Winter through a Warm Filter

I think when winter settles in, lots of people immediately put on their grumpy glasses. Everything about winter irritates them — the cold temperatures, the snow, the driving — and they are miserable until April. They see life in winter through a cold filter, like this:

Winter at Fenner Nature Center

Others put on a different pair of glasses. They see winter as a chance to be cozy at home, a chance to do winter sports, or even just a welcome blank space in their social calendar (post-Christmas, at least). They see beauty and artistry. They see life in winter through a warm filter, like this:

Winter at Fenner Nature Center

No matter what our station in life or what the season, our enjoyment of life is directly correlated to how we choose to see it. If we see adversity and enemies and obstacles everywhere we look, if we see everything as an inconvenience to us, then that’s what we’ll get. But if we can see that winter is merely a wondrous part of the yearly cycle of nature in a temperate zone, maybe we’ll enjoy it a little more.

Winter at Fenner Nature Center

After all, we’re all experiencing the same winter if we’re in the same area of the country. If you hate it and your friend loves it, the difference isn’t in winter, it’s in you. It’s in how you’re choosing to experience the exact same circumstances as your friend. Maybe if we stop complaining, we won’t feel so put upon by winter (which really isn’t out to get you — it doesn’t even know you’re there).

Winter at Fenner Nature Center

I have a friend who is experimenting with liking winter this year. She hates it, but she’s decided not to complain about it. And you know what she realized for the first time? Just how much other people were complaining about it. The experiment is ongoing, and I’m not sure if she’ll last until spring finally comes, but for right now, I’m really proud of her. If you’re normally wearing your grumpy glasses all winter, I encourage you to try it out, even if just for a week or two.

Winter at Fenner Nature Center

Besides, if you just can’t hack it, I’m sure Florida will take you.

In Which the Trees Finally Put on Their Autumnal Attire

In the immortal words of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, the trees, they are a changin’.¬†I may be paraphrasing there…

Black Walnut

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.

Sugar Maple

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.

Maple

I know I am looking forward to it…even if you aren’t. ūüôā

“In the solitary forest, by the rushing Taquamenaw…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second day of our hike, Alison and I ran across a number of areas with young maples sprinkled between the pines and firs and showing off their fall colors.

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The ferns in the open areas were browning and made an interesting color combination with large patches of fuzzy seafoam green lichens.

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The woods through which the second half of the Wilderness Loop winds are alternately close and open. The open areas would be hot in sunny weather, but we had clouds and some breeze the whole way.

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Here Alison takes a moment to enjoy the color in a rare ray of sunshine. I believe she is preparing mentally for the many more soggy spots we will encounter as we race the thunder on the way to Clark Lake campsite. (Little does she know at this point that her right foot is soon to be ankle-deep in cold, black¬†swamp water.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is¬†one of the very best “bridges” Tahquamenon has to offer in the backcountry.

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Seriously, this was one of the most sound structures on the trail, and it looked like it had been decomposing for nigh on a decade. There was one real bridge. As we passed over it we realized we were also passing yet another beaver dam, this one far taller than the last.

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So, campers, what have we learned from the above diagram? That’s right! The Department of Natural Resources can¬†build a bridge…when it so chooses.

We passed by the wetland created by this second industrious beaver…

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…and soon arrived at the Clark Lake campsite where we were again the only people. We took a two-hour nap that afternoon as rain pounded down on the tent. It was glorious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And we happily made use of this very handmade bench.

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We filtered water from Clark Lake. It’s always a little unnerving to drink brown water, even if you know the microbes and nasty little beasties have been filtered from it. Here’s some of the leftover water in a clear glass at home so you can see the tannins leeched from the cedars, which gives the falls their distinctive color.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe week after this hiking trip, my mother came to watch the boy while Zach and I traveled to St. Louis for ACFW. She was nice enough to wash all of my clothes–not just the really nasty ones from the hike, but from all of the hampers and baskets and dividers in the house.

The packs are still in my sunroom, waiting to be returned to storage, where they will wait patiently…for next year.

 

October Is Almost Half Over–Don’t Miss It

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Along the drive to my son’s school is a block of city land devoted to nature. Surrounded on four sides by homes, a highway, and a golf course, it is nevertheless a patch of peaceful ground. This little enclave of trees and cattails and wildflowers is the haunt of ducks, herons, songbirds, rabbits, muskrats, turtles, and frogs, as well as senior citizens out on walks and health nuts getting in a run. It is lovely much of the year, but like all wooded areas in temperate zones, never so lovely as in fall.

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During our frenetic and emotionally taxing week last week, I stopped for twenty minutes one morning after dropping the boy off at school to take some pictures and breathe the cool October air. I took the photos you see in this post of Great White and Blue Herons, colorful sumac leaves, mist dancing above the water, and reflections of trees in the ponds.

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When I picked my son up that afternoon, I convinced him that visiting the ducks at the park would be far preferable to playing a video game or watching a TV show. We had a grand time greeting the ducks we knew (like Tucky, who is any female Mallard we encounter anywhere in the city) and naming those we were meeting for the first time (Caramel, Buttercup, Oreo, Splashy, Ducky, Woody, Shaky, etc.). We saw two muskrats and chipmunks with cheeks stuffed full of seeds.

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These two stops at the park took up less than an hour of my day. But that hour did so much good to my spirit. I saw so many different species of plants and animals living in such a small space. A compact and yet complex ecosystem.

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So much is packed into our lives. So many people, activities, responsibilities, diversions–all vying for attention. But in this little park nothing vied for attention. Everything waited quietly to be noticed.

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The silent rabbit I saw retreating ahead of me on the path did not need to be checked off my to-do list. Berries of every hue waited patiently on the bushes for me to note their presence or to pass them by without a glance. And while it’s fun to know the species of the trees or the birds or the flowers, it’s not necessary in order to enjoy looking at them.

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Surely there were creatures attempting to escape my notice entirely, like the cautious wading birds or whatever creature ducked underwater at my approach and created ringlets of tiny ripples retreating out into the pond.

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I try to make it a practice to notice nature. But when life gets so terribly busy it is easy to forget that there is a world out there that is unconcerned with deadlines or what happens on the next episode of insert-show-you-obsessively-watch. A bird is only concerned with eating. A plant is not concerned about anything at all! And while I wouldn’t want to be a heron or a maple tree, no matter how carefree their existence might be, I don’t want to miss what they have to teach me about patience, silence, and stillness.

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I hope you take the time for a little stroll in the woods or along a shore or in a nature center this week. The leaves are falling and this season will not last. Your project will be there tomorrow. Go take a walk.

Measuring My Life in Woodpiles and Cucumbers

Despite the fact that our Midwestern home is kept warm in the cold months with a furnace that runs on natural gas, we are the happy beneficiaries of the many lovely aspects of a wood-burning fireplace. In the winter months, we often have a fire roaring and crackling away, with the whole family (animal members included) lolling around in the living room, basking in its warm glow. By the time spring came around this year, we’d burned through our woodpile and were on to the odious task of buying wood from grocery and hardware stores–wood that was never quite dry enough and since we burned it, it really did fell as though we were burning money.

This year, however, our fireplace fuel needs have been taken care of thanks to an enormous dead sugar maple that we finally decided to dispose of before it crushed our house during a windstorm. It’s a good thing we acted when we did, as the modern-day lumberjack who took it down informed us that about half the trunk was hollow (including the root system).

NovFirst2The guys cut the big branches down to fireplace log size and stacked them up on the driveway along the fence. And, as I requested, they left an enormous pile of smaller branches for me to break down into kindling, which is what has occupied a fair bit of my weekend already.

There is something so ancient-Anglo-Saxon-peasant about breaking up sticks and bunching them together in containers. Not that my Germanic and British ancestors would have used plastic flowerpots to store their kindling, but…you get the idea. As I cracked and hacked and sawed and snipped each branch into size and created my bouquets of branches, I felt I was doing good work. Work that had a practical application in life. Necessary work.

I took a break for a while to collect ripe tomatoes and cucumbers from the vegetable garden and thought about chopping them up along with some onion to make a cucumber salad, another act of breaking something down into useful parts.

I think about the apricot/plum and blueberry jam I just made, about the impending autumn chores of raking and cutting back the perennials, of the winter chores of shoveling snow and scraping the car. And I find myself very much looking forward to spending the cold months in my cozy house as we somehow cope with the fact that my son is now in kindergarten and we wait to see the tangible results of much time spent writing and editing.

Life marches inexorably on without our permission in some ways and cannot move fast enough to please us in others. So we practice contentment in all things and carry on with the tasks at hand.

Time to get back to my woodpile.