My mood broke with the
weather and I realized that
summer depressed me.
My mood broke with the
weather and I realized that
summer depressed me.
In September, the house is sheathed with spiderwebs. At every corner of every window they build their deadly, gossamer castles and lie in wait, bloated and insatiable.
Crane flies perch and hover at windows and doors. Fledglings pick at the seeds of weeds I’ve left to grow unchecked all the hot summer long.
Grasshoppers munch, leap, munch, leap, fly.
Some flowers are spent.
Others are just beginning to bloom.
Others send out a few last blooms as an encore to June’s performance.
The nights are growing longer minute by minute.
Everything that flies or crawls or hops is preparing for the harder, colder season ahead.
I finally trim back the overgrown and uproot the unwanted.
I remember how much I like tea.
I go on a real grocery shopping trip.
School has begun. Summer, for all intents and purposes, has ended.
And I am not sorry to see it go.
I never am.
Let’s just put it out there: a pretty despicable human being has been elected president of the United States. One of the many reactions to this has come from parents, especially mothers, who are asking “What do I tell my daughter?”
Before I share my answer to that question, I want to share with you a story only a few people in my life know but which is agonizingly common amongst women.
I was nine, one year older than my son is right now, when a friend’s older brother molested me. It takes a lot — a lot — of effort for me to let that sentence sit there. To not go back and delete it. To not edit it out of my story.
But it happened. More than once. And I didn’t tell anyone at first.
Probably the first couple times it happened, most people would have termed it “teasing,” especially back then. But anyone who has been intimidated or tricked into a position of helplessness while someone bigger and stronger has obvious control over whether you must stay or you get to leave will tell you that it’s not teasing. It’s at least bullying. Sometimes it’s assault, even if it is not much more than one person’s weight keeping you down on the floor until you promise him you will come back if he let’s you go.
Though I won’t go into details, the last time it happened, no one could deny that it was molestation. And not long after that traumatic incident, I stopped going over to my friend’s house. But I still didn’t tell anyone.
In sixth grade, I finally told someone. A teacher. I wrote out the story in a journal we kept in class. It didn’t have anything to do with the subject matter — science — it was just supposed to be us writing about anything we wanted and this teacher would be the only person who would read it. So I wrote what had happened to me. When I got my journal back the next week, my teacher had written at the top, “I hope you slapped him,” but he didn’t tell anyone. I guess mandatory reporting wasn’t a thing back then?
A couple years later, that teacher was arrested, tried, and convicted of molesting boys in his scout troop.
The one person I had reached out to was also a sex offender.
Though I doubt it was a conscious choice, the way I saw guys from that point on was fundamentally different. Boys became a force to be resisted, fought, proven wrong, and outdone. I would be better, stronger, smarter, more successful than they were. I would become someone to reckon with.
And I did. I beat nearly all of my male classmates in academics. I beat boys at arm wrestling. I bested them in Trivial Pursuit. I hit home runs. I was never afraid of the ball. I didn’t run like a girl, throw like a girl, or do shot put like a girl. I never backed down from an argument. I opened my own jars. I didn’t believe in the phrase “that’s a man’s job.” I wrote feminist poetry. And of the girls in my graduating class, I was voted Most Likely to Be President.
I never felt that same level of competition with other girls. Only boys.
Being an outspoken young lady who carries herself with confidence can draw idiotic sexist comments from a lot of guys. Some of them might even call you a “nasty woman.” But according to more than one adult man in my life, the boys were just “intimidated” by me. When I heard that I would think to myself, “Good. They should be.” And I would go on being me.
Eventually, I told the story of my childhood molestation to my future husband (one boy who was not intimidated by me).
In college, I stopped worrying so much about beating the boys. I was comfortably engaged to my high school sweetheart, excelling in my classes, and relishing every moment spent discussing literature, history, and culture. Unlike this woman, my experience as the victim of unwanted advances or outright assault did not continue throughout my life. It may have something to do with the different circles we ran in or it may be that me “intimidating” guys had a nice scumbag repellent effect. For whatever reason, the worst thing that happened had happened a really long time ago. And when you hear what some women have gone through, my story is mild.
But that doesn’t mean that every time I walked home from a late shift at a diner on campus I wasn’t listening for footsteps behind me and constantly running through self-defense scenarios in my mind. Because I was. No matter how long ago, an experience like that never leaves you. This statement from a New York Times article regarding Donald Trump’s treatment of women rings achingly true: “They appeared to be fleeting, unimportant moments to him, but they left lasting impressions on the women who experienced them.”
It’s obvious to me in hindsight that my early experience as the victim of sexual abuse had a significant role in molding me into the person I am today. A person who, along with every other decent person out there, was disgusted by comments made (and then lamely defended) by the president elect. To some men it might be just “locker room talk” but to women, dismissing such comments is another dismissal of their own personal story of sexual harassment or abuse, another log to throw on the smoldering fire of what’s become known as rape culture, a culture in which men are rarely held accountable and women are blamed for their own life-altering assaults.
Now then, for the answer to the question, “What do I tell my daughter?”
What do I say to her as we leave an administration led by an honorable man who set up the Council on Women and Girls and eloquently explained the problems and solutions to rape culture, and enter the administration of this guy? (For the record, I don’t think he’s actually done what he says there, but parsing all of that out is a little beyond the scope of this essay.)
Well, you could tell her the truth.
Tell her that while the office of the presidency is to be respected, there have been a number of men who held that position who have been less than honorable in their conduct toward women.
Tell her that unfortunately we live in a world where she needs to be vigilant, on guard against people who might want to take advantage of her. That while sexual assault is never her fault, she can reduce her vulnerability by taking smart precautionary measures, like never walking alone at night, learning basic self defense, supporting her female friends, and remaining sober-minded and alert in potentially dangerous situations.
Tell her that women are not exempt from feeding into a culture that devalues and blames women. Sometimes, while they are trying to protect their own hearts, lives, careers, and families, they do and say things that harm other women. They excuse terrible behavior to protect a reputation that, let’s face it, is bordering on unredeemable. (I say bordering, because if the man actually humbled himself and repented, he absolutely could be redeemed. But at this point his “conversion” is obviously a false one because he doesn’t believe he needs forgiveness, doesn’t understand the meaning of the Eucharist, and tries to make up for the bad things he does with works rather than accepting God’s grace.) They may even perpetuate the view of women as sex objects and call it empowerment. They make bad choices, and may regret them later, but they feel like they have to double down to retain their integrity because there are so many ways to make missteps in our judge now, ask questions later culture.
Tell her that nothing, fundamentally, has changed. Before Trump we lived in a dangerous and fallen world. During Trump we live in a dangerous and fallen world. After Trump we will live in a dangerous and fallen world.
And you might even tell her that the kind of people who put sexual pressure on others or who desire to feel power over others, are often the past victims of sexual pressure, harassment, or assault.
Remember the story of the friend’s older brother who molested me? When I finally told my childhood best friend and my sister about it last year, both of them immediately said, “I wonder what happened to him.”
Those twin statements kind of hit me broadside. I had often wondered why he had done what he’d done, especially since he was only four or five years older than me, still a kid himself. But it had never occurred to me that he might be acting out a scenario that had happened to him in the past, only this time he could be the one who felt in control rather than the one who felt powerless. Leave it to my always compassionate best friend and my former Child Protective Services worker sister to immediately see him as more than a perpetrator, to see him as a unique individual who might have his own difficult past.
Remember that teacher who was sent to prison for molesting boys in his scout troop? The boys who had come forward with the allegations were the same age as the boy who molested me. And it’s possible that he was even in that troop. That he had either heard about this teacher’s abuse or that he was a victim himself. I don’t know. We’re not exactly in touch and I can’t ask his sister because sadly she died after an on again, off again struggle with substance abuse.
The last time I talked to him I was a freshman in high school. He had already graduated. I contacted him and asked him if he wanted to come back for the school’s talent show and do a duet with me. It was a carefully considered ploy on my part to get the chance to put the incident, which I had still not told anyone about, to rest. To get it out of my mind. Surprisingly, he agreed. I chose the song: “Always on My Mind.” I chose it because it would make a good duet. I didn’t think any deeper about the title or lyrics for many years.
We got together a few times to practice. We watched a movie. He taught me how to drive his car, a stick shift, even though I was underage and didn’t have a license. We drove out to the Saginaw Bay, to a remote little spot at the end of a very long pier. In telling my sister the story years later, this is where she interrupted and said, “Without even a cell phone?” I stopped to think about it and said, “Yeah, I guess that was really dumb.”
We stood and watched the sun sinking over the bay and I finally got up the nerve. I asked him if he remembered luring me into his bedroom, forcing me down, and laying on top of me. If he remembered cornering me in the tent they had up in their back yard or groping me in their van when we were all playing hide and seek. He did remember. I asked him why he did all of that. All he could say was, “I don’t know.”
And maybe he didn’t. Or maybe deep down he did, but unlike me he was not ready to talk about it, to admit that something may have happened to him.
Again, I don’t know that anything did. But it might have. Because eighth grade boys don’t normally grope fourth grade girls. And that big “maybe” has helped me move past what happened to me twenty-seven years ago. Were I given the opportunity, I’d love to talk to him again and tell him that I think I have finally completely forgiven him. In case you’re wondering, we never did perform that song at the talent show.
I’m not saying all of this to excuse anyone, least of all our president elect, from criminal behavior toward women, lewd comments, or even general skeeviness. Nothing makes me feel more capable of extreme physical violence than talk of sexual assault. If I had 20 minutes, a baseball bat, and the promise of no legal consequences, it would take every ounce of my willpower not to beat Brock Turner to a raw, bloody pulp, and ask for a few shots at that judge as well.
But Donald Trump being president (How? How? How did it come to this?) will not make humanity worse. Or better. Humanity has been broken and sinful since the Fall and anyone who can look at our world and still think that people are basically good is wishing for something that is demonstrably untrue.
We all wish other people were better people. But we only have control over the behavior of one person — ourselves.
So what do you tell your daughter?
Tell her to live in such a way that she intimidates the boys.
When you pair self-confidence with self-control and self-reliance, you get someone like her. And she is a fantastic role model.
Someday, if she can ever be prevailed upon to run, your daughter might even get a chance to vote for her for president. And that would be a very proud day indeed.
After a night of interrupted sleep, we packed up our stuff and headed back down the trail, intent on reaching the Red Bridge campground on the river below. Here’s some of the beauty we saw along the way…
After a time, we left the North Country Trail and took an auxiliary trail that would bring us down to Red Bridge and connect us with the Manistee River Trail on the other side of the river.
We were surprised to find that the campsite was right by the road and a big parking lot, but neither of us felt compelled to go any further at the moment in hopes of finding a more remote one. You’d be surprised how compelling the idea of a picnic table is after just a couple days of hiking.
We settled in along the Manistee River among some beautiful marshy wetland areas.
As the sun set, we read and enjoyed the fire. Our second night would be much less eventful than the first.
That night I heard only coyotes and a great horned owl, prelude to what would be an enchanted morning…
[to be continued]
If you’ve never slept in the deep woods, perhaps you are not familiar with just how eerily quiet it can be. At home, my husband and I both have white noise to cover the silence. A fan or the air conditioning or the furnace is often running. My son has the sound of his aquarium and the soft sounds from his CD player to lull him to sleep. But on a still, windless night in the woods, you can hear the silence. And because you are straining to hear anything at all, when a sound does present itself, it can feel strange, larger than life, and sometimes a bit threatening.
During our three nights on the trail, I heard the echoing chorus of coyotes, the hooting of owls, the call of sandhill cranes. I heard the pattering of rain and falling leaves. I heard the crash of a waterfall and the swish-swoosh of wind in the trees.
But that first night was very, very quiet.
Until the screaming started.
My sister and I both heard it and we both had the same thought: Is someone getting murdered out here? We had heard gunshots earlier, but my perusal of Michigan hunting season information suggests that these shots were likely directed at wild turkeys, not humans.
I listened very closely each time the sound occurred and was comforted that it was exactly the same each time. So no, no one was getting murdered — screams would be varied in tone, pitch, and volume if you were under attack. This was the call of an animal.
I assumed at first it must be a screech owl, but as I listened to many recordings of screech owls (and a bunch of other owls) I realized that this wasn’t exactly what I heard. So I branched out and found this:
Yeah…that’s what I heard, all right.
Here’s another one (the scream starts just after the 0:25 mark):
We heard the jarring and disconcerting sound of what I now know to be a fox perhaps half a dozen times, then it stopped. And we went back to sleep.
Sometime later, I heard much quieter sounds…much closer. A kind of heavy ambling sound, accompanied by a looming but dim shadow over my head on the tent. A soft scuffling. Then silence, but with what dim light entered the tent from the moonlight on this cold, clear night I thought I saw the tent material getting closer and closer to my face, as though someone or something was pushing it.
I quietly extracted my arm from the straight jacket of my sleeping bag and pulled my pistol from its holster, which was resting within easy reach. Five years ago when my sister and I had hatched our yearly hiking plans, my husband had insisted I get my CPL. People got murdered on trails sometimes. A bullet wouldn’t stop an angry grizzly bear if I was out West somewhere, but a quick succession of them could certainly slow a black bear (provided you’ve got more than a .22 caliber, which I do).
My heart pounding, I waited with my hand on that gun. Waited for the terrifying sound of someone unzipping the tent or the slash of claws through the nylon near my face. But nothing happened. And nothing happened. And nothing happened. Had I dreamed it?
Eventually, I calmed down enough to go to sleep.
Now, sleeping on the ground is uncomfortable, and the first night especially I think most people tend to wake up a lot. And I did wake up a few times after the incident with the shadow and the shuffling footfalls. And every time, I heard my sister’s light snores from the other side of the tent — and the steady, low breathing of something on the outside of the tent, maybe only a foot from my head.
My nighttime visitor was still there. And I could assure myself that it was indeed an animal because a person certainly wouldn’t be sleeping out there in the 35 degree night air. It was a large animal with a deep lung capacity. Because it was just sleeping, I wasn’t worried. I went back to sleep.
At about 3:00 AM, my sister woke me up because she needed to go to the bathroom and I was blocking the door of the tent. I stopped her and told her of the sounds, the shadows, the low, deep breaths.
“Something was sleeping out there — a deer or a bear — and I don’t want you going out there and surprising it.”
She confirmed that I hadn’t been dreaming — she’d heard whatever it was arrive as well, and at different time, she had been awakened and heard it breathing. But at that point, neither of us heard anything and nothing was going to stop her from going to the bathroom. Alison checked her surroundings, used the forest facilities, and we went back to sleep.
When morning finally came, it was so cold that neither of us really had much desire to leave our sleeping bags. But then I remembered our nocturnal visitor, got my camera, and got up to search for signs of what really was on the other side of a few microns of nylon. I looked for hoof prints and fur, though I knew in my gut it wasn’t a deer — they just don’t sound like that when walking. I saw no fur, which deer tend to leave behind anywhere they’ve been, and no hoof prints, which are the easiest wildlife footprints to identify.
What I did see were some long, straight scratches — the longest probably about the length of my index finger — and a few shallow marks of foot pads. Here is just a sampling:
Now, except for cheetahs, felines have retractable claws, so they would not leave claw prints. Also, the only cat big enough to make that size print — a mountain lion — isn’t found in the lower peninsula. So I had two choices.
This could possibly be a canine, like a fox (too small), coyote (also probably too small), or wolf — and again, you don’t really find wolves the lower peninsula. Plus, anyone who has ever spent any time with dogs could recognize how a dog or doglike creature sniffs and moves. This creature was not doglike.
The only other possibility is that it was a bear.
Why not a large, sluggish raccoon or a porcupine? Well, a few reasons. The shadow was too big, the sniffing in too low a register, the claw marks too big, and also raccoons and porcupines sleep in trees, not on the ground.
So I am 99% sure my sleeping companion was a black bear. Probably a younger individual just because of the size of the prints and claw marks. And my theory as to why it decided to sleep with us? 1.) It was a very cold night and the tent had to be warmer than the air around it because our bodies were in it. 2.) Perhaps it is this youngster’s first season away from mom and it was looking for companionship.
You may come to some other conclusion, but for my money, I slept with a bear Friday night.
I left Lansing Friday morning after breakfast with my husband at the Good Truckin’ Diner for a two and a half hour drive I intended to take three hours to make.
I padded my drive time so I could pull over now and again and take pictures on the way up.
Because while we’re still a week away from peak color here in mid-Michigan, I knew it wouldn’t take long before I started seeing some nice, full color as I headed north.
It was cloudy but colorful, and the further north I got, the more the sun broke through. As it turned out, I was actually a wee bit late meeting my sister at the Marilla Trailhead of the North Country Trail (circled on the map below in red).
Our plan was to jump onto that red dotted line you see that indicates the North Country Trail and head south to the second of two creeks to set up camp for the first night. The fellow below was waiting a few steps onto the path to welcome us and bid us best wishes.
The trailhead path began as a gently sloping descent toward the NCT, which would take us up and down and along narrow ridges pounded out of the painted hillsides by generations of feet.
Leaves of yellow — poplar, maple, birch — were sprinkled here and there with orange and red and rusty brown from other types of maples, beech, elm, and oak.
Most of the ferns were dried and brown, though that first hour we got fairly wet with drizzly rain which fell intermittently and not enough all at once to really feel like it was raining. Every once in a while along the first part of the path, we were treated to overlooks like this…
The light spots in the distance are parts of the hillside on the other side of the Manistee River that have collapsed, leaving sand faces that look like dunes. In a couple days, that’s where we would be hiking.
The sun peeked out from the clouds regularly to set our surroundings glowing.
And I was glad that circumstances and schedules had pushed our trip so late in the season.
We got supremely lucky that Michigan’s fall colors were late in coming this year.
It sometimes seemed as though they must have known, must have held back until Alison and I could get up to see them. And after holding back, they had to let go in the most brilliant way.
And even on this cloudy day, we could see for miles. This would be our home for four days and three nights.
Though we marveled at the grand sweep of the forest, we were careful to notice the little things as well. Mushrooms and mosses of many kinds. Lichens and bearberry.
Eventually we turned away from the big river and spent much of our time weaving our way through ravines choked with trees.
The first creek we crossed was Eddington Creek. Alison and I are both fans of creeks.
The sweet singing sound and the ambling way they cut through the forest are enchanting.
But this was too soon in the hike to stop for the night. There was another set of creeks (unnamed, but very clearly on the map as squiggly blue lines) further along the trail and it was my intention that we would camp near one of those.
So we hiked on. We crossed paths with other hikers, with mountain bikers, and with friendly dogs wearing saddlebags and broad dog smiles.
We saw innumerable beautiful trees. We talked about our jobs and our families and our nation. And eventually we realized that the creeks we were searching for were either left far behind or not there to be found. We ran into another couple hikers, compared notes and maps, and discovered we were at least two miles further along than we thought, and we were also at the highest point on the trail. My explanation is that the streams we never saw are likely only running in spring when the winter snows are melting.
Luckily, we had plenty of water for the night. We chose a spot just off the trail, made a fire, and set up camp. It got steadily colder and darker until it became clear that the best thing to do was to layer up, don our warm hats and gloves, and tuck ourselves into our sleeping bags to capture our body heat. Even so, our toes and noses would be freezing in the morning. The night would be very cold indeed — 35 degrees Fahrenheit (less than 2 degrees Celsius, for my international readers). And very quiet…for the most part.
But we wouldn’t spend the entire night alone. Keep your eyes on that spot to the right of the tent, between the tent and the tree. Because there, in that space, we would have a midnight visitor…
[to be continued]
In the immortal words of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, the trees, they are a changin’. I may be paraphrasing there…
Fall color has been a long time coming this year, but now we are seeing the yellow, orange, and red, warnings to the birds and squirrels that time is running out to put away their winter store.
Signs for us that that beautiful season of winter is around the bend, waiting for us with a cozy fire, a blanket of snow, and five months of dark seclusion in which to read and write and hibernate after the frenetic race of the warm months.
I know I am looking forward to it…even if you aren’t. 🙂