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.

Thoughts in the Night

So many thoughts come when I’m awake at night, usually waiting for a headache to resolve, praying because I cannot sleep. Those times are not necessarily bad, even very sweet once in a while.

People come to my mind, one after the other, and I realize how rich my life is with a wide variety of friends. Circumstances come to mind and I realize how complex the world is. Everywhere there are situations that make people suffer and cry. Some say that God, if there is such an entity, should step in and make it different. I’ve read in the Bible that it was different once, and the people of that time chose to trust their own decisions instead of the wise instructions they’d been given. Turns out that has been a prevailing trend ever since.

I’m amazed that there is so much hope, beauty, encouragement left in the world and it often steps into view when we need it most. That is not an accident. It’s the plan, to lead us back to the way it was, eventually. No one but an all powerful God is going to bring about a world that we will all want to live in. It’s too far beyond any world leader or government. I am encouraged because I see evidence of his forethought and control everywhere in nature. The question becomes, how then shall I wait?

What hope do you have if you cannot imagine there is a God who could be wise enough to solve our problems, who could dissolve the anger and hate in hearts, who could comfort the inconsolable and bring justice to both sides of every equation?

It is arrogance to think that because we cannot imagine something, it cannot exist. Our search should be for a better, more faith filled imagination.

There is more beauty this fall than I remember seeing, ever. Maybe it is just because I am driving through miles and miles of it nearly every day. It puts me in awe and strengthens me for the coming months of winter.

Northwoods Journal: Changes

Hi from a friend’s house in Duluth, Minnesota. She lets me stay in “my room” when I’m too tired to drive home.

Back several weeks ago, in July, we were getting ready for our family reunion, enjoying walks like the one in my last post, and having a great summer. And then the husband had a stroke, a cerebral vascular hemorrhage (CVA). He has survived but our lives have changed, a lot.

Since then, most of what I’ve written has gone in a separate blog, one that tells the story of our experience since his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. I won’t tell it again here, but in summary, we now have first hand knowledge of ICU’s, ventilators, tracheostomies, feeding tubes, and several other things that the husband never wanted to know about.

Hi, I’m the husband. My real name is Dennis and this is Occupational Therapy at Miller Dwan Rehab, the nicest place I ever wanted to get out of.

This is the first day in five weeks that I’ve been home all day. Dennis is in a rehab hospital now, a really good place, and making progress slowly. I felt he would be okay if I didn’t see him every day. The hospital is in Duluth, 90 miles away, and I’ve grown a little weary of the drive. I’m often in the car eating things I shouldn’t eat, just to stay awake – a bag of popcorn can last nearly 70 miles if I don’t spill too much of it.

Although I have wonderful support from friends and family, these changes leave me feeling physically alone quite often. Fortunately, I am spiritually befriended. God is such a friend. Jesus is such a friend. I took a walk this evening, kind of like the one in my last post, on the wetlands trail and saw evidence of my friends. It was almost like things were being pointed out, to look at, to talk about and enjoy. And I took pictures, of course.

All by itself in the middle of a nicely mowed field
Hello
She looked and then went on eating.
Sunset coming on.
Like fire in the sky.
Clouds, not mountains, in the east and in the water.

It’s September now. August was surreal, hard, and so different from anything we have known. We have yet to find out what our new normal will be. But it’s coming, and it will be okay.

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.

Winter On Its Way Out

Winter is struggling. It knows its days are numbered, but it doesn’t want to give up without a fuss. I know it likely has another storm or two to annoy us, but the longer days (yay! thank God!) and the higher trajectory of the sun are doing their job. We still have two or three feet of snow on the yards but there is melt taking place every day.

Have enjoyed watching this guy out my kitchen window.

I’ve enjoyed many things about winter, and am ignoring those other things, whatever they are.

Poor dear, literally, poor deer.

I skied 24 times, and have only to go out once more to meet my goal of 25. Some of those times could be titled “Freezing with Friends” but many have been perfect winter days and not at all uncomfortable. Skiing – we all know what it looks like and don’t give it a second thought when watching it. There’s a difference when you call it “walking on slippery surfaces with shoes over five feet long”. Suddenly it becomes ridiculous and dangerous. But, I’ve only fallen a couple of times and I have not broken any of my bones!

Soup, rolls, fruit and drink for 10,000

Our February ended with the American Birkebeiner, the biggest cross country ski event in the U.S. I’m in a much safer role for this activity. I help serve hot soup to people who’ve just done 55k on skis and lived to tell about it. Ten thousand bowls over two days – we volunteers have seen enough chicken noodle soup to last for a while.

Reading to my husband, watching Dr. Phil with Mom, early morning briefings over coffee with the family, errands, grocery shopping, a little housework now and then, trips to the clinic for doctor’s appointments, fixing meals, changing light bulbs, paying bills, playing with the cat… welcome to my world.

Which is so tame and safe compared to what is happening over in Ukraine. The people there are more like me than unlike me, with their parkas and winter hats. I think about them most of the day, pulling their suitcases across the border to safety, hiding in the subways with their children, taking up weapons and going out to actually shoot, and many of them dying. They are dealing bravely with their circumstances and I admire them, pray for them.

It doesn’t feel right to watch war on the news, to be a bystander. It feels a lot like being in the Roman coliseum watching the lions being unleashed on the undeserving and helpless. It’s not acting. It’s not a game show or a mini-series. I feel very affected and yet I have to go on working out my less important, more mundane circumstances, watching as one more winter comes to a close. I have to say, it is very strange and disturbing.

Heavy Box

Small stories about me make me think about you, because we all share some of the same weirdness.

It has been cold this week and I only had one day of meeting my 10,000 step goal. But today it warmed up to 43 degrees F and I could not resist going out for a late fall walk. It was also the first day of deer hunting season so I decided not to tempt fate by walking in the forest. I headed west into town, on the sidewalk.

I may actually have taken a bigger risk by walking in town, since there was so much to look at, so many curbs to step off, so many stores to get sucked into. My route took me up Main Street. My town is working on winning the title of “America’s Main Street” and so far has made it into the top 25 five different years, including this year. There is a lot of electric decorating that’s going to light the place up after Thanksgiving, and it really does make it a picture perfect, small town Main Street. (Please, please vote for Hayward, Wisconsin by going to this link, every day through December 12 http://mainstreetcontest.com/profile121 It’s a popularity contest – you don’t even have to go there to vote for it.)

After my halfway mark of 3,000 steps I headed home. On the way there was a big garage sale at my church, so I decided to walk through.I usually consider it safe to do that when I’m on foot because who wants to carry a bunch of stuff for a mile? Not me. My excuse for stopping was that I might find the perfect thing for Mom’s birthday. She loves garage sale treasures. Instead I found a whole box of really nice glassware – just the kind I’d been looking for at the thrift stores. They were heavy glasses, sixteen of them.

But they are pretty (heavy) aren’t they?

Leaving the sale with my box of glasses, I started looking for shortcuts home. I am always aware of the difference between “as the crow flies” and the distances I normally walk on the streets. Most of the time I’m trying to get more steps in and don’t mind, but the box wanted to get home, and there was kind of a path heading in the right direction. I took it.

Shadow of girl walking with heavy box

It turned out to be the way to the impenetrable urban woods, where the church lawn crew dumped all their leaves and pine needles. I say impenetrable, but really it wasn’t. I was able to put the box on the ground and push it under the downed pine tree and follow it out into the ditch. The road I wanted to be on was right there, where the crow was still flying, in the direction of home. I was glad there were no cars going by though.

One more shortcut remained between me and my destination. I was getting a little tired, maybe a tad clumsy as well. But the thought of tripping and ruining all my new glasses kept me going so, so carefully.

It feels a little odd walking in places I normally drive, cutting across parking lots and ditches. It feels odd and sneaky taking back alleys and roads that most people don’t travel or even know about. But honestly, at my age, there aren’t a lot of things more exciting than this to do, so I like doing this. Especially with a heavy box.

Girl and box wondering if this alley with icy potholes is a good idea

I crossed the last highway and made it home, all the glasses intact. And today, once again, I finished my 10,000 step goal. But I will say it’s going to be harder to do it very often this winter, and it’s definitely harder with a heavy box. Might not do that again, just sayin’…

Stop pretending – you’ve probably done something like this too. What was in your “heavy box”?

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.

Summer Excess

Yesterday evening I was tired. I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to wind down and go to bed early. But, my exercise conscience was not quite dead yet and there were still two hours of daylight left.

It was a week ago today that I gave blood at the blood mobile, and my first time giving double reds. I had a couple days of feeling slightly oxygen deprived with activity, and then forgot about it. I felt fine going for a 9 mile bike ride over the weekend, and was really excited about joining the LCO Boys and Girls club for a canoe outing on Monday. After all, summer is short. Pour it on!

Yes, good question. Are you ready for the river? That’s what it asks on that sign.

The canoe outing was interesting, which is the word I use most of the time instead of “fun but hard”. There was wind, a helpful 9 year old with a paddle, and a middle rider who was afraid of spiders. I spent a lot of time going backwards down the river, when I wasn’t trying to steer out of the bushes on either side. It was a challenging paddle and my arms are a little sore, still. And I will probably go again. Summer is short here. I think I said that already.

On this tired evening I decided that I could probably go biking again, since I could then balance my tired arms with equally tired legs. You know, balance in life is important.

I live wonderfully close to some trails specifically made for biking through the woods. They are part of an extensive network of trails, making our area a destination for this kind of sport. I rode my bike there and got on the trail. I’m not an expert at this yet, and I suspect that CAMBA (Cable Area Mountain Bike Association) is kindly trying to discourage the inept, for their own good of course. The entrances to the trail always have two posts that seem awfully close together to me. My first rush of adrenaline comes with trying not to hit them. It’s a mind thing – the more you think about it, the more likely it is to happen.

The trails are built and maintained so bikers can go whizzing through the forest without looking at it. Sometimes that doesn’t make sense to me because I go to the forest for exactly that reason, to look at it. The trails are also designed to be as long as possible without really going anywhere far. My GPS gets so confused and keeps thinking I’m pausing when really I’m just going around tight turns and doubling back all the time. There’s sand, rocks, hills, creeks, grouse that explode out of the bushes, and scared deer that jump out in front of me. The forest is not flat here and there is a definite roller coaster ambience to the whole ride. My advice is, do this if you want a fun challenge. Maybe don’t do this if you want to relax. It’s not relaxing to me. I’m always thinking “thank you God that I didn’t wipe out on that corner”, and “thank you God that I was going slow when I hit that rock”.

Yeah, just shut your eyes and ride up the hill between those poles. Don’t think about it.

Last night’s ride was only six miles, but as I said, my GPS was confused so it may have been more. I did some street riding at the end just so I could relax and feel the breeze, and go straight, no bumps.

Do you see what I mean about summer excess? There are so many good opportunities to do active things, and quite a few more hours in which to do them. I love the north woods summer, even when it wears me out. I haven’t gone swimming in Round Lake yet, but that will be next. I have a plan, just sayin’…

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: 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!?