It’s been a harsh month, this August has. When I’m on an emotional roller coaster for days on end, this place where I walk is like a medicine for everything that is wrong with the world. It’s not long or strenuous, less than half an hour for most but longer for me. I never tire of stopping to look for the beaver, or pulling out my phone to check the name of a plant or flower. I know which direction to look for deer and usually see several. My walks in the evening are graced with sunsets and in spite of having lots of trees around, I can see lots of sky and clouds.
Each scene that I photograph is like a gift from God to me. For every one I capture there are dozens more that I don’t. In a way it’s special to be the only one witnessing these moments that are physical, but also spiritual in a way that is hard to explain. I guess it’s realizing how big nature is, how complex, how constant, and that it was created by someone bigger, more complex, and more constant. But it’s also wonderful to be able to photograph and share what I see. It is just too magical out there for me to be the only one that sees it.
My life problems line up differently after the evening walk. I’m reminded of a different perspective. I’ve been calmed, loved, amused and often surprised with some new discovery. Sometimes I look through the lens and see the scene take on a different look, even more awesome than I thought (although sometimes less awesome). I must share with you this evening walk.
There is no getting past it – we are definitely into winter now. It looks so much like last year’s many months of winter that I’m wondering if my hazy recollection of summer was just a dream. Maybe the snow never goes away. That’s how it seems as we anticipate the fourth snow in the last two weeks.
Every day when new snow has fallen I hear the plows starting to work, early before light. The major highways, two of them, near our house have to be kept as clear as possible. There are also quite a few big parking lots. It is early in the season and more snow can be expected, which means that room must be made for it. My brother plows our subdivision and he pushes the snow as far back on the lawns as his machine will allow. He makes the road as wide as possible.
On the other side of our back fence, the Walmart Alps are forming. The parking lot is rimmed by white peaks, large enough to be dangerous should they tumble down on someone. I had to take pictures, amazed at how much they resemble real mountains with cliffs, abutments, scree and all.
On Monday I tried to get into town during a snow. Our drive had been plowed but when I got to the slight rise onto the highway my wheels just spun. I back up and tried several times with no better results, so I turned around and went back home. I do not have 4 wheel drive. Even though the back of my truck is loaded with sand bags, it doesn’t provide enough traction to match the slush covered ice. It is an every day occurrence to feel the vehicle fish tailing on corners. A different set of driving skills is in order.
The wetland fields are getting a deep covering too. I walked there this week, thinking there would be a packed trail from a snowmobile, but no. Nothing had been out there but the deer, leaving trails where they had followed each other. I didn’t have my snowshoes so I cut that walk short. You can get a lot of exercise walking in snow.
Shadow the cat is still wanting to go out, but stands in the snow shaking her feet and licking them. She can’t decide if snow is something she can dig a hole in, or not. Finally she jumps in the snow, squats quickly and comes back to the glass door. Her meow sounds a bit frantic if I’m not there to open it right away.
This is my first full summer in Wisconsin in 30 some years. It is turning out as I remembered it, short and sweet, full of vividly colored flowers and nesting birds of all sizes. Family dinners outdoors are weekly events. There are gray, rainy days but that only makes it more amazing when the sun comes out and everything is watered and cool and green. Summer is my favorite season (as is spring, fall and winter).
We are no longer out in the trailer in the meadow. It was a tough time in some ways, but I’m going to remember all the amazing moments looking out the window at the real world. As we stayed on, the deer got used to our presence there and got back to their routines of grazing and play. I started recognizing the call of the red tail hawk and knew just where to look for him. The evening fog drifting in, the fireflies, the stillness as the birds stopped singing. Beautiful memories, all.
The garden. I had forgotten the satisfaction of seeing a plot of ground with nothing but stakes and strings turn into row after row of fresh green plants. All the lessons that come with a garden are coming back to mind, how everything has its time to mature and be ready for harvest, how neat edges and straight rows not only create order but are beautiful and functional, how good gardens take regular tending and lots of hours of work. A garden can be a metaphor for life itself – I always find myself thinking of that when I’m pulling weeds.
My least favorite part is “thinning”. I always end up planting small seeds, ones that are hard to see and handle, much too close together. If they germinate well and grow, I know they will have to be thinned out as they get bigger or they will not develop as they should. It’s painful to pull out perfectly good plants. It’s hard to decide which ones to leave and which to pluck. Again, I think of the many applications to life in general. There is wisdom to be learned in a garden.
Friends. Most of the time I am aware that I have some, here and there, people to smile at, speak with, do an occasional lunch or other outing with. But then there are those times when people show up, at great expense to themselves, when I am not at my loveliest or in the greatest of circumstances. They are the truest of friends who show up and do life with us, me and Dennis, when they wouldn’t have to. That is what happened last week.
It surprised me when my invitation to come “up north” was accepted not just with “sure, we’ll come someday”, but with “when is a good time – I’ll buy tickets…” Not many visitors make it up here, although it is a great place and to cool off in the summer. I also was thinking of the perfect time for them to come. My whole local family was taking a two week Alaskan cruise. I couldn’t see how we could go with them since I had just done my Grand Canyon trip. I was fairly content to stay home, watch the animals, water the plants and weed the garden. Having friends come would be the perfect thing to keep me from feeling sorry for myself.
Arlette, a.k.a. “French girl” has been one of my best friends for several years. Her husband, Dwight, and my husband, Dennis, started the American Aldes office in Sarasota way back in the 1980’s. They had heard a lot about our Wisconsin home since helping us move last July. Now I had a chance to show them some of its charms.
It started with the three hour trip from Minneapolis airport to Hayward. Then we rushed them off to eat at The River Deck, a waterfront restaurant where my nephew had just started working. It’s also the location of the National Lumberjack Championships, which had to impress them (I think). And although we didn’t visit it, I did point out the gigantic Musky (at least three stories tall) in the nearby park.
Eating out was one of the easiest things for us all to do together, and I had my list of favorite places. In addition to the River Deck, we were able to go to The Angry Minnow, and Garmisch Resort. Each of these places had its own unique vibe and I think we all enjoyed the differences.
One of our lunches was a bit different. It was on a boat, out on my favorite Round Lake. I had heard of the Jacobson’s project from my brother. Ralph Jacobson and several of his friends built the “Galilee”, designing it to host small groups on the lake, as a ministry opportunity. He and his wife Carrene, served us lunch and spent an hour showing us their part of the lake. It was a beautiful day, weather wise.
Thank you, my friends, for your supportive visit.
Dwight and Arlette, the brave ones.
Slapping mosquitoes on a hike. Photo ops were brief.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was awake at 3:30 am listening to the plow over in the Walmart parking lot. There are fences and tree borders between our condo and Wally World so we don’t see it, but we do hear most everything. That’s how I knew there was more snow.
I didn’t actually get up until 5 and since it was still super dark, and I think it’s a little ridiculous to shovel snow in the super dark, I waited another hour to go out. It was simple dark then, and my brother was out with his Bobcat, clearing the parking area for his employees to arrive.
It was a whole different kind of shoveling today. The shovel no longer slid easily over the cement. I had to kick it every few inches because there was an immovable layer in there somewhere. If you’ve ever had a pan with food burned on it, that’s what it was like. It was also quite slippery – made it hazardous to get in a good kick when the leg I was standing on was slipping out from under me.
Frequent rest periods were the answer. Every time I would stop and look around I was amazed all over again at how beautiful the world is when covered with snow. And to be out in it is an experience so different from looking at it.
My snowman looked a little stressed this morning, just sayin’…
Shirley gave up trying to sleep, swung her legs over the side of the bed and cautiously made her way out of the room, in the dark. It was kind of early to be getting up, but that was happening a lot lately, and not just to her.
She found her glasses in the bathroom, wandered out to the kitchen and punched the button on the coffeemaker until the red light popped on and the noises started. She checked the digital thermometer, the third step in her routine, then opened the blinds on the kitchen window. Thirty-five degrees, and everything outside had that dark, wet look. Something was falling out of the sky. She could see it reflecting light from the string of Christmas lights she’d arranged on the patio, but it was hard to tell if it was rain or snow. Probably rain, but the temperature was dropping. They wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise today.
She and her husband had recently moved “up north” to the family farm in Wisconsin. Her mom was not liking being alone since dad had died. Her brother Dennis and his wife lived close but they were in a different stage of life, with younger children and an expanding business to deal with. It made sense for them to pack up and go help. It made more sense in the summer than in the winter, but oh well…
She and her mom, more often than not, found each other about this time in the morning and had the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun come up. Mom, especially, had a fascination with the sky and clouds and would raise the blinds on the east windows, wanting to see what would happen out there that day. They would talk, solve world problems as they jokingly called it. Shirley also had the sky watching disease and usually jumped up three or four times to step outside and snap pictures.
That’s why the photo gallery on her phone was predominately orange, red, pink, purple, with sunrises and sunsets. They were all amazing pictures, but how could they not be? It wasn’t her talent that made them amazing. She was not yet a photographer. She was also not yet an author. She was not yet a grandmother. “Not yet” was kind of like her title of nobility. She was not yet a lot of things, but most importantly she was not yet dead. She was going to make the most of that one.
A while later, breakfast out of the way, she was over at her brother’s place of business. Her brother was an entrepreneur and owned a small awards and recognition company, doing most of their business online out of a neat, up to date building only a short walk away from her mom’s condo. The prospect of getting some employment there was part of the reason she had made the move north from Florida to live with mom.
She was in the learning phase of making plaques for a sports team. Being “not yet” a proficient worker and having just made some wrong cuts, necessitating a complete do over on a print job, she was glad to stop when her sister in law came in the shop.
“Are there some packages here for us? Dennis said they were here but I don’t see them in his office.” M.P. said as she took off her gloves and outer layer of winter armor. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started flipping through photos.
“Claire flew back from Duluth last night, in a small plane. A friend of hers rented the plane for a week and he needed to get in some hours for his next level. She took some great pics from the air of the Christmas lights in Bentleyville. Oh, and did you see what Dennis found back in the meadow yesterday?” She stopped her searching and held out her phone.
On it was a picture of the meadow behind the barn and the large brush pile that had been growing there for over a year. There was a rather large, rounded out hole showing in the pile.
“You wouldn’t believe,” she went on “someone made some kind of fort there. It looks like they’ve been making a fire outside too. Dennis can’t figure it out. No one has seen anyone out there. He was thinking of burning the pile, and what if someone had been hiding in there?”
Shirley Not Yet looked at the photo. “I was just out there a day ago. I didn’t see anything like that.”
“That’s what Dennis said too. It’s really hard to see if you stay on the path. The entrance is on the other side.”
“Did it look like anyone was staying there?”
“No, nothing was in it except a cup. But there had been a campfire outside, so someone had to have been there for a while.”
Shirley had made a few forts as a kid, but not usually in winter and she certainly never thought of starting fires and hanging out. It sounded like more of an adult thing. The thought of an unknown adult spending time in the meadow where she frequently walked was… unsettling, maybe. Likely not dangerous though. She decided to go out and have a look.
Incognito, that was the focus. If you blend in, don’t get noticed, make use of what’s around you, but be careful, you’ll be safer. It had only taken about three hours to build the shelter. After pulling out a bunch of debris from the pile, he had found the pallets and even a sheet of old plywood. He’d made four “lean tos” and put them together with the plywood over the top. Water would run off and it would stay dry inside. Piling the brush around the outside hid everything. It was perfect. Done close to dusk, no one had noticed. The fire was kept small and smokeless.
All of his life he’d had opportunities to practice survival. It was kind of a passion with him. Well, who wouldn’t want to survive?
Although it might sound like I’m complaining, I’m calling it explaining. Northern Wisconsin is a special place, with special conditions that are a bit extreme at times. I’m happy to be here and I’ll deal with it…
I know it’s winter everywhere in this hemisphere, but it’s like REALLY winter here. It’s only 16 days away from the shortest day of the year. They seem shorter than I remember.
I think my sister-in-law has detected some seasonal affective disorder craziness going on and has offered me a light box. I need to read up on SAD. There is definitely a shortage of light here, “up north”. It’s been overcast for the last week or more, and it’s almost like the sun never comes up. It looks like dusk even in the middle of the day. By 4:30 street lights are coming on and by 5 it’s pitch dark. This makes for a pretty long night.
I miss the colors of fall, spring and summer. It’s not that snow isn’t pretty because it can be stunning.
But many days are so gray, in all directions, that it’s hard to believe there are that many gray things in the world. Here at Par Place, we are not in the woods so there is a lot of sky visible. On cloudy days half the field of view, from the horizon up, is varying shades of dirty white, soft gray, to angry gray. The other half almost mirrors the same shades, with the snow and a few dark green pines thrown in once in a while. Some days a light sprinkle of snow falls constantly. Several days this week there was wind, steady wind, coming off an iceberg somewhere north of here.
One of the windy nights, we were awakened by a noise, repeating itself at random intervals. I tried to figure out what was rapping on the outside wall of our bedroom, until I remembered a clothesline I had coiled up and hung on a nail. It was worth waking up to see the night sky, with the clouds and the moon, and the wind.
So, I’ll borrow the light box. I’ll walk on the treadmill if I can’t get myself outside. I’ll try not to stay up too late at night, reading (which I’m prone to do). I will keep busy with all the things I’ve heard people do here, in the winter, in the house, in the dark. I’ll wait for December 22, when the days start getting longer.
My people are making plans to gather for Thanksgiving. They are coming “up north” where we have short, cold days. This gets me started thinking about what there is to do up here when I have visitors.
I’ve gotten suggestions of activities some would like to do, most of which are either out of the question, or I don’t even know what they are. One of my daughters will be here for most of the week. Thank you, dear, for this list.
Her suggestions were:
Afternoon of frisbee golf (didn’t I tell you it was snowing up here?)
Visiting a slaughterhouse (um, no slaughterhouses. A new interest of yours?)
Build a Star Wars AT-AT out of bacon (you don’t like to touch meat, remember?)
Skunk hunting (for sport) (oh sure…)
Chapel Hill graffiti tour (I don’t think we have a Chapel Hill)
Lunch at Chipotle (no Chipotle… sorry)
Power walking race (maybe, in Walmart – you ok with that?)
Photo shoot near the big pickle (no, it’s a Musky and it’s a fish!)
Hip hop dance lessons (I think we’d have to import a teacher, but yeah…)
Yarn bomb an italian restaurant (no Italian restaurant, sorry)
Bit torrent party (what?)
Go caroling outside some night clubs (we have bars, not night clubs)
Camping! (didn’t I tell you it was snowing up here?)
Make a turkducken (you’re kidding… why?)
Night at the ballet (no ballet, sorry)
Computer day (no one talks to anyone, except chat & email) (already do this, no)
Clean up a mile of I-40 (I think that’s in North Carolina, no)
Dress up Lily fashion show (what?) See if an iPad will blend (what? what?)
Frozen margarita chugging contest (my head hurts thinking about this…)
Uno (Now you’re talkin’, yes)
Amish day (how does one do that?)
Zelda marathon (?what?)
Arts & crafts table at the flea market (flea market closed when it started to snow – doubles as a hockey rink, sorry)
Make organic free-range black bean burritos (maybe, what’s a free range black bean?)
Christmas shopping roulette (incompatible ideas, no)
Street racing with test drive cars (snow, ice, remember? way too exciting)
Plant an acai garden (the ground is frozen, no)
Afternoon of epic naps (this will happen without planning, yes)
Record a music video (we could do this in house, yes)
Visit a winery (no winery, sorry)
Start a Google group (you would want to do this? really?)
A couple of weeks ago the talk of the town was the high school play. I wasn’t too excited about a plot that centered around the trial of the wicked witch of the east and featured every fairy tale personage you’ve ever heard of, but mom decided she would go with my nephew. She said it was fun, so, based on her glowing review I decided to go the next night. I was desperate for a theatrical cultural experience and figured this was as close as I was bound to get for a while. I even ended up going ALONE, which takes some courage. I sat in the front row. It’s just what I do.
High school plays have not changed much in the last 50 years. I was so reminded of my first chances to be on stage. There is a lot to appreciate in these simple beginnings that teach poise, presence and test one’s memory of lines, and ability to be someone else. I still have an occasional nightmare where everyone is waiting for my line while I look frantically through the script to find it. There was some of that this night, but overall the whole play was well rehearsed, and it was fun. I think the actors had fun too.
“Up north” activities may lack the variety and sophistication of big city life, but I see a simplicity and wholesomeness in what does take place. People work hard up here and their free time is often spent in community service, activities with their kids, or just being home. There are many choices in those categories. I’m just sayin’ that so far, I have no trouble keeping busy.
Today it snowed. It wasn’t dramatic. The temperature has been inching down toward the freezing mark over the last week or two. We have had a lot of rain, which usually will spoil the fall color and make the leaves turn uniformly brown and dull. But this year the colors have held out brilliantly. Today, every time we looked out the window the weather was changed from our last observation. The sun would come out briefly and be followed within minutes by a snow squall.
Since I will so soon be taking pictures of snow, I need to finish letting you all know how beautiful autumn has been. I am so blessed by God the artist, that I don’t have to take a vacation and travel to see the woods in glorious color. It’s right here in my backyard. Last Sunday, after lunch with the family, we didn’t want to go straight home. Mom, the husband and I drove out in the country, to the lake, just to see what the trees were doing. Later, I got to explore a park I had never been to with my brother and his wife. It was a wonderful day – that’s what “full of wonder” means. My phone is so full of pictures – no way could I show them all – but here are some.
There are so many more – it was hard to choose. I wish you all could see it. Part of the reason it is so beautiful is that it’s also so short lived, fleeting. As I said, today it snowed…