Loosening the Facebook Noose and Rediscovering the Natural World

Two days ago, we got about five inches of snow. Yesterday was clear and cold, six degrees in the morning, warming to about twenty. My son spent his snow day largely out in the snow despite the temperatures. Between bouts his snow gear tumbled around in the dryer to get it ready for the next session.

Today it is snowing again and my yard is filled with birds munching seeds from dead flower heads and from the feeders which I’ve moved to the north side of the house so we can watch them from the kitchen and the dining room table. The neighbor’s garage acts as a windbreak for them.

We’ve seen dozens of goldfinches in their dull winter coats all vying for a place on the feeder with the thistle seed in it. House finches prefer the sunflower seeds in the tube feeder. Juncos pick up the scraps that fall to the ground. A woodpecker has been carving away at the seed cylinder that is laced with cayenne pepper to keep the squirrels off it. Sparrows and nuthatches and cardinals and chickadees and the occasional blue jay round out the company.

“It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud,” writes Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I’m reading for the first time. Winter is a good time for reading anything, but especially nature writing.

I find myself jealous of all that is right outside of Annie’s door in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and I recall how much time I used to spend outside, especially in winter, when I lived in Grand Rapids and volunteered at Blandford Nature Center. Winter and early spring hikes around the property were always far better than those taken in summer. The world holding its breath all winter and then finally releasing it. Each spring hike a wonder as new things came alive. The wonder of spring only made possible by the icy grip of winter.

I think I love winter more every year.

My friend Cindy Crosby writes in the tradition of Annie Dillard, though she is in the great wide prairie lands rather than the mountains. If you enjoy nature writing, you may like her blog or her book The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction. Here’s the description from Amazon:

More than a region on a map, North America’s vast grasslands are an enduring place in the American heart. Unfolding along and beyond the Mississippi River, the tallgrass prairie has entranced and inspired its natives and newcomers as well as American artists and writers from Willa Cather to Mark Twain. The Tallgrass Prairie is a new introduction to the astonishing beauty and biodiversity of these iconic American spaces.

 

Like a walking tour with a literate friend and expert, Cindy Crosby’s Tallgrass Prairie prepares travelers and armchair travelers for an adventure in the tallgrass. Crosby’s engaging gateway assumes no prior knowledge of tallgrass landscapes, and she acquaints readers with the native plants they’ll discover there. She demystifies botanic plant names and offers engaging mnemonic tips for mastering Latin names with verve and confidence. Visitors to the prairie will learn to identify native plants using the five senses to discover what makes each plant unique or memorable. In the summer, for example, the unusual square stem of cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, sets it apart from its neighbors. And its distinctive leaf cups water after the rain.

 

A gifted raconteur, Crosby tells stories about how humankind has adopted the prairie as a grocery, an apothecary, and even as a shop for love charms. Rounding out this exceptional introduction are suggestions for experiencing the American prairie, including journaling techniques and sensory experiences, tips for preparing for a hike in tallgrass landscapes, ways to integrate native prairie plants into home landscapes (without upsetting the neighbors), and a wealth of resources for further exploration.

 

An instant classic in the tradition of American naturalist writing, The Tallgrass Prairie will delight not only scholars and policy makers, but guests to tallgrass prairie preserves, outdoors enthusiasts and gardeners, and readers interested in American ecosystems and native plants.

Earlier this week, two red-tailed hawks took a brief respite in a maple tree in my back yard then went on hunting. I felt lucky to see them. And I feel lucky that I live in a place that gets a real winter, which always feels like my own respite. A Sabbath season.

I’m winding down my year of reading A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Today’s selection includes this observation: “When promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated.” Lewis is talking not just of chastity versus promiscuity in this selection, but of the desire to be part of the Inner Circle of mankind. To be in the know. An early 20th century version of FOMO (fear of missing out).

I never used to care about being at one with the Zeitgeist. I was comfortably on the outside, not even looking in, because I was spending my time looking at the same kinds of things Annie Dillard and Cindy Crosby were looking at. And I felt with certainty that was the one in the know, in the inner circle. I noticed the things that mattered while everyone else was whirling about trying to be current. I was the insider and they were all outside, not even looking in, because they were too busy for the slow, constant, predictable motion of the natural world.

Sometime in the late 2000s, that changed, and I’ve spent a decade far more engaged with the tumult of mankind than I could ever have imagined I’d be. It’s probably 100% due to my entrance into social media by joining Facebook in 2007. And honestly, I’m not happy about it.

There are things that have to be said, wounds that have to be opened, policies that need to change, and power structures that should probably be toppled. It’s certainly unclear if social media is the most effective place to do this. It certainly is clear that social media makes people feel less understood, less connected, and more anxious and depressed than they would otherwise be. It is the ultimate irony of our times.

The history of mankind and the history of everything else in the world run on parallel tracks, one frenetic and anxious and bumpy, the other timeless and deliberate and while not unchanging certainly changing slower and for more logical reasons sometimes.

Maybe its too early for resolutions, but this has been on my mind. This desire to jump back over to that other track for a while and remember that the weight of the world’s problems are not a burden I need to carry. I can’t carry it.

In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul encourages them to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” And to the Romans he says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is hard to do in a democracy. It is made all the more difficult when media and social media seem designed to stir up anger, fear, dissension, and self-righteousness.

When I first joined Facebook, it was fun. It was a waste of time, no doubt, but it was fun. Now it’s mostly not. I’m not dumping it entirely for 2018, but I’m taking a step back. I’m unfollowing A LOT of people. I’m limiting my time on it, and eliminating it entirely on weekends. I’m going to go quiet. Take a Sabbath rest. Rediscover my blog, which I’ve let go quiet this fall.

I’m really looking forward to 2018. A time to start fresh. A pure white blanket of fresh-fallen snow. A year of possibilities. A year to buckle down and work on what pleases me. A year to lead a quieter life, at peace with those around me.

I’m not worried about missing out. I’m looking forward to it.

 

On the State of My Desk

At this moment, there’s a lot going on . . . on my desk. The standard things are there: computer, keyboard, mouse, speakers, two landlines (yes, two), lamp, my little coffee warmer hotplate thing that makes drinking coffee in any other room of the house just a little disappointing.

There are other things as well. Yesterday’s coffee mug still waiting to go to the kitchen. A piece of broken glass from the Silverdome sitting on an iridescent shell found on the sandy shore of Thumb Lake. A painted rock. A tray of nineteen Petoskey stones, all found at camp. A tray of pennies. A cactus. A tube of mostly organic moisturizer.

There’s wrapping paper and tissue paper, scotch tape and packing tape. There’s a list of gifts bought, gifts intended, check marks next to those that have been wrapped.

There’s a pincushion, a spool of thread, sewing scissors, a package of elastic, and two stuffed animals (five originally) that need some surgery.

There’s a pair of sunglasses, a couple keys, a barrette. A measuring tape, a couple catalogs, the bill from the eye doctor, the plate from my breakfast.

There’s my work binder with its lists of books in various stages of completion. Copy trackers and catalog schedules and pagination documents.

And there’s my planner, hanging out on the edge of one of those pull out trays old desks have. Ah, the well-intentioned planner.

Inside, things are just as chaotic. Files, yes. Pens and pencils. Post-Its. But also German flashcards, one of those spidery-looking head massagers, collections of state quarters and national park quarters and the first twenty presidential dollar coins. Guitar picks, silicone iPod covers, stacks of business cards I have never consulted.

Last night I finished reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, first published in 1984. After his college town is involved in “an airborne toxic event” the main character is more and more convinced that he is dying (and of course, in the existential sense, he is, just as everybody is always coming one moment closer to their deaths). Near the end of the book, he starts throwing things away, starting with things obviously no one needs — broken things, obsolete things — and then moving on to things you do need — like soap and shampoo still being used in the shower — until his daughters have to stop him.

“The more things I threw away, the more I found. The house was a sepia maze of old and tired things. There was an immensity of things, an overburdening weight, a connection, a mortality. I stalked the rooms, flinging things into cardboard boxes. . . . It took well over an hour to get everything down to the sidewalk. No one helped me. I didn’t want help or company or human understanding. I just wanted to get the stuff out of the house. I sat on the front steps alone, waiting for a sense of ease and peace to settle in the air around me.”

And later, “I was in a vengeful and near savage state. I bore a personal grudge against these things. Somehow they’d put me in this fix. They’d dragged me down, made escape impossible.”

I fully admit that I know the feeling of being overburdened with things, tired of having to organize them and try to keep them neat. I regularly go through purges. I purged when we renovated the kitchen. I recently put two chairs and an old printer from my office on the side of the road. Last weekend, my husband and I helped our son do a full cleaning of his room. We threw away an entire garbage bag of junk, sent several bags of clothes on to our church’s Love Clothing Center, half-filled a very large box with stuff for Goodwill. It took hours and hours.

It never feels like enough.

DeLillo’s character seemed to be doing it out of a sense that these objects were in some way connected to his own mortality and he was afraid to die. He waited to feel a lightness but it never came because the objects weren’t the real problem.

I, on the other hand, always feel lighter when I get rid of things.

Next year I will be moving my office to the smallest room in the house. What a perfect excuse to do a little more purging. At some point perhaps I will have little else than books and rocks and art supplies to my name. It won’t help me escape death. But it will make life feel far lighter.

Operation Kitchen Facelift Is Complete!

It’s been nearly a month, but I think I can finally call this project done! Let’s get right to the photos, shall we?

Here is the kitchen before:

Warm and sunny, but over the 12 years we’ve lived in this house, those white cupboards, which were really just painted with primer, not actual paint, got dingier and dingier and more and more like the teeth of someone who drank too much tea all their life. They needed a bleaching session.

And I’d always been bothered that the cupboard knobs and the drawer pulls were shiny rather than matte and especially that they did not actually match each other, the pulls being silver and the knobs being almost black.

Also the wood-grain-looking laminate counters had some problems, namely at the ends. On one end the endcap piece had come off, leaving the particle board interior visible when you sat at the dining room table and on the other end it didn’t meet up with the stove, so all manner of grease and particles of food made their way down to the floor, catching themselves on the dishwasher’s insulation blanket on the way.

And speaking of the dishwasher, there was nothing holding up that end of the counter but the dishwasher, which made it hard to open and shut.

These are all things you can live with, so we lived with them, knowing that kitchen renovation can be disruptive and expensive. But finally the right time came. We planned and priced things out, went with the cheaper and easy-to-care for option for the countertop, bought paint and knobs and pulls, and then settled in for at least three weeks of patching and painting during every spare moment.

And this is what we ended up with after:

Every choice we made for this project grew out of the choice of the countertops, which are laminate slate basalt (or basalt slate, I can’t remember which) which were chosen because we knew we wouldn’t ruin them, we could install them ourselves, and they would keep the costs down significantly. So the paint on the wall (Glidden, Hazy Seacliff Teal — the color is a bit off in the photo and actually looks very different in different lights) was chosen to work with the deep grey and black of the counters.

I moved my cookbooks to the top open shelves above the sink and got new spice racks. And the sink itself was kind of an odyssey.


This is the fourth one I bought. Our house was built in 1939 and these are the original cupboards, so they are smaller than today’s standard, and a standard 33″ sink will not fit. I wanted a single basin so I had room for my big pots and canners, and so that I didn’t just mindlessly fill one side with dirty dishes but instead had to empty the dishwasher. The faucet is the kind where the sprayer is built into the end and can be pulled out and retracts automatically.

The wine rack on the wall to the left in the above picture was, like the spice rack, found on Amazon after going to eleven stores looking for both. Apparently everyone has more counter space than I do and is just fine with wine and spice racks sitting there, taking up space, because not one store had a selection of wall-mounted varieties. But in a small 1939 kitchen, space is at a premium. In fact, all of my “decorations” on the walls are functional.

The things on either side of the clock above the window here are commonly used, easily adaptable recipes. The idea came to me when I was going through my cookbooks and moving them to the shelves above the sink. Two that I use more frequently than the others are binder-type cookbooks that don’t stack well and anyway I thought ought to be more accessible. But really the main things I get out of the one are the pancake and waffle recipes, which I know by heart but compulsively double check because I don’t want to confuse amounts of ingredients in my head.

So I thought, why not just make them a design element and put them on the wall?

But just a couple recipes isn’t enough for decor, so I found more that, while I don’t make them frequently, I make them more frequently than others. Shortcake, banana bread, pancakes, waffles, blueberry muffins, pound cake, sugar cookies, and chocolate chip cookies. I’m hoping that having them on the wall will make me think to make some of them more often.

I also wanted a chalkboard to replace the little whiteboard on our fridge where we write all the things we’ve run out of so we know what to add to the grocery shopping list. This I also could not find in a store to save my life. Either they were too big or too small, and none of them seemed to be an actual, real chalkboard. They were largely just a flat surface that was painted black and didn’t have the feel of something that would properly interact with chalk, if you know what I mean. So again, Amazon to the rescue.

The little thing on the wall beneath it is actually a tray-style birdfeeder I’ve had there for years and that’s where the chalk and eraser go. Originally we had put our garage door opener in it, but the garage door opener has been broken for years.

One thing I had wanted for years was to move the cabinet knobs to the corners where they could more easily be reached and get the cup-style drawer pulls. This meant a lot of spackle before I could paint, especially on the drawers. The people who had this house before us had replaced the original 3 1/2″ drawer pulls with 3″ drawer pulls. But rather than spackle and drill new holes to ensure that the pulls were centered, they drilled one new hole and used one old hole and the style of the pull was such that it hid the old unused hole. So all this time, our drawer pulls have been slightly off center. And while we never noticed visually, the drawers have always been hard to pull out and push in without getting them crooked. Remember, old cupboards. There are no metal tracks that the drawers travel on — it’s just wood on wood.

So I went ahead and did it right, though it took more time of course. I also decided to remove some doors on some more of the upper cabinets entirely. I love the idea of open shelving when I see it in magazine or pinterest photos, but not for my whole kitchen. I know what’s in some of these cupboards and it isn’t pretty enough to be on display. But there is certainly room for some open shelving in my life.

Once everything was light and bright with new paint (seriously, look back over these photos at the amount of woodwork and you will see that this was indeed a laborious task) the floor looked sad and meh, and maybe someday we will tackle that (or rather have someone else tackle it) but not right now. I’d love to see it with old-style shiny hexagon tile, white with a black stripe all around the outsides and dark grout.

And looking at the pictures now I wonder if a white beadboard ceiling or even a tin ceiling would be cool. No, I don’t wonder. It would be. So sometime down the line I can see the ceiling and floor getting redone. But for now, this is quite a transformation in its own right.

Operation Kitchen Facelift Has Begun

I didn’t notice it happening , but our black walnut tree has already dropped all of its leaves and stands tall and bare back behind the garage. It’s been an odd fall, not nearly so colorful as last year’s. The trees were stressed from a dry summer, then it turned cold and we thought the fall color might be a week ahead of schedule. But summer returned and the trees are confused. My maples are still green and the walnut looks on, either embarrassed at jumping the gun or smug at his preparedness for winter, I don’t know which.

A similar confusion exists in our house right now. We’ve started a kitchen facelift of sorts that has progressed slower than expected because of the little absurdities and quirks of an old house that doesn’t fit today’s standard dimensions. We’re on our third sink purchased for this project and now waiting on the plumber for professional installation (we don’t mess with plumbing if we can help it) who had come earlier this morning only for us to discover our sink conundrum.

I’ve picked a color to paint the walls and realized with the new, very dark countertops that the cupboards really do need a new coat of fresh, bright white paint. That’s a long time coming, as the people who lived here before us had the entire house painted but all the white woodwork and cabinetry is actually only white primer, not paint, and it gets dreadfully filthy. So I’ll be removing doors and drawers, filling in all the old hardware holes, painting everything, repositioning the holes for the hardware, and installing new knobs and pulls.

This all takes time, of course, so it may be a while before I can share a before and after post with you, but I’m hoping to do so in the next couple weeks perhaps. I suppose the nice new countertops are like my walnut tree: clean, bare, and ready for the next chapter of life. Everything else in the kitchen? Green maples, all of them.

A Tinseltown Twist on NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year. Emails from National Novel Writing Month are popping up in my inbox. Writer friends are talking about prepping for NaNoWriMo on Facebook. Writerly blogs are starting to post content about it.

And here I am looking ahead to a leisurely, wide-open November and several projects I could choose from. So what am I going to do with those thirty days?

I think I might write my first screenplay.

Screenplays are a LOT shorter than novels, so I wouldn’t be trying for 1,667 words per day to hit 50,000 by the end of the month. A 120-page screenplay (with the average of one minute screen time per page) written in 30 days means averaging four pages a day.

I’ll be taking pre-writing work and tentative outlining I’ve done for a novel and turning toward a more visual medium, for a few reasons. First, I’ve never written a screenplay and I enjoy continually expanding my experience and repertoire. Second, the idea had first started in my head as a great idea for a movie. Third, if the screenplay goes nowhere, which, let’s face it, it probably will (won’t?), it can still function as an extended outline for a novel.

To that end I have been watching a ton of interviews with screenwriters and gleaning lots of advice. I’m searching out well-respected and successful screenplays to read. I’m contemplating taking a screenwriting class in the future. And I’m happy to have an excuse to re-watch a bunch of films that feel like they are in the vein of what I intend to write so that I can take notes on scenes, sequences, and structure.

A screenplay seems just the speed of something I’d like to fiddle with over the cold months while I continue to freefall down the research hole for my WWI novel.

Those are my November plans. How about you?

The Problem with 30,000 Feet: Thoughts on Las Vegas, Evil, and Why God Tarries

As I flew back to Michigan after attending my third Women’s Fiction Writers Association Writers’ Retreat, I felt tired and satisfied, happy to be coming home yet still sad to leave.

Most of all, I felt a profound sense of love for the world that sped by 30,000 feet below. Almost everything I saw was lovely in its own way.

Neat lines of houses I knew were inhabited by people with hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments and triumphs.

Crooked lines of canyons carved out of the rock by rivers.

Fingers of mountain ranges stretching out across the ground.

The world from 30,000 feet is easy to love.

On the ground? Not so much.

I’m not talking about the natural world in this case, but the world in the way the Apostle Paul talked about it — the world’s system, the flesh, humankind’s sin nature, our tendency to corrupt and twist nearly everything we touch in some way.

Events like the shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night — 58 dead and 515 hospitalized with injuries is the last count as I write this — force us once more to grapple with this reality. Why are some people so utterly horrible? Why are we bent on destruction? Why this waste of human life and potential?

And no answer we come up with truly satisfies. It’s guns. It’s mental illness. It’s religious ideologies. It’s Fate. It’s dumb luck.

As much as we would all like to avoid the question of why great evil continues to be done “in 2017” or any other year, we cannot. Bad people do bad things. Storms level entire islands. People take advantage of one another. Evil simply is. 

I would like to live with my view of the world at 30,000 feet. But I’m not afforded that luxury. I live here on the ground. And so do you.

While I was at the retreat, a friend and I chatted on the patio after the sun went down. We talked about our work, but also about the state of the world. It seems it’s hard to avoid talking about it — it’s on everyone’s mind. She said something to the effect of, “I suppose your faith helps you with all that.”

It does. To an extent.

When it comes to politics, I vote my conscience and trust God to work things out according to His will. That frees me from a lot of hand-wringing, anxiety attacks, and ulcers I think a lot of my friends are dealing with on an almost daily basis.

When it comes to terrorism and massacres, it still helps, but it’s harder. I can intellectually accept that each of us is sinful and in need of redemption. But it seems like some people are SO sinful, so utterly consumed by irrational hatred. I feel sick to my stomach with the magnitude and mindlessness of it. There’s no revenge here or personal vendetta. Those, while still horrible, are at least comprehensible at some level. But randomly shooting strangers? Driving trucks and vans into crowds of strangers? Blowing up strangers? It’s incomprehensible. I hardly know what to do with it.

My one comfort in these cases is still my faith. That God is just. That evil will be punished. That my own sins are forgiven through true repentance. That He still has and is working out His perfect plan. That these events grieve Him — but they do not surprise Him.

And when I am tempted to accuse Him of allowing terrible things to happen as His judgment tarries, I must remember that it is because of mercy that He waits. That just like the door on my airplane, once the doors to salvation are shut they will not be reopened. His seeming slowness in setting things right is is not an oversight, nor is it an indication of neglect or of sadism. It is patience and compassion.

“As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” – Ezekiel 33:11a

and

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9

I must rest in the knowledge that God sees the world from 30,000 feet and He sees it at ground level and He sees into the hearts and thoughts of every single human being that has ever lived, is now living, or will ever live in the future. And while I may sometimes have a hard time keeping a handle on the plot of a 400-page novel that I am writing, He never misses even a syllable of the story He has been writing from the Beginning. He is a far better author than I, and I can trust Him with every character, every plot twist, every dark moment, every triumph in His story.

And I can certainly trust Him to end each chapter exactly when it should end.

A Brief Stop in Pigeon River Country

It’s hard to find a hiking trail in the Lower Peninsula that allows for a 3- or 4-day hike with dispersed backcountry campsites. Jordan River Pathway is advertised as a 2-day hike, but with the new detour around the wetlands, that’s going to be uncomfortable for some. Camping is only allowed at the Pinney Bridge site. So in order to make ours a 3-day, 2-night trip, we drove an hour east to Pigeon River Country and Pickerel Lake, which has a drive-in campsite.

Being Labor Day, the place was packed with RVs and unfortunately our site ended up near some rather loud and boisterous kids who had brought everything they owned with them. But my feet had blisters from our elongated hike out of the Jordan River Valley, so I was happy to be wearing flip flops and carrying things a few yards from the car rather than on my back. We had a nice fire, sitting in the stadium chairs my sister happened to have left in her car, and slept well after our nearly 12-mile day. (My FitBit told me that we had climbed the equivalent of 91 stories during all the up and down and up, up, up.)

The next morning we drove out to the elk viewing area to see if perhaps the elk herd was hanging out there.

They were not.

Nonetheless, it was a pretty field.

And we saw wild turkeys.

Seeing the turkeys was rather macabre because we had already determined that on our way home we were going to stop at Gobblers, a place that sells mostly Thanksgiving dinners for lunch.

The meal was fantastic and we had another hiking trip in the books, albeit a short one. Next year we’ll have to try to get back to the U.P.

Mushroom Madness

My sister and I like to look for themes on our hikes. One year it was ferns, another maples, another blueberries, etc. Something that just keeps popping up along the way. On the Jordan River Pathway, it was Indian Pipe and it was mushrooms.

When you hike in late summer and there’s been enough rain, you’ll see a lot of them. Here are just some of the mushrooms and fungus that caught our eyes along the way.

Either Crown Coral or Cockscomb Coral; either way it’s edible, but we didn’t know that at the time. However, there are pink varieties of coral fungi that are poisonous, so don’t mess around with it if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Likely Yellow Patches, but possibly Frost’s Amanita, which is poisonous. I wouldn’t take any chances.
I thought this big mushroom looked like a chocolate chip scone. I had trouble identifying this one. Maybe it’s a Boletus subglabripes. If so, it would be edible. But I bet it doesn’t taste much like a scone.
The next few photos are of Parasol Mushrooms.
You can see how big they can get. Apparently they fruit in grass or open woodland.
This was just a little one.
The thing about these is that there are lookalikes that are poisonous, so again, I wouldn’t take my chances.
I’m fairly sure this one was a Parasol Mushroom as well.
Alison spotted a couple of these deep purple mushrooms, which neither of us had seen before. It’s called a Purple Cort and, though it looks anything but tasty to me, it is edible! With the added benefit that I don’t think you’re going to mistake this for some other variety that will kill you.
Some variety of what are known as bracket fungi. Perhaps Bjerkandera adusta?
These seem to me to be Gem-Studded Puffballs. Edible. Again, lookalikes may not be. Sensing a theme here? Maybe we should all just stick to the grocery store.
Actually, I was taking a photo of the big ball of moss, but the yellow fungi in the background are a bonus. I’ve no idea what they are, though.

Hiking the Jordan River Pathway, Day 2

Day two of hiking the Jordan River Pathway started well. Because we hadn’t been overly ambitious the first day, we were both feeling good the next morning and ready to take on the day.

The weather was nice and cool. The path was rather flat, which is good on the knees and the balls of one’s feet, and on this side of the river there continued to be good scenery and good conversation.

We were even treated to a few overlooks, which we hadn’t really had on the other side of the river.

There was that moment the trail got lost in the overgrown raspberry canes and asters, which were still wet with morning dew, which (the dew) quickly found a new home in the fabric of our pants, which (the pants) became exceedingly cold and heavy until they dried.

But that’s okay. There were signs of fall to admire, like the sumac changing color.

And there were pretty woodland flowers.

And there was more Indian Pipe, this time in a big clump.

We lunched at the riverside, happy to be rid of our packs for a spell and to feel the cool breeze on our sweaty backs. In fact, it soon got so chilly I draped my sweatshirt around my shoulders. It was the last time I would feel cool until we were in the car, blasting the air conditioning.

We did get to walk through my favorite kind of woods — tall deciduous trees with little undergrowth where you can see for some way.

And there was a huge open meadow as well, bouncing with grasshoppers.

Though the afternoon with no shade was rather hot.

We passed and sampled some wild blackberries.

And then things got soggy. We were headed down to the river again and toward some wetlands where there was a nice, flat boardwalk before our final climb out of the valley and into the car.

Or rather there should have been a boardwalk. There used to be a boardwalk. But, as is their wont, rather than fix it when damaged, whoever keeps this trail up thought it would be easier somehow to cut a detour. Which meant more distance and a lot more up and down hills. And, since it was newly cut and not well-trodden, lots of tiny stumps and roots and rocks to trip on at the end of your hike when you are already exhausted.

And so this is the last photo I took. After that, the heavy camera went in the pack and we trudged on. And on. And on. Until what should have been an 8.4 miles hike according to the map became more than 11 miles according to my FitBit.

The last hill was absolutely endless, and we were the only ones taking the trail “backwards” as one person put it, so we continuously passed fresh, clean, bright-eyed people with their intrepid dogs as we slogged our way out of the valley.

There was more to our trip than I’ve shared so far, but that will keep until next time…

Hiking the Jordan River Pathway, Day 1

Once again, this year the Annual Sisters’ Hike was in the Lower Peninsula, largely due to time constraints. And since we went on Labor Day Weekend this year and the Mackinac Bridge was closed for six hours on Labor Day as a new safety measure for the Annual Bridge Walk, hiking in the LP meant fewer traffic snarls.

On Friday, September 1st, I got on the road before 7 am, watched a gorgeous sunrise, and reveled in that end-of-summer light.

There was mist in the low places that morning. Blushing trees and burgundy drifts of Joe Pye weed. Fields of beans and corn tinged with the yellow tips of its drying leaves. Rolling hills of sheep, cows, and horses pulling at grass. Sunrise reflected in wetlands dotted with birds. Thin clouds lit up with the color of morning.

During the drive I saw far more wildlife than I would see hiking, including sandhill cranes, flocks of wheeling blackbirds, and one of the biggest Vs of Canada geese I’ve ever seen. I also had a coyote run across the highway about fifty feet in front of my car. He was large and sleek and completely focused on whatever it was he was chasing on the other side of the road. Totally unconcerned about the car barreling down on him. Thankfully, he timed it right and I had only just had the sense to touch my brakes and then he was gone in the underbrush.

Alison and I met up at the parking area for Deadman’s Hill Overlook (above), left my car there, and drove hers to Landslide Overlook about six miles down the trail. Though we weren’t supposed to park there overnight, I didn’t fancy doing nearly 10 miles of hiking the first day. I wanted an easy 4-5 miles for day one and we figured people probably weren’t ticketed much there. So we left it to chance (and it turned out just fine).

One of the first items of note on our hike of the Jordan Valley was this little white plant, which I’ve only ever seen once or twice.

Indian Pipe is a native wildflower that has no chlorophyll, doesn’t make its own food, and gets its sustenance from decaying plat material through a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus (so you cannot, repeat cannot grow these in your garden so don’t dig them up). And we saw a ton of them on the slopes near Landslide Creek and Cascade Creek. Interestingly, the flowerhead turns upright after it is pollinated.

We also saw a ton of baby spiders making their perfect little webs all over the place.

The trail was generally well groomed here, though there was the occasional obstacle to be traversed.

These stairs down toward one of the creeks were in very good shape, though of varying heights, which made for some surprisingly shallow or deep steps along the way.

Alas, it wasn’t long before we ran into our first detour (there would be more…several more).

It seems that in so many state parks there is a tendency to put up a sign rather than repair a failing structure, like those helpful “BUMP” signs you occasionally encounter while driving. Okay…why not fix the road so it doesn’t need a sign?

But I digress…

Like many of our other hikes, part of the Jordan River Pathway is also part of the North Country Trail, a network of trails that stretches from New York to North Dakota. The Jordan River Pathway portion is, surprisingly, the only point at which whis trail crosses the 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the north pole.

Inside this little sign/house thing is information about the NCT and information about a Facebook page on which you can post your selfies with the sign above. It was obviously created before everyone carried smart phones because it suggests to the hiker that he or she can rest their camera on the part that pulls down and makes a horizontal surface.

Here’s ours.

And because two signs is not marker enough for some people, there of course was a rather substantial cairn a few feet away. It wasn’t interfering with photos or natural water flow, so I let it be.

We stopped for a while at the 45th Parallel to eat lunch. Last year during our trip to the Manistee River, my sister inexplicably brought a can of Spaghetti-Os to eat–cold–because she “saw them in the store and they sounded good” to her. I made fun of her pretty mercilessly and asked her if she needed a stick and a red bandana to carry her things while she hopped a train. So this year she brought them to spite me, which was a strong move.

After lunch we encountered this interracial tree couple that had grown together in several spots. I’d never seen anything like that before.

One nice feature of the Jordan River Pathway is the varied landscape. It’s not just all trees and forest. There are a number of open meadows, including this one that was absolutely alive with buzzing bees.

And there are openings in the trees that are largely populated with tall ferns…and the occasional tiny butterfly.

When we got to Pinney Bridge, I was surprised to see how small the Jordan River actually was. I know I’ve done this hike before with my husband, but it’s probably been at least fifteen years, so there wasn’t much I remembered.


After the bridge, it’s a short walk up to the campsite. Along the way we spotted the changing leaves of some wild columbine…

…some touch-me-nots with the exploding seed pods…

…and lots and lots of wild asters of some variety.

Now, earlier on during our hike, we came across a young, spry couple who told us that the night before they had stayed in site 3 at the campground and that it was a nice one and they’d left some unburned firewood there. So we decided that’s where we would stay. One of the first things I saw was one of these:

I don’t know why, but these little flossing tools seem to seek me out. They are in every parking lot, along every sidewalk. And now, at our campsite. I’ve considered starting a Tumblr that is nothing but photos of these things because I encounter them so often. And they always leave me with the same unanswered questions.

1.) Why do people feel the need to floss their teeth on the run?

2.) Why isn’t regular floss, which is just waxed string that will biodegrade, unlike this molded plastic, not good enough for them?

3.) Why is it acceptable in their minds to throw these things on the ground?

I would imagine this one was just an oversight. Surely hiking people wouldn’t litter on purpose, so hey, I’ll cut them a break. They did tell us about the firewood situation after all. What they did not tell us, because I’m sure they were not aware, was that they had left a live fire behind.


This was what I saw upon arriving, probably six hours after they had left in the morning. Again, an oversight. But a potentially dangerous one. Luckily, the northern Lower Peninsula has gotten far more rain this summer than the area where I live in the southern half, where an unattended fire could have some serious consequences.

Pro tip: Covering a fire with the ashes does not necessarily put the fire out. In fact, in Ye Olde Days, people who heated their homes or cooked with wood or coal fires would “bank them” at night, piling up the ashes, so that they wouldn’t go out and would be easier to start again the next morning. The way to get your fire to go out is to spread the embers as far from one another as you can, not pile them together. And if you’re in a forest you have a responsibility to get that fire out before you leave your campsite. Use water if necessary.

Anyway…

The Pinney Bridge campsite is quite nice. It’s a collection of 15 scattered sites arranged around a common green, a water pump (no filtering!), and two pit toilets, a.k.a. “The Gateway to Hell.”

Alison made one attempt but came back out almost immediately saying, “It’s like a horror film in there.”

“In what way?” I inquired.

All she said was, “Flies.”

This may be too much information, but my sister and I always prefer using the facilities in the woods when we go hiking for precisely this sort of reason. But enough about that. On to the flowers!

This big Queen Anne’s Lace flowerhead was going to seed, while the ones below were perfectly catching the evening light.

It certainly was no horror film most places you looked. More like the setting of a fairytale.

September is truly a lovely time of year and evening is a lovely time of day. One of the reasons I didn’t want to hike 10 miles the first day. I wanted to be able to enjoy the time with the packs off our backs for a while.

We pitched the tent, gathered more firewood, had dinner, read books, took pictures, and chatted about life as the sun sank lower in the sky.

It was a beautiful, marvelous, magical evening…