the other of them, in a quiet coffee shop or outside on the patio. We take quiet walks, just us and nature. We sit around campfires with only the sound of the flames and some nightbirds. We sit in the kitchen late at night talking, but not always talking, sometimes just being. We like quiet sports, bike riding, hiking, kayaking and horseback rides. It’s not just okay to be quiet, it’s actually healthy and healing.

Quietude is also about calming and bringing peace, and often when I’m bothered about the twists and turns of life, I call or text my girls. The relationships we’ve built help settle me, make me feel known, heard and somehow calmer. A quiet talk with someone who loves me, listens to my story, maybe even prays with me is the best medicine ever!

Quietude in our relationships tells us it is okay to retreat to a dark room with a headache if we need to. We understand when one of us needs to leave the crowd, or get away from overstimulation. One on one has always been my preferred way of interacting and definitely preferred in my relationship with my daughters. It allows for being quiet, personal, and more deeply relational.

My daughters don’t live near enough to have regular, in person quiet times with me, but my mom and my youngest brother do. Most every morning I take the short walk over to Mom’s front door and open it, knowing the smell of fresh coffee will be there inside. Mom will wave at me from her recliner and we will just sit for a while before we begin to talk. A few minutes later we will hear the door open again and my brother will come in and sit down with us. We talk about what we’re reading, what’s on our mind, how our families are getting along, what our plans are for the day. But often we are quiet, just sitting, thinking. And that’s okay.

Just thinking, in the woods where it’s quiet.

Hike: Relationship Building Activities

This is the end of the first week of A to Z Challenge 2022. I have been completing posts A through H while on a trip and that has made it more of a challenge than other years. I have had to keep it very simple, knowing that it doesn’t compare to some of the other great blogs I’ve been reading. It is still fun to put it together and share. Hope you are enjoying the read.

Having always been a walker, but mostly for the purpose of getting from point A to point Z, hiking was not really a “thing” in life until 2000. That was the year we hosted an exchange student from Sardinia for her last year of high school in the U.S. Having mastered her English enough to graduate, Maura was all set to go to Cancun with a number of classmates to celebrate. I wasn’t very comfortable with that. There were horror stories of young girls disappearing from the beach and never being seen again. I said no.

I had to come up with an alternative activity. I can’t remember why hiking the Appalachian Trail sounded like a reasonable project. Maybe I already had it on my list. At any rate, we put together a small band of adventurers including my daughters and one of their friends, five of us. None with hiking experience.

We survived and we bonded, as often happens with challenging experiences. We got blisters, sore backs, got thirsty, hungry and sleep deprived. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

While it is comforting to young people to know that their elders are capable and resourceful, it only adds to the depth of a relationship to find out that they are not always that. I think it may have been one of the first times that I was the weak one, needing to be rescued from dehydration and lifted to the next camp via truck. Those girls hiked, by themselves, the twelve miles that day and arrived in camp in record time.

It was a successful hike overall and we had great satisfaction in getting to our car on the fifth day, somewhat more experienced as hikers. Olive Garden fresh salad, bread and Alfredo sauce never tasted as good as it did on that trip home.

Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

Since that time, hiking has been a passion for me, and it is always better with a daughter or a family member. There are so many good shared moments walking through nature, talking about what we see, making camp, and dividing up chores. We see how we behave when we have less convenience and less distraction. It is getting to know each other in a unique way.

To me, hiking is a special kind of walking, in a particular planned area just for the intent of seeing what’s there and spending time with companions. It can be an hour long, or a week long – distance is not the issue, purpose is. In the last 20 years my girls and I have made lots of memories and seen some amazing places. It has been an important factor in the relationships we have with each other.

Find a friend or family member who you want to get to know better, plan a hike, and get walking!

Springer Mountain. We were there.

Birkie Hike: We Finish!

Just to clarify – I have two Gwens in my life. One is my mother and the other is the friend who has been hiking the Birkie with me. Some who know us have been asking…

November 3, 2021. North End TH to Timber TH, loop. 6.5 miles, 14,828 steps

I asked, “Do you think we really need to go down this hill and touch that road?”

“Yes, of course we do,” Gwen told me. And so we walked down that last hill which marked the completion of our 34 miles of Birkie trail, stuck our poles in the sand, took a picture and started back up the hill. We had walked on the skate side of the Birkie and were looping back to the car on the classic side.

Today was cloudy and cold enough for gloves and hats, but we did end up shedding our outer layer of jackets. At one point near the end, we saw several large white snowflakes falling in the forest so we knew it was in the low 30’s for temperature.

I had spent time studying the map of our remaining section and had printed it out. That meant we only had to question ourselves at a couple intersections where fresh logging roads had added to the confusion.

Rocks and trees are the main features of this forest trail and the subjects of most of my photos. I’ve also started a collection of “meaningful” rocks to mark different hikes I’ve done, so I was on the lookout for a rock. The one that caught my attention was a bit bigger than the pebbles I usually pick up, but it had a pattern to it, and I liked it. Gwen doesn’t stop me from doing stupid stuff, she even carried the rock for me when I needed a rest. We had guesses as to how much it weighed. She won. Thirty-five pounds.

Good job Gwen. This rock will show its pattern more after I wash it up a bit.

Our last stop before leaving Cable, Wisconsin and the Birkie Trail was the Brick House Cafe. It wasn’t that we were hungry, or needed the calories but more that I needed to see if the Chocolate Tower cake was as good as Gwen said it was. I figured we should mark our accomplishment with some kind of splurge, even if we ended up taking it home to put in the freezer (which, by the way, didn’t happen). This cafe is known for its lunches and desserts as attested to by the dozen hunters, and huntresses who trooped in shortly after we were seated.

What I really feel good about, in addition to feeling very exercised, is that I got to be a tourist in my own backyard. I would feel sad not to know what this internationally famous trail was like. Now I know where the trailheads are, how difficult and hilly the terrain can be, and how many more paths are there yet to be explored. I have that sense of ownership that comes with familiarity, and that feels good. The chances of me ever skiing this trail are almost nonexistent, well, they are nonexistent. Really nonexistent. But I have walked it. That’s good enough for me.

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).

Don’t Make Me Mad

A couple of weeks ago I went for a short hike on one of my favorite trails. It’s called a snowshoe trail because it is used primarily in the winter when walkers are asked to stay off groomed ski trails. Our northern summers are short but most of the vegetation that grows here has learned to grow fast and furiously, even in the forest.

The path through the mature woods was great – leafy, shady, very little undergrowth. Now and then there would be a tree down across the path from a storm, but nothing I couldn’t step over or go around. Since the path doesn’t show much wear from foot traffic in the summer, there are also plastic ribbons tied on trees and branches to mark the way.

But trouble started when I got to a section of forest that had been clear cut sometime in the past few years. Smaller trees, mostly birch and poplar, and all kinds of underbrush, stumps, and rotting logs made the path harder to find and harder to navigate.

Then I got to the blackberry thicket. Canes as thick as my thumb were bending over the path at eye level, lots of them, as well as smaller thorny new growth underneath them. I can’t be sure but I think the huge thorns actually moved out to grab me as I tried to lift them out of the way and pass through. It got worse the further I went, until I was too deep in to want to go back the way I had come, but could not see the end of it ahead either. Had it not been for the orange ties, I would have thought I had lost the path completely. My arms were bleeding. I was getting mad. I did eventually connect with a groomed bike path and made my way out.

I was thankful nothing was chasing me. If I had been a rabbit, that is where I would have gone to be safe from anything bigger. I vaguely remembered stories about Peter Rabbit and brambles, with new understanding.

That is when I began to plot revenge. I have a string trimmer but couldn’t see that being too effective on the thick, woody canes. I needed a machete, which I remembered from my days living in Florida. Machetes are everyday yard tools there. To my delight, my neighbor who is a retired surveyor had a machete and was nice enough to lend it to me.

Oh yeah, and a holster to go with it.

After my arms healed up, I returned to the woods. I was filled with energetic indignation. My resolve to clear that path was so strong I completely ignored the possibility of cutting my own leg open and bleeding to death. I approached the offending area, swinging right and left until I began to feel blisters coming where my hand gripped the knife. When I downed the biggest canes, I had to throw them aside and deal with the thorns again, but I won! The path got cleared. I tied new orange ribbon markers. I felt powerful.

I know this is a weird story, but it’s true, and it’s an example of how anger fuels resolve and can actually be a positive force. There’s a lot of anger out and about these days, and some of it can be used for good. But please notice that not once did I think about burning the forest down. I love the forest and I want to be in it. So do a lot of other people. Now others can go along that path safely with me.

However, if in the future, you’re out hiking in my part of the country, be careful of blackberry thickets which can be deadly. Also, if you see ahead of you an old, bloodied person with a machete, you might want to hang back a little.

Machete came with orange ribbon. I was pleased.

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.

Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 1

(Well, not exactly the Birkie, but right alongside it. Also, “TH” in this post stands for trailhead. All trailheads can be found on Google maps.)

Again, summer is short and almost over so I’m doing my best to section hike the 30 some miles from Hayward to Mt. Telemark. The Birkie Trail is quite wide and has some steep hills. The CAMBA bike trail, which goes over much of the same terrain, winds through the shady woods and is probably a little longer in length – but goes to the same endpoint. I prefer hiking in the woods where it’s cooler and more interesting and up close to nature.

Dot to dot shows the second and third sections we have hiked. The challenge is to do the loops above and below as well, which roughly follow the Birkie trail from Hayward to Mt. Telemark in the Cable area. Total about 40 miles.

I have a friend, Gwen, who hikes with me. I feel it’s an act of God that we found each other since she seems to be willing to do strange (read extreme) things and shares the same love of challenges. And yet, she is not terrifyingly weird. I feel blessed.

It takes two of us in order to have a car at both ends of each day’s hike. Today we were meeting at 7 am at the trailhead and it seemed very early. The sun was barely up and was red orange behind a screen of smoke blown in from Canadian forest fires. We left my car at Gravel Pit TH and I jumped in with her for the ride to County Road OO TH. So far the sections we’d finished had been around 5 miles each from trailhead to trailhead. That’s a very reasonable couple of hours of hiking plus the drive time. This was going to be the longest yet, 7.3 miles, and we thought it might seem a little strenuous going through wooded, hilly terrain. Strenuous meant we justified bringing food along.

Hills, trees, rocks, water, repeat.

It was a perfect morning for hiking. We warmed up but never got really sweaty. Normally we talk a lot while walking, but this trek was long enough that we actually had some silent stretches where we just enjoyed looking around at the beautiful woods and listening to… nothing. No road traffic noise, no motor boats, no ATVs. There were birds. Birds are okay.

Yes, after not hitting that rock, they ride bikes between those trees. Insane. I had to be careful walking there.

For those who are interested in hiking in our area, here is our schedule and times. Whenever the bike trail is one way, I like to walk against traffic so I can see who is coming. Often the bikes are so quiet that they surprise us. During the week, we may not see any bikers at all. On weekends the trails are busier.

Our first section was Hatchery TH to Mosquito Brook TH. 4.6 miles in just under 2 hours

Second section was Mosquito Brook TH to Gravel Pit TH. 5.16 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.

Third section, which we did today was Gravel Pit TH to OO TH. 7.3 miles in about 3 hours.

This section puts us half way to our goal. All three sections are parts of the single track Makwa Trail. All the trailheads are accessible by roads that they cross. The roads closest to Hayward are all paved but as we get farther from town, we are having to use fire lanes in the woods and they are gravel, but well maintained.

You can see our gravel access road, and the smoke haze from the fires north of Lake Superior.

For me, hiking is like soul food. I get hungry for it. It’s necessary for my sanity and never feels like time wasted.

Triathlon Time

I’ve said it before, summer is short and almost over here “up north”. I almost panic when I think about all the warm weather things I wanted to do and how few days are left to do them. One of the most significant adventures got crossed off the list last week – my own version of a triathlon. Don’t judge.

First, I don’t like to do this alone and was so glad to find a willing companion. She was a visitor to this area and clueless so I made it sound like a wonderful adventure. She not only wanted to do it but brought her dog along. The dog, of course, was also clueless.

Me and clueless friend, Bonnie, already hot and sweaty. Triathlons are hard.

The first leg of our triathlon was to get in the car and drive to Round Lake Linden Road boat landing. We all did well with this. The dog was especially good.

The road repair people tried to confuse us on the way there with these white strips on the pavement. It looked like toilet paper. Turned out, it was toilet paper. Who knew?

The second challenge was the peninsula walk of about 3 miles, maybe a bit more. The dog got a little tired and hot so we let her cool off in the lake at the Narrows. Round Lake Peninsula is so beautiful this time of year and we had so much to look at and talk about that this part of the triathlon went by quickly.

Wait, I’m supposed to do what? And do I have to drag my little poop bag along with me?

The third challenge, the wade/swim, gave the dog some confusion. She was used to swimming out to fetch a stick, and then swimming back to shore. But this was different. We waded out on the sand bar and kept going. And, of course, she had shorter legs than we did and had to swim a lot farther. My feet took a beating, since there were dangerous rocks everywhere and I had taken my sneakers off and put them in my waterproof bag. My phone also took a turn for the worse because of a hole in my supposedly waterproof phone pouch. Aside from that we did really well and after our exhausting walk that water felt so good! Completing the circular route, we were back at the boat landing and drying off in record time – probably about 90 minutes.

This Peninsula Walk/Swim is pretty much a family tradition, having been done most every summer since my girls could swim. Family and friends have joined us and most everyone has a super good time. I think the dog did too, but don’t ask her. Just sayin’…

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.