Monthly Archives: February 2010

High in the sky above Lake Superior…checking out the ice

Looking south over Sand Point...Assinins in foreground...L'Anse straight ahead

No, I did not go up in an airplane.  No, these are not my photos.

These aerial photographs come to you courtesy of  Barry’s fishing buddy, Mike.  Mike owns a small two-seater plane and he headed up into the friendly skies above our shoreline along Lake Superior last Friday.

He emailed his photographs of Keweenaw and Huron bays to the L’Anse Sentinel, our weekly newspaper (where my husband just happens to be the editor)  and I begged Barry…begged, mind you, blog readers…just for you…to ask Mike for permission to publish them here.  Mike thankfully agreed.

Looking northeast from the Head of Keweenaw Bay

I interviewed Barry about Mike’s plane a couple hours ago.  He says Mike likes to fly his plane about once a month during the winter.  He stores it in a hangar up at the Houghton Airport and keeps his eye open for a nice day.  Apparently last Friday met all requirements.  Up he went.

Looking north from the Huron Bay (Reed's Point on the left)

Strangely, Nancy and I were visiting the heronry on Friday and heard an airplane overhead.  “A plane!”  she exclaimed, “Let’s wave at it.”  We peered into the heavens.  The plane flew north of us.  We didn’t get the opportunity to wave wildly from the ground.  I am now 99.9% convinced that it was Mike’s plane. 

Who would have guessed we’d have his photos a few days later?

Looking south in the Huron Bay

Back to my interview with Barry–about Mike and his plane.  He said the boys have been speculating about where the end of the ice might be.  They are all ice fishermen and want to know.  He is convinced Mike flew upwards into the sky just to check on the ice.

You never know.

The ice fishermen are restless with minimal ice cover so far this winter.

Mike opens the window of his plane and sticks his camera out to get the photographs, attempting not to get pictures of the airplane wing.  It’s freezing cold outside the at that speed and altitude.  Brrrr…. 

I really want to thank Mike for allowing me to publish his great photos.  What a wonderful opportunity to see our fair land and lake from the sky in February!

The weirdest idea for a blog photo yet

Shall we go up the road?

It’s always exciting to find out.  Will we go up the road on our walk…or down the road?  When we decide to take a walk here in the Northwoods without snowshoes or skis in February, we have two choices.  Up the road or down the road.

Or shall we go down the road?

I like to see which way the feet decide to go.  In the “old days” I used to think about it a lot.  Which way, which way?  Which would be the better walk?  I would mentally debate the pros and cons.  Later, maybe ten years ago, I would look for “signs”.  A hawk in the sky toward the lake meant it was a down-the-road walk.  Chickadees chirping toward the west indicated an up-the-road-walk.

Some time in the last five years I simply gave up and let the feet decide.  They could travel east or west.  The mental decision faded away.  It would be an adventure!  The feet rule!

Once you give up deciding which way to walk, it’s sometimes interesting to cease pondering what to photograph.  You just let the camera decide.  If it wants to photograph a particular group of dried wildflowers in the snow–well, that’s fine.  If it wants to photograph the sky and trees, super-duper.  It usually comes up with better ideas than the chattering mind anyway.

A couple days ago, the camera did something utterly unimaginable.  I am still not over it.  Can you imagine what the camera did?

Can you imagine?

Have you guessed yet?  The camera nudged me over to the back of the sign and suggested, “Here, take a photo through one of the holes on the sign post.”

My goodness, look what the camera did!

What?  Camera, what are you talking about?

(But of course you can’t talk back to the camera.  They are inanimate objects, right?  So you approach very slowly and peer through the holes on the sign post.  You wonder–briefly–what a passerby might think of this scene.  Would they think the walker has gone crazy?  Peering through the holes on a sign…taking a picture?)

Another view...through yet another signpost hole.

However, secretly, you grin with glee.  The camera was right!  Who ever would have thought to peer through the holes on a sign post and view the world in a brand-new way?

In this world of so many options, so many new sights to see, how can we ever claim boredom?  Simply let your feet and camera guide you–and have the courage to look in new ways.  Let creativity guide you. You will be astounded, I promise you.

Where blue herons nest…

Amazing sky

You won’t see any blue herons in these photos.  The Great Blue Heron is wintering in Central and South America, basking in some heat, wading in mangrove swamps, nibbling shrimp and crabs.

However, each spring the majestic birds wing their way north, scattering throughout North America.  They venture all the way to Alaska, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.  (Am I correct, Ms. Flandrumhill from Nova Scotia?)

They even settle down in our fair Upper Peninsula, prepared to raise their young.  They build nests in groups called a heronry (OK, you can call it a rookery, but a heronry is more specific.)  They build a bulky stick nest and the female lays three to six pale blue eggs.

Nancy forges ahead

Many of us have glimpsed the heron nests beside the road…but until today, I had never ventured close.  It took Nancy to push me out into the unknown woods today.  I’m sometimes nervous about leaving the car parked along the road in the winter months…not her!  She’s been visiting the nests before, and knew just where to snowshoe.

She lured me to the nests with promises of a Smoothie before departure.  She owns one of those Smoothie-machines and whirred us up the most healthful delicious blend you can imagine.  Then she placed a hard-boiled egg and some salted almonds on our plates and announced we had eaten enough protein for a good snowshoe.

Here it is--the heron rookery

We worked up quite a sweat snowshoeing to the rookery.  I mean the heronry.  (I didn’t know “heronry” was a word until Wikipedia announced it was a more specific term than rookery.)  We chatted away about every topic under the sun.  Mostly about the sun and sky and how beautiful it appeared today.  After so many gray days the appearance of the sun can truly delight.

One lone nest

As you can see by closely examining the first heronry photo, there are many nests.  Nancy counted twenty-two, I believe.  Then I counted twenty.  Then she counted twenty-one.  Heron colonies usually contain between five and 500 nests.

The heron nests should never, ever, be visited during nesting season. All of us must stay away.  Reproduction is negatively affected by human disturbance, particularly at the beginning of nesting.  Therefore…visit the nests in the winter.  Bring cameras, snowshoes, water and friends and enjoy the nests to your heart’s delight.  Only in the winter.

Look at the nests from all directions!

To read all about the Great Blue Heron, click here.  You can even glimpse a heron munching a common snapping turtle (looks like a rather small snapping turtle to me.)

More amazing sky

We didn’t trip on our snowshoes too many times.  We wandered across a swamp, visited a beaver den (possibly not occupied) , admired oh-so-many interesting trees and natural wonders.  I have probably 50 photos you might enjoy seeing.  However, to upload all 50 photos would delete all my space on WordPress and probably crash or freeze your computer and you would not be pleased.

Most amazing tree in most amazing sky

Look at that blue sky!  Look at that tree!  Who said a visit to a heronry isn’t the most wonderful way to spend a February afternoon?

Photographer captures most amazing sky but can't get up without help

If you’re going to photograph the tops of trees in snowshoes, I suggest you  bring a friend.  It’s helpful to have a friend pull you up.  Otherwise, it can be quite a challenge…

Hope you enjoyed the tour of the heron nests!  (I know I promised you an exciting walk Up the Road for today’s blog…but the opportunity to visit the heronry usurped former plans.  Another day we’ll walk up our road together.  I have something to show you.)

GOOD MORNING, UPPER PENINSULA!!

 

Meet our woodstove.

Good morning, Blog Readers!  OK, maybe it is afternoon.  Maybe it’s evening.  Maybe it’s midnight when you’re reading this.  Never you mind.  We are just going to pretend it’s morning here in the Upper Peninsula.

Welcome to my world.

Our woodroom.

This morning I blinked a lazy eye around 6:30 a.m.  Mumbled to husband lying in bed, “It’s 6:30…”  Because it’s a Thursday, this fact means something different to him than to me.  Thursdays I don’t have to go to work at the school.  Thursdays he must hit the road for his day job. I tried not to rub it in.

However, I did rouse myself from bed and start the morning chores.  Do we all have morning chores we follow religiously?  Mine are such:  flip on light near front door.  Turn on gas beneath tea kettle (to make one cup of coffee for said husband and one cup of peppermint tea for said blog writer.)  Follow the circular stairway downstairs to the basement. 

Start fire.  Ahhh, I have started a million fires in our marriage.  I am the Chief Fire Lighter and Stoker.  If someone inquires about my profession, I should state, “I am a fire stoker.”  Because that’s what I am.  Nine months of the year…sometimes ten months!…sometimes in July, I am sad to add.  I move around the coals in the wood stove and add newspaper and kindling and logs and a match and…wa la!!…start the blessed stove.

Day in and day out this ritual repeats itself.  It is a gentle ritual.  It kindles me awake.

Rise 'n shine, Morning Pineapple!

 

Barry and I chatted briefly before he departed for work.  Today he took my car, the senior statesman of the fleet, the silver 2003 Buick.  His Buick is not doing well.  Should I say “Grandma’s Buick” is not doing well?  Do you remember the 1970′s snowmobile suit that I inherited and that I have shared with you faithful readers for more than a year now?  Well, we are proud owners of one other possession owned by my grandmother.  It’s a 1995 Buick Century.  Maroon. It gets a glorious 30 miles per gallon.  (And I named her Alice years ago, after my grandma’s sister.  Long story.)

My mother passed it along to us after Grandma died, and it’s been a faithful member of the family ever since.  I drove it for about five years, and then Barry became the primary driver.  Oh, I could tell you stories upon stories about this Buick.  It sports 196,000 miles now.  And lately it’s been having Issues.  Stuck temperature gauge issues.  Oh heaven knows how the issues will resolve.  It has an Appointment with our faithful mechanic on Monday.  In the meantime, I graciously offered my husband the use of “my” car. 

That meant I was “car-less” for a day.  Fine and dandy.  One of my jobs is from home, so that would be the priority today.

Here, dear reader, is a picture of Grandma’s Buick:

Grandma's Buick

Since it was Thursday…it was time to utilize the juicer and make a delicious pineapple-apple-orange juice for breakfast.  Remember The Great Juicer Adventure?  We have been enjoying juicing for the last couple of months…although not on work mornings. 

Strange apple, yes?

This morning I took the camera everywhere around the house.  Snap, snap, snap.  Bemoaned the lack of lighting.  Suggested to the Gods of Picasa photo editing that they add the proper degree of light.  They sneered haughtily back at me.  I simply cannot figure out indoor photography.  It’s a mystery.  But will continue to attempt it!

Let's take the juice outside

And then let’s look at it from a different angle:

Frothy juice--different angle!

Ahhh….delicious juice.  It’s now 8 a.m.  And it’s light outside!  Time to turn on the computer and check out exciting happenings in Cyber-world.

Ahhh, good morning computer.

Buoyed by the peppermint tea and homemade juice, I turned to email to connect with the world outside of the Upper Peninsula.  To places where one doesn’t stoke the wood stove at 6:30 a.m. 

A lovely email met my eyes.  Reggie, from South Africa, had written a blog in Grains of Sand called Well done, Kathy! with congratulations for fulfilling the 365 day outdoor commitment.  What a sweetheart!  What a lovely beam of light on a gray February morning.  Thank you so much, Reggie.

After a half hour I turned off the computer and headed outside for today’s adventure.  But that would be way too many photographs to post for one day!  Stay tuned…photos from the walk Up the Road will appear eminently.

Slow waltz of the quarter moon

Someone stole the moon and hung it on a branch

Yesterday I felt absolutely…peaceful. 

Have you ever experienced a day that felt like a soft cushion upon which your soul lingered?  A day so peaceful that nary a breeze blew to disrupt the sense of joy and contentment? 

That was yesterday.  I looked around for an explanation without really caring.  (Who cares about explaining things when one feels that good?)  The only explanation that presented itself appeared on the calendar.  

Yesterday was:  “Nirvana Day” in the Buddhist tradition.  Obviously, I was experiencing Nirvana, right?  Or the residue of Nirvana was spilling upon the world, creating little havens of peace and joy everywhere. 

Maybe? 

Quarter moon on a stick

Then again, maybe it was the Moon.  The Moon is a little more than half way between its fullness and its emptiness.   Some might call it a quarter moon.  A sliver of a waning moon. 

On this upcoming Saturday night it shall be completely New.  Completely empty.  Completely dark.  Yet, now, on Tuesday night, a sliver still lights the world.  

And it’s waltzing across the sky. 

Quarter moon ferns beneath a log

OK, I made that part up.  About the waltzing across the sky.  But we can pretend, can’t we?  They say the moon affects our emotions in so many ways.  It pulls on the tide-waters in our bodies.  It rises and sets in our hearts. 

Today some slight disturbances momentarily disrupted the slow waltz of blissful emotion.  We shall call that disturbance “Filing Income Taxes”.  I sat before the sky of Turbo Tax and punched in numbers for at least an hour this afternoon, until my eyes crossed and I lost almost all sense of equanimity.  

However, it did revive when I discovered that we would be getting a nice refund thanks to the “Making work pay” credit of $400 per person! 

I truly wish the same for all of you.  A week of deep peace as the quarter moon waltzes across the sky…and a hefty income tax refund…  :)

Why I won’t (usually) go cross-country skiing with you

Animal-nibbled branch

This blog is for you, the dear friends who keep inviting me to go cross-country skiing.  How many times have I said no?  How many times have I hemmed and hawed and confidentially explained, “I would go skiing with you…but I fall all the time…just find me a straight path without hills…”

Today the Real Reason for the continual refusals emerged. 

Peeking out spruce branch

The Real Reason is this:  I am head-over-heels in love with meandering in the outdoors.  That means slowwww walking.  Following the inner direction to the right, to the left, up there, down there, never quite knowing where you are, or where you’re going next. 

It’s as if the Spirit of Nature takes you and shows you the way.  Sometimes she even takes all of our crazy thoughts and throws them in the sky and we walk in a mystical state, a contemplative state, a state of flowing.

We flow from branch to branch, tree to tree, snow bank to snow bank.  If we’re wearing snowshoes, we clomp from hillock to hillock.  But we’re always flowing, moving to an invisible rhythm.

Orange. Leaf. Snow.

When I ski, I’m going fast.  Usually on the edge of control.  My thoughts are always panting non-stop:   “Hope I don’t fall.  Hope I keep up with everyone.  Hope I don’t fall.”  There is no meandering about it.  It seems to be about speed, about gliding, about moving rapidly on the trail.

There is not a lot of time to stand around and daydream, to fall on your knees in front of leaves and belly up to indentations in the earth beneath rotting logs.

Revelations of root tendrils

When I’m skiing I’m missing the subtle.  Missing the roots, the miniscule arched curve of branches, the underground homes of the Little People.  Sure, you can see another view of Gorgeous as you swoosh and slide through the magnificent woods on skis.  But it’s not the view of gorgeous that I most dearly love.  You know, the intricate details of nature which hide in plain sight.  Which wait for eyes to notice.

Little people live here. I'm sure.

OK, all that other stuff–about not wanting to fall–is true, too.  But the deeper truth is that I love to go slow.  I love to be silent.  To give myself over to nature, to be walked by her.  To be shown by her.

Does anyone else feel the same way?  Or are the rest of you in love with cross-country skiing?

P.S.  I’ll still go skiing on that flat trail this year!  But I may be stopping…you know…if that arch of a branch waves or the snow creatures wink in the afternoon sun.

Sculptures of snow and ice

Frozen...

It’s a frozen world outside.  And what do kids (big kids, little kids, middle-sized kids) do to have fun in the snow and ice?   They play.  They build.  They slide, ski, swish.  They fish on the ice.  They find ways of making the frozen world fun.

 The students up at Michigan Technological University in Houghton celebrate this frozen time of year by building snow statues for the annual Winter Carnival.  The theme for this year’s fun was “Games We Know Captured in Snow”. 

 

Ice wheel in the sky…

Every year the students capture the impossible through the mediums of ice and snow.  They sculpt incredible creations which the rest of us admire as we attempt to snap our cameras and witness the amazing feats of engineering and art.  

Since 1922, back when the college was called The Michigan College of Mines, students have celebrated this mid-winter carnival.  Their first production was a one-night show called the “Ice Carnival”.  Acts were presented in circus style, with students in costume depicting various animals.  By 1927 events expanded to include many traditions of today’s carnival, and in 1940, snow statues became established as the backbone of Winter Carnival.  

Wheel of Fortune!

I am here to tell you that the ice statues are worth viewing.  However–and you must remember this–if you want to take photos of the ice sculptures, please choose a sunny day.  Without a sunny day, the statues lack their usual shine and glimmer and brightness.

 In fact, 75% of my photos (taken yesterday on a gray Friday) looked like white upon white.  No contrast, no ooompah!  If you want to see statues on a bright winter afternoon, please step back in time to last year.  Here is the link to the 2009 Ice Carnival.

Vanna Snow-White

 

I also experienced a case of extreme camera-envy while snapping attentively at the snow sculptures. Every other sculpture-viewer wore one of those Nikon or Canon’s around their necks with long adjustable lenses. I felt naked with the poor little Sony Cybershot. Inadequate. They looked like real photographers. The statues were probably leaping out of the gray world on THEIR cameras.

One lucky contestant wins!

But no matter.  Enough photos turned out to give you a flavor of the winter carnival snow statues.  Can you tell how much fun it is to view them?  Can you tell how much work the students put into them?

Remember to visit on a sunny day for optimal viewing results.  Bring some hot chocolate or a cup of steaming coffee.  Plan on an hour to meander leisurely through campus, admiring the student’s creations.  And then plan to come back next year.   

Blogs awestruck in the spotlight

Marsh nest

 

 The blogs stand with their mouths hanging open.  Awestruck.  Not knowing how to act.  What to do.  

 It’s been an incredible thirty six hours.  Make that an incredible four days.  

 The blogs are flabbergasted. 

 

Lone marsh tree

Let’s back up to early in January.  A reporter from seven daily newspapers in lower Michigan calls up the blog writer.  Her name is Kim Schneider and she writes for the Grand Rapids Press and six other Michigan newspapers.  She wants to write a column highlighting the 365-day outdoor commitment (Opening the door, Walking Outside). 

 Was the blog writer interested?  

 Yes, yes!  The blog writer had never been interviewed before, unless it was about financial questions.  Could she stammer out an interview without screwing up?  The blogs impatiently advised her to “just do it!”  She agreed. 

 

Curl of red leaves

 The blog writer babbled on for quite a while to the reporter, barely knowing what words she used to describe the outdoor commitment.  She liked Kim very much.  They said goodbye with possible plans to meet someday. 

 Then the blog writer waited.  Waited.  Waited about a month.  The blogs kept pulling on her sleeve asking, “When?  When?”  but she refused to play their game.  “Just be patient,” she advised them.  “And if nothing ever happens, at least we now experienced an Actual Interview.” 

Happy trails to you...

 

Finally, last Sunday, the blog traffic increased dramatically.  Doubled its regular hits.  Ah-ha!  Something was up!  But what?  A kind commenter provided a clue when he mentioned reading about the blog in the Grand Rapids Press.  Double Ah-ha!  The column must have appeared! 

However, it did not appear on-line anywhere.  The blog writer waited.  Waited some more.  Wanted to share the news with all of you!  But didn’t dare before some Actual Proof existed. The blogs were so impatient; you can not imagine dealing with these unruly children.    

Yesterday morning, Cindy Lou, an avid blog reader and friend, reported that her mother read the story in the Bay City newspaper on Sunday.  Suddenly the blogs felt desperate to see something in print.   Should we all drive downstate?  A 500 mile trip to obtain a newspaper?  

Finally, yesterday afternoon, the article appeared on-line!  If anyone wants to read, please visit:  http://www.mlive.com/travel/index.ssf/2010/02/blog_writer_heralds_joys_of_th.html 

 Isn’t this fun?  The blogs jumped all over the house yesterday.  And not just because of this article… 

Fungus amongus

 

No indeed.  Because Tuesday night something happened after the blog writer went to bed.  The blog The Edge of the Known World fell off the edge of its seat.  It fell off the edge of its previous charts.  It was featured on the wordpress.com home page. 

It truly happened.  Last year’s blog experienced this privilege twice; now this baby blog (Lake Superior Spirit) received its day in the spotlight.  The first evening it received 452 hits, followed by yesterday’s 1,330 hits and this morning the stats count says 258.  (Yep, it’s still on the home page at 7:45 a.m.!) 

Gnarly old apple tree along the bay

 

This blog writer is feeling amazingly grateful.  The blogs are thankful, too.  What a ride!  Thank you all for your support and accompaniment.  Without you it wouldn’t be half as much fun! (Now, blogs, we’re going to have a relaxing day today.  Not spend the whole day staring at the computer.  We’re going outside.  You got that, you blogs?)     :)

The Edge of the Known World

Ice formations on Lake Superior

Assignment:  walk to the edge of the known world.  Walk where no man (or woman) has ever walked before.  At least not this year!  Walk to…the edge of the ice. 

Beach and beyond

You can do it.  Here’s what you need to do.  Find a beach in a northern cold climate.  Find a beach with ice thick enough to walk to the edge.  Gauge depth carefully, especially if you’re ice-chicken, like I am.  Tentatively place your feet on the ice and determine whether you’re safe. 

If you’re safe, continue to toward the edge. (I only had to walk about twenty feet to the Edge of the World.  And the ice was thicker than thick.)

Very slippery! Watch out.

Whoops, I forgot to tell you how slippery the edges of the Known World can be.  Try to keep your balance.  Step carefully.  Ice with snow on top can look deceptively crusty.  It often isn’t.  Step more carefully.  I don’t want you to fall. 

The action of ice forming

Here you are, at the Edge.  Admire the horizon, the lake stretching off to the west and north.  Admire the way ice forms, all the icebergs rubbing against each other.  Admire the wave action (if it’s a windy day).  If it’s a calm day, grin in glee.  The lake always feels so peaceful on calm days.

Smile at how exhilarated you feel out here.  Even though it’s 11 degrees, it feels warm.  Why does this happen?  You’re sure 11 degrees will feel freezing.  But when you’re out here, warmly dressed, it feels like 25 degrees.  Maybe it warmed up since you left home.  You never know.

Northern view

Look closely at the above photo.  Look at the circles of thin ice.  One of these days those translucent circles will form into solid ‘bergs.  Maybe even this week.  And the ice will continue to form out in the bay, farther and farther from shore.  One of these days ice fishermen will put their teepee tents or shacks out here and cast a line down into the depths.  The Known World expands a little further… 

Continuing our ice tour...

I find ice fascinating, don’t you?  The way it forms and dissolves.  Its fleeting nature.  The way it appears so solid, but melts away when the temperatures rise.  

Out here on the Edge, you feel like you are witnessing formations never before seen.  Icebergs on the edge of transformation.  A white icy world building and elongating on the crest of waves and wind and snow and water. 

Soon the ice will claim the entire bay.

Thank you for your bravery.  For walking safely on ice.  For witnessing a Magical Mystery Ice Tour.  For not slipping and falling.  Out here on the Edge of the Known World anything can happen…can’t it?

Gratitude for winter

Simplicity

I am grateful for winter today. 

For the white beauty of snow drifts, for blowing snow squalls.

For the cold North Wind, blowing across Lake Superior, nipping our cheeks and quickening our heartbeat.

For wood stoves and firewood and a cozy house in the forest.

Winter moves us ever inward into ourselves.  Our ancestors shared stories around the fire during the depths of winter, revealing teachings to the receptivity of the winter heart.  Certain stories can only be told when snow covers the earth. 

We listen to the winter-hush outside.  Snow insulates.  Snow forces us to slow down, to walk carefully, to wear boots. 

This blog is a celebration of long underwear, of icicles, of sleds, of snowshoes!  It reminds us to be thankful for the gifts of the dark months.  Not to hurry too quickly toward the seeds of spring.  Let us pause here, in mid-winter, and listen to frost teachings, snow shadow teachings, deer and squirrel track teachings.

Let us rest here these first days of February and appreciate what we have.  Appreciate our many gifts.  Appreciate that we are alive and breathing and sharing our gratitude with each other.

I feel so thankful for the Spirit of Winter.  Thank you, snow.  Thank you, cold.  Don’t leave until we’ve honored you enough.  Appreciated your gifts in fullness and simplicity…