Suddenly Winter

It happened at night when I hadn’t paid attention to the forecast. I woke up in the morning and there were 4 inches of snow on the ground. I had already been forcing myself outside for a couple weeks, in temperatures close to freezing and my suspicion (of winter) and reluctance (to accept it) were coming on strong. The snow clinched it.

Good morning! Yeah, it really looks this dark and this snowy.

Since the snow I’ve developed some new diet and exercise parameters.

Diet first, I did the Noom thing already last spring and summer so I’ve got the psychological part well in mind. Lots of psych tricks, no “all or nothing” thinking, no real guilt about satisfying my cravings. In other words I’m going to welcome a few extra pounds of insulation. It’s cold out there. Dessert after supper every night will be the new benchmark. I’m going to weigh myself daily to make sure I’m not gaining too fast. I believe in moderation.

As for exercise, I’m going to change my daily step count goal from 10,000 to … basically whatever I get. I do enjoy a challenge though, so I might have a week or two during the winter when I see if I can keep it under 1,500 a day. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard, but I can do hard things.

My winter affirmation.

I’m thinking there might be a day now and then when it’s warm enough to bundle up and go cross country skiing outside. I have a goal for that sport too. There’s a particular hill that I attempted last year right after I got skis. This year, with the proper amount of instruction, I hope to ski down that hill and not fall over at the bottom. I missed the lesson and practice session last week. I don’t know how people make themselves leave their warm houses at 8:30 in the morning to go stand in a cold parking lot and do exercises. Besides, it was raining, wasn’t it? Somewhere?

Really though, what’s throwing me off my usual energy level and positive thinking habit is all this darkness. I’m used to going to bed when it’s dark but it’s so impractical to do that at 4:30 in the afternoon. I’m automatically tired looking at a dark sky. After a couple hours of pitch black, I tell myself it looks way too late to start cooking supper. But I have to do it anyway. The thought of dessert is the only thing that gets me through it.

All this is to say that I’m struggling, probably with the thought of winter more than winter itself. Thoughts are important, right Noom? And I live, thinking in my head, almost all the time. It’s going to be five long, dark months ahead. That’s what I’m thinking now, just sayin’…

Does My Heart Have Ears?

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I’m coming.” Psalm 27:8

I’m thinking about that question, “does my heart have ears?” I think it does.

I was walking one evening this week, feeling thankful for a chance to get out where it was quiet, feeling the rhythmic, somewhat stumbling way my feet were hitting the uneven ground, feeling like the open sky was listening. I was thinking (because it’s too hard not to think) about all the decisions of the day, all the possible responses to upcoming events, and processing, processing.

I felt like I heard in my spirit the suggestion that I talk about all those things – like, just speak them out. So I did that, and as I got into it more, it didn’t feel terribly weird. It felt like I was being listened to. It was easy to credit God with that – it had sounded like his voice, and no one else was around.

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.

February Goodness: More Snow

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

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

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

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

My feet are kind of like snowshoes, right?

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

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

February Goodness: Volunteering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Good in February

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

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

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

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

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

Back view of sweet machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Recess

I’m glad for a day off from A to Z postings because I have a few photos to share.

My walks last week were so reviving! Spring is on the way, in spite of Friday’s snowfall. Most of that has melted.

There are robins everywhere, hopping around.

It was 59 degrees warm one day!

And this is what spring in Wisconsin looks like.

Stay well and hopeful.

Up North: Polar Vortex

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My super warm (super crazy) hat, drying out by the door.

Wanting to get my definitions down “cold”, I looked up the word vortex. It’s a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything into it’s center.  I’m guessing that the word polar means the air is circling around the pole, North pole in this case. We’ve all seen the maps on the weather reports about the circle dipping down into regions it doesn’t usually affect. That’s what happened this last week.

I don’t want to make light of a weather event that resulted in loss of life. Those things that come unexpectedly like storms, tornadoes, tsunamis, forest fires, etc… and catch people off guard are always going to be a problem for the unprepared. But frankly, we hardly noticed the vortex here in Hayward.

It’s winter and everyone expects it to be cold. When it’s more dangerous than usual, a few things get cancelled and we stay inside a little more. The one outstanding consequence for us, particularly the husband, was that even the mail delivery was cancelled one day. Obviously, whoever made up that postal creed about “neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can keep these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” did not live in northern Wisconsin. Nope.

The polar vortex was here for about three days. On one of them we had an appointment with a nurse at the court house. She was there as usual. We got in our vehicle, which is kept in a heated garage, and drove there and kept our appointment with no difficulty.  On the way out of the building I noticed that someone had ridden their bike there and parked it in the bike rack. Personally, I wouldn’t have done that in below zero temps, but that just shows you what people do up north when they have to.

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The weather station. 74 – 32 is 42, right? I don’t know why they make us do the math.

My biggest decision these days is whether I want to be too warm when I’m in the house or too cold on my frequent, but brief, trips outside.  Almost all days I wear two layers on my legs, wool socks and shoes with a good thick sole. I do layers on the top too, but count on shedding them inside. Sweatshirts, down shirts, fleece jackets are hanging in the closet, handy, and on the backs of chairs, on the beds – wherever I happen to be when I get too hot.  Sometimes when I get an irritating flash of heat, I look at our indoor/outdoor weather station and it will be 78 degrees or higher inside.  What a problem to have…

People like the husband, who are pretty much limited to walking as their form of exercise, have it rough in this weather.  We don’t have an exercise bike or treadmill that he’s comfortable with, so I have to take him somewhere to walk. We go to the local hospital where the hallways are wide, with handrails and frequent places to sit, eat or use the rest room. We can walk for nearly a mile if we visit all the connected clinics and facilities. They are getting accustomed to seeing us at the assisted living Bistro where we often stop and have lunch. They serve the best $3 soup and sandwich in Hayward.

One of our oft-used mottos up here is “if you don’t like the weather you’re having, wait a few minutes for it to change”. This weekend it’s supposed to be 41 degrees and raining. It will probably get icy and melt some of this nice, dry snow. I’m actually hoping they’re wrong and it will stay below freezing.

I know I looked forward to our first winter back in Hayward – the afternoons reading, the evenings sitting by the fire with my knitting, the quiet snowfalls, the dazzling white, bright and sunny days. I’m trying to think of those things instead of wondering when the lilacs will bloom, or when the garden can be started. It’s best to stay “in the moment”. Just sayin’…

Birkie Trail, Next 6 miles

This is the second weekend that we have put on our hiking shoes and taken to the trail. After a week’s work, we really enjoy a good long walk in the woods. We skipped a shorter section in favor of a longer hike than last week. We will go back and pick it up someday when we have less time.

The trees were still more green than colored. There were only a few brilliant ones, but that didn’t keep it from feeling like autumn.

I was a little obsessed with the fungi, but you’ll see why. Strange stuff.

Enough talk. I just want you to see what I saw.

Makwa Trail, here we come.

First spot of color.

The trail skirts this lake except for here, where it gets a little crazy. This is a single track bike trail.

Moss abounds. Lovely, right?

Time for some fungi.

More fungi.

And more…

And this one!

This little guy, about head high on the trunk of a tree, amazing!

Can you spot the camouflaged picnic table?

One more.

No, one more.

Some trail worker forgot their saw.

I spent a lot of time looking at the path because it was always so lovely.

About mile 6 we left the single track trail and did a mile on the larger ski trail. We (the girls) were getting tired and the ski trail was straighter and smoother.