Northwoods Journal: Summer

It is sinking in that summer is really, finally here. This usually happens about four weeks before it gets cold again, so I am being very much in the present, eyes wide open, walking without a jacket, swatting at deer flies and even getting a bit warm at times.

It is getting late, almost 8:30 but I have sunlight still and it’s been a few days since I walked the wetland trail. We’ve had regular rain so the meadow is green. There are a few clouds but no wind. The sunset is getting better by the minute.

Even with the rain, the creeks and ponds are low but I love the way this one looks like a ribbon of reflected light.

The first sections of my path go past fields where milkweed plants abound. They are in full flower now which makes for a rather stunning plant. I often see deer in the fields in the evening and tonight I got to lock eyes with this young fellow. I thought he was stunning too.

Farther out in the marsh, I’m seeing “my geese”. I’m getting a sense of ownership – after all I’ve watched them grow up. Most of them look like adults now. Tonight they have the company of a pair of sand hill cranes. None of them seem to mind that I am taking pictures of them so I spend quite a bit of time watching.

Passing the wildflower field makes me happy because the black eyed susans are the color of happy. Passing the wildflower field also makes me sad because black eyed susans are a mid to late summer flower and I don’t want summer to be over anytime soon.

Splashes of color are everywhere, if you look for them.

I am reminded that this beautiful greenspace used to be a small golf course every time I see this sign, which now makes me laugh. It’s all green so I guess we can exit anywhere we want to.

The sun is nearly down and I am feeling like I’ve just had a shower of peace and blessing. Even the deer flies have gone to bed and are no longer following me. Time to be thanking God for helping me to be here in this place, at this time. Time to rest. Thanks for coming along.

Planting: Relationship in the Garden

Planting, in the garden, was a very early relationship building activity. Julia and I both love dirt and have a long history with it. As a family, we have always had some kind of garden on our property, and except for a few hot days picking beans or hoeing, Julie and Esther loved being there. During their teen years, they didn’t feel the ownership of the garden quite as keenly but I still preached it as an important way to connect with God, nature, and fellow gardeners.

Now that they are grown, I see that has paid off. They are plant lovers, landscapers, gardeners, people who appreciate things that grow. They both have their own style, suitable to the places they live and the time they have to invest. It’s another thing we love to do together when I visit. There are always things to do in their yards or gardens.

I have always loved that taking care of plants is such a learning experience. Going through the seasonal process of planting, growing, harvesting and resting provides such teachable moments. I have tried to convey to them that a garden is truly a kind of spiritual place. Air, sunshine, water and earth are clearly seen as elements of life. We get to watch the miracle of a dead looking seed respond to these elements and become something completely different. We get to see how weeds can take over and choke out useful plants. Unprotected borders let rabbits and deer in to eat. We have also killed our share of plants, but that is the price to be paid. Plants don’t live forever either and there is something to be learned even in that. I can hardly be in the garden without a God-analogy coming to mind.

Esther lives in an urban community and has a small but beautiful yard. She loves small space gardening, and has a yard where entertaining is easy and fun. Plants thrive in the mild climate in Washington state. Almost every time I visit we go to her favorite garden center and look (well, and buy).

A couple weeks ago I was in North Carolina, where the grass is already green and the trees are flowering. Julie had a day off and we had nothing planned. Of all that we could have chosen, planting the salad garden and working in the yard was what we wanted to do. She too knows that I would rather work in the garden than sit around.

If you discover that planting is an activity that someone in your life would like to do with you, go for it. And don’t forget – plants are alive. We don’t know what they are thinking, if they think, but we know they have likes and dislikes and they seem to know when they are being treated kindly. It’s a bit spooky if you think about it. Makes it more fun. Just sayin’…

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.

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.

End of March

March is nearly over. I’m giving myself grace when it comes to doing all the things that could be called productive. It’s a little hard to concentrate so I go walking instead, alone most of the time. Even in this very unusual time, life goes on, and so, unfortunately, does death. In two separate instances, people I’ve known well enough to grieve over, have died. Neither had anything to do with corona virus, but were unexpected and shocking. These strange weeks/months will stand out in my memory for a long time.

My refuge is to walk in the woods and be reminded of how beautiful and special this world is and how it was designed to be a place where people could thrive. I see God’s intricate design everywhere – in the way the snow melts, the way some plants stay green and alive under the snow, the way the birds find their way back to their birthplace, the way everything responds to the sun in some way. God’s outdoor magic is medicine for my soul.

It looked like bubbles from the bath tub blown all over the meadow.
Ice hazards in some spots, but bare ground in others.
When the snow is gone, so is the path. The pink ribbons suggest the way, when you can find them.
Wintergreen, some with berries, alive and well.
Hepatica (mayflower) always first because of this head start.
Lakeview Loop, aptly named
I want to give this landmark tree a name but can’t quite decide.

P.S. The seeds went in today. I hope I haven’t done it too early. I couldn’t wait.

Ever Changing

I have written much about the wetland property where I now live in Wisconsin, where I take frequent walks and do my communing with nature and peace of mind. Well, today there was a major change.

The marsh

One of the more prominent areas of our wetland is a huge marsh. It is bordered by higher ground and is composed mainly of cattails, water plants and sometimes water shrubs of some kind. There are usually waterways around the edges and sometimes small bays and extensions. The beaver lodge is in one of the waterways, close to the edge of the marsh.

The snow melt and the recent rains have raised the water level considerably. In some places water has started to cover our paths, and submerge our footbridges. The dams that the beaver have constructed are now completely underwater and I can’t see them. But the most amazing thing is that the marsh migrated last night.

Neighbor’s house and her new open waterway.

My brother got a call from a neighbor on the other side of the marsh. She told him that she suddenly had a beach where the marsh had been – open water. I had to go out and see what had happened. Evidently, wind and rain had done the job of loosening the marsh from the soil underneath and the whole thing moved north and west. The open waterway to the beaver lodge is now closed – it’s the path I took over the ice this winter when I checked on them. And other waterways that were wide, separating us from the marsh, are now narrowed to five or six feet.

The marsh now comes within five or six feet in an area that used to be open.

I wonder how many animals and birds had to re-orient themselves this morning. Nature is ever changing, sometimes delightful, sometimes catastrophic, but changing always.

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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#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things W

The Woods

That’s what we called it when I was growing up, “the woods”. Even though there were trees in lots of other places, when we said “the woods” we all knew which trees we were talking about. It was a lot of several acres covered with hardwood trees of various kinds that had been left forested when the land around it had been cleared for farmland. It was behind our house and it never took more than two or three minutes to slide between the fence wires and run across the small pasture to the edge of the shady, cool greenness.

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A slightly crooked view of the Owen Smith farm with the favorite woods dark behind the buildings.

I spent a lot of time there doing “kid work”. I cleared paths, made moss gardens,  forts from branches, and climbed trees. My favorite trees had names. I knew where to look for the first flowers in the spring, the small ones. They were soon replaced by a green and white carpet of triliums, then the jack in the pulpits, the columbine, the ferns, princess pine, and wintergreen. All this to say that I was blessed, early on, to have developed a love and respect for a forest ecosystem. I would almost say that I need to have ready access to that kind of place to be truly happy.

Which is why I like to think that I’ve been blessed again, by a knowing God, to live in another woods. This one I call “the oneacrewoods”. I’ve watched this acre of Florida bloom and grow since 1994. It never ceases to amaze with its century old live oaks, palms, citrus, kapok and pine trees. It has bromeliads, cactus, orchids, and many kinds of exotic ferns and grasses. We see land tortoises, raccoons, possums, armadillos, squirrels aplenty, large hawks, many smaller birds, and an occasional fox. I can’t adequately describe how beautiful I find this place to be, how special it is, how favorite to me.

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Sunday Walk
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Have you ever loved a place so much that it made you cry to think of leaving it?