National Novel Writing Month Is Coming

Back in 2014, I won National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is “won” by hitting 50,000 words written in a new novel in the month of November. It means you’ve written at least an average of 1,667 words a day for 30 days. And if you’ve never tried it, it is not easy.

Prior to 2014, I didn’t think I could write that fast or write under pressure. But the novel I started drafting back then became what will be my second published novel (in November 2019).

After that success, I tried to attempt NaNoWriMo again, but I was never quite ready at that moment to start something new. But this year, after sending a revision of my current WIP to my agent for her comments, and after thinking and planning and gathering notes on what I want to write next, I think I’m finally ready to tackle it again.

Or I’d better be, because I already signed up to compete.

For me, this may mean getting up early each morning to write before the day gets going. It may mean writing in the evenings instead of reading or watching a show. It may mean spending most of a Saturday at the keyboard. And it may mean all of those things at once!

Why try to write 50,000 words in one month? For me, it’s about momentum. Momentum that will carry me through a crappy first draft that I can then spend a lot more time revising and honing, which is my favorite part of the writing process. After all, you can’t revise what hasn’t yet been written. Plus, I haven’t drafted something totally new in at least two years as I have been focused on revising earlier works and letting my creative well re-fill. It’s time to get moving on a new story with a new cast of characters.

One of the things you do when you officially sign up for NaNoWriMo (at nanowrimo.org) is choose a working title, write a short synopsis, and upload a provisional cover in order to make it all feel more concrete. Here’s mine:

Mel and Ollie Go for a Walk

Sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were college students on a remote wilderness hiking trip when their parents died in a terrible car crash. They emerged from the isolation of the woods that day only to discover that, except for each other, they were utterly alone in the world.

Ten years later, Melanie insists they mark the occasion by hiking the same trail. Olivia doesn’t see the point. They’ve gone their separate ways in life and now have little in common besides their grief–and their uncanny ability to get on one another’s nerves.

Olivia, a young, hungry lawyer, has retreated into a strictly materialist view of the world–what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie, a self-proclaimed life coach and YouTube guru, affirms all spiritual belief systems, just to cover her bases. Neither of them is prepared for what the wilderness is about to throw at them.

As things go from bad to worse on the trail, Mel and Ollie will have to learn to lean on each other and find the right path in order to get back to civilization. Along the way, they will discover just how deep the bond between sisters goes.

I’ve been wanting to write a sister story for a while. And I’ve been wanting to write a hiking story for a while. (No big surprise, considering the fact that I hike with my sister regularly.) The kind of silly working title popped into my head one day and wouldn’t be dislodged, though once the book is written I am sure a better one will emerge. And obviously the very simple cover is just for my benefit (it doesn’t even have my name on it because there’s no good place to put it). But sometimes you have to visualize the finished product in order to make it more real, to make it something you’re willing to put in the work on.

The fun part about this story as I envision it? Taking all of those concerns one has when embarking on a backcountry hiking trip where there is no cell service–the possibility of bear attacks, sudden injury, getting lost, getting caught in the elements, running out of food or water, wildfire, being tracked by a person with ill intent–and throwing some of them at my characters to see how they react and what they learn about life and themselves along the way.

Embarking on NaNoWriMo is a little like taking a hiking trip. You plan as best you can, but you also have to make decisions in the moment. Because you never know what’s around the next bend…

 

Prepping for the Porkies

This week, my sister, Alison, and I are preparing to walk about 26 miles of some of the most beautiful and remote wilderness Michigan has to offer. We’re buying food and stuffing packs and gassing up cars.

Our path will take us up and down gentle mountains, along and across two rivers, past seven waterfalls, along the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, beneath old growth forests, and past abandoned copper mines. We will sleep the shortest nights of the year (just seven hours from twilight to twilight) to the sound of running water and waves and wind. We will be off the grid the entire time.

We will pay for this privilege with sore muscles and dirty hair.

Such a small price for utter bliss.

 

Spring Fever, Satisfied

We are reveling in spring here in Michigan.

It feels like such a blessing after a very long winter that reached its grasping, scraping fingernails into April and was reluctant to let go.

But now, our spring flowers are in bloom.

Our foliage is stretching out to greet the sun.

And our feeders are being visited by exciting birds I rarely get to see, like orioles…

…and rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Along with our more common visitors: cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, house finches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches.

We even get to see quite a lot of the neighborhood turkey, who likes hanging out in our back yard and our neighbor’s in the morning.

The poor thing is rather frightened of my little chihuahua mix (all seven pounds of her) and seems utterly dumbfounded by fences.

The view out of my upstairs office window is improving day by day as the trees leaf out.

Even the rainy days are rather warm. The daffodils and scilla and crocuses are all gone now, but tulips and grape hyacinth are hanging on, and the flowering trees are just past peak. Rivers and creeks are running high with much rain. My thoughts turn outward, toward summer travel plans, as they always do this time of year.

In about five weeks or so, my sister and I will be hiking the Porcupine Mountains, one of the stops my son and I made on our epic UP Road Trip last June. Our chosen path will take us along rushing rivers, past seven waterfalls, along the shore of Lake Superior, along escarpments, and through forests that will be weeks behind in terms of new growth (which means we’ll get to experience this marvelous spring a second time). Our campsites will have us sleeping alongside the Little Carp River, on Lake Superior at the mouth of Toledo Creek, and up on the escarpment not far from the Lake of the Clouds.

Rocks and rivers, woods and waterfalls. 60,000 acres of wilderness. Time to reflect, to rest our minds and busy our feet. Alison and I look forward to our hiking trip each year. We’ve been lots of places. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Sable Dunes, Tahquamenon Falls, the Manistee River, the Jordan River Valley.

The Porkies have been on our Someday List. It takes a long time to drive there (nearly 9 hours drive time from my house in the state capital, plus time for rest stops and meals) so you need two extra days built in just to get there and back. Thankfully, timing seems to have worked out in our favor this year.

I guess after this, we may have to start saving our money to fly to more trails further away!

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…

A Changing Landscape and a Hidden Waterfall

On a Sunday morning in early June, my son and I left Munising after breakfast at Bay Furnace Bagel to head to parts west.


It was tremendously foggy and cool for the first fifty miles between Munising and Marquette, but not so foggy I didn’t realize how lovely it would be to live on Lake Superior near the town of Au Train.

The fog lifted and I pulled over for a few shots of Superior.

It is a road trip, after all, and the scenery along the way is half the point.

Around Marquette and beyond, the landscape of the Upper Peninsula begins to change from dairy farms and scrubby wetlands to hills with imposing outcroppings of rock, reminiscent of the foothills of a mountain range.

This is copper country and iron country. And indeed it is part of an ancient mountain range, the Porcupine Mountains, which we’ll get to by and by.

There’s no where else in the state of Michigan quite like it. It reminded me at times of the drive from flat Denver to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Except everywhere there is water. Rivers, creeks, wetlands, waterfalls, a Great Lake, and inland lakes.

One can spend too long in a car, especially when one is nine years old.

Time for a short hike along the storied Sturgeon River to find a waterfall…

The boy has discovered that he loves climbing and leaping around on rocks. Finding such things to climb and leap on was his singular focus in the western UP.

He’s also found that he loves rushing rivers and rapids, the sounds of which we normally don’t hear in the flat, lazy middle of the Mitten where rivers take their time over riverbeds of muffling sediment.

It’s possible he may have gotten tired of my continual admonishments to “be careful” on the sometimes slippery rocks.

We found Canyon Falls at the end of about a 1/2 mile trail. I allowed the boy to come around the fence and down a bit into the gorge for a closer look at these falls, which are tucked away below the trail.

But I didn’t let him get quite as far down as I went to get the best view inside the little “canyon” where they empty out.

After all, one has to have some sense of limits. Even when it is clear that one’s son is busy testing his.

In case you’re wondering where to find these falls, you’ll want to head toward the red star off Highway 41, seven miles south of L’Anse.

Hiking the Manistee River, Day Three

Sometimes, pictures are all you need.

Up from Red Bridge, Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Witch Hazel, Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Slagle Creek, Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Waterfall, Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Waterfall, Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

 

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Sunset on birches, Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Manistee River Trail, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

If you ever get a chance to hike the Manistee River Trail at the height of fall color, I highly suggest you take it.

A Magic Misty Morning on the Manistee

The second morning of our trip was cold and clear and the lazy river was clothed in fine mist as the sun crept up over the treeline.

Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

I walked along the edge of the river and across Red Bridge in my pink polka-dotted PJ pants like a crazy person to take pictures.


Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

The few other people awake and moving at that moment didn’t seem to mind.

Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

The four of us took photos silently, with nods of recognition to each other that we were the chosen few that got to experience this magic moment because we had gotten ourselves out of bed.

Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

My dad told me that when Corvettes were first manufactured there were so few of them that if a Corvette driver passed another on a street, they would wave to each other. The tradition had hung around for decades, so that when our family had a red t-top 1971 Corvette Stingray for a while in the 1990s, Dad would always wave to to other Corvette drivers.

Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

And that’s how I think nature photographers are. We know that when it is beautiful and silent and we are witnessing a majestic scene or a special moment that might not come again, we are part of an elite group.

Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

Those gorgeous golden moments we manage to capture so that we can share them with others? We’re there, in that place, just out of frame, enjoying it firsthand. Feeling the cold or the heat, hearing the wind or the crack of sticks beneath our feet…or the sound of birds.

Along the misty Manistee River, Lower Peninsula, October 2016

As I was ambling around taking pictures, a low honking began in the distance, lower than the ubiquitous Canada geese I was used to. I looked up and managed to just catch this flock of seven ghost-white trumpeter swans heading for the rising sun.

Trumpeter swans, Manistee River, October 2016

That was a moment I’m glad I didn’t miss. Soon the sun lit the trees on fire and warmed our weary muscles.

Manistee National Forest, October 2016

I took off my crazy PJ pants. We packed up the dewy tent, filtered water from the river, and headed out for what would be the most breathtaking day of our four-day hike…

[to be continued]

 

Hiking the North Country Trail Side of the Manistee River, Day Two

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…

North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

Red Hill Overlook, North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

North Country Trail, Manistee River, October 2016

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.

Manistee River Trail, October 2016

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.

Manistee River near Red Bridge, October 2016

Manistee River near Red Bridge, October 2016

Manistee River near Red Bridge, October 2016

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]