It’s cold, cold, cold and snowy in Michigan lately, which suits me just fine. I stopped off at Fenner Nature Center today to take a few pictures on the way to pick up my son from school. I trudged in snow drifts nearly up to my knees and it was still coming down.
I wish I’d had more time and my snow pants on. After only about ten or fifteen minutes I had to be on my way.
One of my birthday gifts back in January was a three day mini personal writing retreat up at the Grand Traverse Resort — alone time for me to revise my WIP, eat room service BBQ pizza, and ramble in the great outdoors a while.
My room was lovely…
My work space was comfortable…
And I did get a phenomenal amount of research and revision done. I even got to have breakfast with my sister while I was there.
After checking out on Friday, I swung by Hartwick Pines near Grayling to take a walk through old growth white pines.
I was the only one there, following someone else’s cross country ski tracks from earlier in the day, listening to the birds and the squirrels and the swooshing of my snow pants.
It was beautiful.
And it was exactly what I needed after two straight days of sitting, sitting, sitting.
Being out in the woods alone, with no sound even of distant traffic, is something I really wish I could do more often. It’s as necessary to my mental and emotional well-being as good food and exercise are to my physical well-being.
When it comes to gifts, nothing beats a little alone time in God’s country. Do my guys know me or what?
Last month I shared a photo from an excursion to Fenner Nature Center and mentioned I’d like to paint it. Yesterday afternoon, I did.
I did it partly as an avoidance tactic (the couple-day warm up has made me think I really ought to clean out the garage) and partly because I’m stuck on manuscript revisions (until I can get a call with a criminal attorney who is out of town) and partly because this is a big reason I quit a bunch of stuff (unscheduled time for creative endeavors).
This time around I didn’t take pictures between each step because I was mostly working wet-on-wet and you have to work fast without letting things dry between washes. But I do have a side-by-side comparison for you.
I wasn’t trying to reproduce the photo, just to use it as a reference, especially for the low horizon and big sky you get with the portrait orientation. Taking all photos in a landscape orientation (even when you’re taking photos of people, traditionally called portraits) is an easy trap to fall into when you have a traditional camera in your hands. It’s how they’re oriented — buttons, hand holds, etc. — and it’s especially easy to only take landscape photos of…well, landscape. But turning the camera in your hands can give you a far different perspective on your subject.
Looking at the side-by-side, I’m thinking I could have tried to keep the light bits of the sky a little brighter yet. I could re-wet the sky and lay in some darker clouds to make the contrast greater, but, as I said before, there’s always the risk of overdoing it.
I think I’ll let well enough alone.
Despite my optimistic outlook on the first of the month, February sank its inevitable claws into me with blank skies, a family health crisis, missing friends who’ve moved away, and just a vague sense of stasis in the realms of work, home, health, and writing. It happens. Dinner out with my guys cheered me up last night and today, despite the continual white-gray skies, I’m feeling a bit better. This helped too:
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You might not think listening to two guys riff on how depressed they’ve been would cheer you up (especially when, in my case, one is your husband and one is a close friend), but trust me when I say that if you’re finding yourself feeling stuck or less successful than you thought you’d be at this point in your life, listening to this podcast will help. It’s honest about the expectations we have for ourselves and the ways we fall short and how to deal with those feelings of discontent and disappointment, not in a “Hey, buck up!” kind of way but in a way that might actually make some use out of those experiences. And to hear two men talk through those things honestly is a rare find.
You can’t avoid February, and sometimes you might feel like your whole life is stuck in a February. But spring is coming and God is faithful.
Once we get into February, it’s always the same for me. Utter elation when the sun shines, pervasive gloom when it’s gray, and the urge to do something to hasten spring. Yesterday I had that urge. Of course there’s nothing you can really do to get the leave back on the trees and wake your garden up. But when the birds start singing mating tunes, it feels as though the time for sitting around is over.
So yesterday I got out of the house. I stocked up on birdseed to make sure all those lovely little birds would visit my yard. And, oh, they have. Cardinals and chickadees, downy woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches, juncos and house finches. Their energetic hopping and flitting about makes me ready to do the same.
I also stopped by a greenhouse in town and got some little succulents for my petite vintage windowsill planters. Why succulents? They’re easy, they’re cheap, and in the summertime I can re-pot them together in an arrangement and place them outside if I want to. Beyond that, I’m used to getting succulents from the days our cat ate everything else that was green.
Now when I look out my office window toward the bare backyard, I see a preview of green and a tiny world that is busily getting ready for warmer weather. Perhaps I should get busy on my own nest. Someone hand me a sander and a paintbrush…
I’m not sure when I’ve been quite this chipper on the first day of February — especially with no snow on the ground. I’m finally shaking a week long sickness, I’ve hit the ground running with a revision of a work-in-progress, and the birds have been singing their springtime songs. Yesterday afternoon (and into the evening) I cleaned out and cleared off my desk while bingeing on Design on a Dime. (Aside: Do you know that both bingeing and binging are acceptable, yet WordPress claims both are misspellings?)
Perhaps I’m feeling peppy because my own personal new year starts today. All of my overwhelming activities I stepped back from last year are truly done now and I have the delightful feeling of a carnival pony that’s been released from the wheel that kept me going around in circles and I can now follow where my fancy leads me. And this month it is leading me to get my next manuscript in shape, get the house in order, and check off a couple more items on my list of things to do before we possibly put the house on the market later this year.
The January thaw has us delirious with thoughts of spring even though we know better. Still, it was lovely yesterday to wear a light jacket to church and imagine the season to come. It should be in the low 40s the next few days, with wind and rain, but winter should return later this month. And that’s all for the good. I have firewood yet to burn…
Yesterday afternoon I took a solo walk at Fenner Nature Center. There had been a lot of puns and Christopher Walken impressions and general noisiness in the morning, so after lunch I geared up for the colder weather, grabbed my camera, and headed south. As I stood by my car getting my camera over my neck, made extra puffy with scarf and goose down, a man started shouting in another language at his kids. I looked up to see seven or eight whitetail deer bounding by in a line, the sound of a far-off dog an indication of what may have disturbed them. I turned back to the man and shared one of those smiles you only get to share with a stranger when you’ve both witnessed something wonderful. He gathered his kids and piled them into the car. I set off into the grassland.
I saw a very occasional person, heard a dog bark once or twice. But the principal sound I heard was the wind whistling through the bare treetops and the shuff, shuff sound of my own walking.
I never use a trail map when I’m there, which may explain why I made two new discoveries yesterday. I took a couple smaller side trails I’d not noticed or simply not taken in the past. One led me to an observation blind built of plywood. The other led me past this…
I have no idea what the story is behind this totem pole, but it has lots of wonderful carvings of people and animals, including these guys…
A look at the map later shows that both of my discoveries are clearly marked. I guess that’s one reason to use a map.
The woods were quiet and filled with the subtle colors of winter — white, grays, and browns — but without the leaves to distract and cast shadows on the tree trunks, their underlying yellows, reds, oranges, and greens were easier to discern.
All in all a lovely, cold, windy day. It snowed overnight as well and now the trees are blanketed in white and the grass is finally buried and the windchill is near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Winter has finally come. And I couldn’t be happier.
I’m getting back into the mood to paint. I’m thinking this photo from my afternoon stroll at Fenner may be my first subject of 2016.
The power of poetry. Two days after my lament, we’ve finally had a bit of snow. And lots of sudden ice on the roads. You take the good with the bad. This morning there are flurries and the ground is still powdered with white. I believe it’s all supposed to melt tomorrow. But for a moment yesterday afternoon, it was glorious.
I drove into it going west on I-69, coming back from Pontiac where my sister was graduating from the corrections academy of Oakland County. The sole representative in her class of Grand Traverse County where she will be working, she took the top academic honors.
I was in proud attendance, as were our parents. Alison spent the last fifteen years in child protective services and then adult protective services, hard jobs that wear you down, especially as resources continue to be stripped. The road to the moment in the photo above started somewhere back in the late spring with application, then a battery of tests and background checks and interviews, then five weeks away from her family at the academy.
As we run out 2015 and think about the year to come, I pray it’s a year of renewal, growth, satisfaction, and joy for all of you, but especially for her.
Sunday morning we finally had our first frost. Cold weather’s been slow in coming this year. Nearly a week of bright, sunny days in the mid-70s preceded this frost. But most of the leaves are finally down.
As they sometimes do, my irises bloomed a second time this year. They tend to put out one last effort before winter if we get a stretch of warm days. But time is short for what still remains in the garden. The burning bush holds to a few last leaves. The hostas have all turned yellow and collapsed. Another day of working out in the yard will erase it all. Then the snows.