Thursday, December 24, 2015

the ends of the year

We returned to the trailer after a long time away. In that time we'd been to Utah and back. We'd traveled through five states twice. So much has happened since I've last written. Life has moved significantly yet in many ways so much is the same only a little different.

We arrived at the woodland retreat to find several of our large trees on the ground, their bones accentuated by the trace of snow. The two biggest were somewhat expected. The first named the woodpecker tree with its fat deep round holes. The other was one of the Twins (one had fallen years ago) and it was a relief to see it lying on the ground, a giant of a poplar (or popal depending on who you ask) that for the thirteen year we've been here was dead and dry, home to sapsuckers (with their nest holes and feeding holes) and dinner-plate-size shelf fungi. Poplar are weedy and their limbs are spindly as they grow to towering thick trunks and frighteningly prone to twisting and curving. When they fall they could fall in any unpredictable direction, their weights changing distribution on their way down as each larger branch breaks away. They are being pulled around as the forces of gravity brings it to the ground. We had the best possible end for this tree. It was pushed towards the northeast and in a direction away from the trailer, the firepit area, the fairy houses, and the archery range that doubles as a tent site for guests. The wind used to whip that tree top into a frenzy, it swayed like a mother*~*%#! and was scary like the worst here in the woods. A big branch broke off this last summer so I knew it would be coming down soon because everything had shifted; the center of gravity had changed, it was only a matter of time. The situation could not have resulted any better than it did.

It has left me wondering. When did it happen? Did the ground rumble when both trees fell? Was the sound thunderous? Did the line holding the prayer flags break with an audible snap? Were there any creatures nearby? I know that it must have been a spectacular occurrence.

We now have lots of kindling. Later at night the poplar tree trunk glows white and a bit iridescent within the dark of the woods under totally cloudy skies. The moon is hidden from us on the eve of the solstice. The tree trunk seems to glow and I start to get scared again. Scared in the face of the sacred. Possibly in the face of the sacred fallen to the earth. That is how much this poplar tree trunk glows. Much later that night I remember the scarce snow outlining the poplar trunk.

There is no snow on the ground except for on those tree trunks. The ground is crunchy underfoot. I'm used the crunch of the snow but this is not like that familiar experience. This is the ground heaving up as it freezes and it is an unusual and odd occurrence to see this time of year. We've thrown river rock around the firepit and around the edges where the rock is sparse and mixed with the dirt it is as if the rock is suspended in ice while afloat above the ground. It is hard to describe and weird and crunchy. And it makes it kinda hard to walk around the woods. Over the solstice the weather is going to be in warm thirties but the earth still clings to the below freezing results of the last few days: cold frozen ground, iced over puddles, a chill in the wind. I find myself changing clothes again a few hours after sunset. Despite being near the end of December I am still in autumn mode. 

Near the end of December. Wow. The last time I wrote here it was early October. All my writing stalled this fall. I journal sporadically. No blogging. Not too many photos.   

I hear a screech owl for the first time that I can distinguish for what it is. It is scary too. The screech. But the sound mellows into long sultry hoots. There are owls on these woods. Since we've never heard a screech owl here before we begin to speculate that it was the screech from a small animal as it was gripped by the lethal talons of an owl. 

Here's another first: I realized with a strange startle that our time spent sitting in front of the fire, often for hours, that these very hours are a form of meditation. That is the major reason why I need this retreat, this departure from the city.

I recently heard about this idea of being darkness deprived. This made me wonder about the time we spend in the woods. In the dark away from the city we can observe the movement of the stars. I hear that watching the stars for a whole night brings about the sensations of hanging off the planet, getting the sense of hanging upside down. 


I've never done that and I would like to. I think about this as the day of the solstice winds to an end. 

We spend more time in the town near our woodland property. It has a very satisfying Mexican restaurant. All of us are pleased when eating there. The margaritas are a nice treat as well. We go for ice cream, sometimes pizza, groceries of course. Today was all about the cranberries from the grocery store. I strung them with the intention of hanging them on a nearby pine tree, a new solstice ritual I thought. But as the daylight faded away I remembered standing on the same spot this summer, bathed in daylight. I felt strange in the dark illuminated by the citronella torches. The other two had just returned from a wander in the woods. I wish I had gone. They found and climbed a deer stand. A great view was all I heard. The sound of it reverberating within my head with regret. We never got around to the cranberries. It can wait until tomorrow.

My dread of washing the dishes in this twenty degree weather creeps in but subsides with the thought of a warm respite while putting the kid to sleep. When I finally return to the dishes drying on the wooden rack outside I find slim slivers of ice on them, the utensils have all but frozen together. There is ice forming on the dishwater still in the little tub.

I think about what I want to remember of 2015. I want to remember that feeling of accomplishment I felt putting the dishes away. I want to remember the groan when I see we need to chop more wood. My husband expects me to contribute equally in this chore now. I really don't mind. I should be thankful for the wood and the warm fires.

Country Dave, DJ from WOJB radio out of the nearby town of Reserve, Lac Coutes Orielles, announces that we have reached our forecasted low of 24 degrees. Which means it could get colder. This time in the cold makes me feel hardy when I return to the city. Hardy is a good feeling to cultivate when living In the US North. I drink tea. With a little whiskey on the side. Some water and then more tea. Lemon zinger. Echinacea immune support. Sleepy time vanilla. I let the tea bags collect as I make each new thermos. The mingled flavored intensify through the cold night and warms my body hardy enough for 24 degrees in the woods. Solstice. In the woods.

The clouds thin for just a moment letting the moon shine through. The brevity of the moonlight moment makes it seem ghostly. Her whispy appearance feels like a blessing after so many weeks of clouds and gloom. Solstice in the woods.

The snow has come and transformed the landscape overnight. Not a lot of snow, less than inch. Enough to see the tracks of animals that walked on our property during the six hours I slept. And enough to complicate the day. No snow pants for the girl, no snow boots for me.

There is the possibility that we will return to the city a day early. We end up with the plan to stay another night. I take a nap. Can't remember the last time I did that.

The plan involves heading to the larger town just thirty minutes away (we think) from us to see the new Star Wars movie. Turned out to be forty five minutes and it was better than I could have imagined. The experience and the movie. I kept looking over at Dave sharing a smile over our daughter's head, another sort of dream come true. I didn't look over though when I was crying because yes I did cry while watching the new Star Wars.

The wind picks up while we are at the movies. The temps are just one degree above freezing but the wind makes it feel chilling to the bone. I'm in three layers but without the right boots. The big wool hood I knit for myself last summer helps me push the time further. The expected return to the city keeps me outside in this frigid cold. The hood has a heavy drape and curves around my face keeping my cheeks from being exposed to the wind. Big win. When the wind dies down the hood is too warm. Tea saves my cold ass again.

Our final morning begins with rain. Such an odd wintry mix of weather. We will try to get home before the rain turns to snow. 

I've been super excited about the girl's artwork.The presents this year are all about art.

We hit the snow line on our way home but there was nearly none in the city. Just a slopfest that turned to ice over night. We need to take care of that before the snow hits or else it will be icy the whole entire winter.

The year is ending how it should. At least in terms of the weather. The Solstice is just the beginning of winter break for us. Nearly two weeks to go before the hustle and bustle of the new years begins. I feel desperate to bring everything to a finish while giving thanks for all that is good. But I also have to come to grips with the challenging aspects of 2015 so as to repeat the lessons I apparently need to learn. I get the feeling that I should write about it to let it out and maybe that is exactly what I will do. But not today.

Today is about family and celebration and gratitude and self-care.

I wish for goodness for anyone that may happen to read this. I hope your holidays are full of joy!

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Are you seeing this?

It was one of these autumn weekends when the woods are bright with color. Peak season they call it. If I thought the day was nice, it was nothing compared to what came out as the sun approached its set time. The yellows deepened into golds dusky and glossy. The reds were even richer with the veins full of green or gold, contrasting the color more and more with each variation. The browns were dense and leathery.

This color is ridiculous.

As I get closer to the ground I see things that might get overlooked in all this autumn glory.

I drink hot herbal tea and try to resist the urge to pick up each and every perfect leaf. I resist the urgency to absorb the season around me. It seems to be moving fast through the change. Once it is done winter will be here and I don't want to think about that. Yet.

I want to but I haven't been able to completely relax on the bench. Every time I look at it I think about the cushy quilt like thing I want to make for the seat. Sure the bench is already getting its cozy on but I sit across the fire pit from it and consider its character and my own. I learned a lot from that project and I learned a lot about myself. I've learned that I can lean far over to being a perfectionist and I also can let it go. These days there isn't so much angst in the settling for "good enough". Because the bench itself is sheer perfection sitting in its woodland setting.

I try really hard to slow down, resist the tugging change of the season. Even as I'm painfully aware of all that is ending. The farmers market will be closing and the little one won't be seeing her little Mennonite friend over the cold winter and I won't be seeing her mother who has inspired me with her lap quilts and handmade dresses. The daytime temps will drop to the point of preventing us from going out on the river. The experience of sharing summer with a five-year-old girl has come and gone.

As I start to slow it down I realize somehow our woodland retreat has become so much more than a quick getaway from the city. Through our child we are interacting so much more with the locals in the region: the farmers, the bee keepers, the furniture makers, the Hmong, the Mennonite, the white family who has a part-Native grandchild in their midst, the owner of the Mexican restaurant in town, the tough old Wisconsin women that run all the restaurant-bars that are nestled off to the side of long stretches of wood-lined roads. There is a surprising amount of diversity in town. We add to that and it makes me feel like I belong. I have a relationship with this land, the local people, the wandering animals and birds. I feel more present and in those moments the experience becomes so much more intense. I experience each moment in a way that makes up for not being able to muster all those perfect autumn leaves drifting and falling to the ground.

I am changing as much as my growing daughter. I'm changing rapidly with the speed of the season. I feel like my only satisfying response is to slow everything else down. Slow enough to absorb the vibration of all the changes. I don't know what it all means right now but I think that's the right path for me.

I do think I need another project though. Soon.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Autumn begins

Holy moly! A ton of geese, fifty at least, just flew over our heads. We could hear them coming for a distance. Our excitement built as their raucous honks grew louder. Then a V formation burst over the tree up above. The Vs kept coming and coming. We tracked them through the clearing in the trees. It was the most exciting start to Autumn!

Our early Autumn activities are much the same as the ones in summer but by late afternoon the sweatshirts and wool socks and fleece hoodies are going on. Which will be followed by hats and fingerless gloves.

Last weekend we had fall break allowing for four full days out in the woods, some canoeing and a night out for pizza. 

I spent late nights working on my bench. Finally got the last coat of stain this morning. The first went on just before midnight. It was cold, somewhat frosty but I kept the fire stoked high and the radio on. I would choose to lose sleep over projects like this anytime.

Turned out nice, right?

I had a lot of learning to do. I had planned on a paint but ended up with a teak stain which doesn't cover my mistakes, the few that there were. Yet I'm pleased and feel a huge sense of accomplishment! This bench is wide and inviting. I think it is perfect for looking at the stars with a comfy cushion below and snuggled in a blanket. I want to make a couple more and scatter them throughout the woods. Even one for the city. 

The weather has turned cold with temps dropping into the thirties at night. Our furnace is on. I hadn't expected this sudden change despite the fact that it is October. 

The geese were arriving at all hours, the late group arrived right about midnight when I was making my way to bed. The days have been full and the nights are cool. The corn is yellow and dry. Throughout this change there is also a sense of waiting. Yet change is here which makes me want to get busier. There will be plenty of time to rest when winter arrives. Now is the time to enjoy autumn. 

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

last days of summer

We considered waiting for the next day's clear skies but the thought of waking in the morning woods swayed the decision. So we crawled through the thick after-work traffic to get out of the city. I wonder if the geese ever experience traffic jams. 

The geese are coming back for the nearby pit stop pond on their way south. Last weekend I saw three cranes make their way to the wetlands that lie just to the north of our property. I've never seen this pond yet I feel I know it somehow. Some aspects of it anyway. The pond makes its presence known by the sounds of all the different birds that stop be. The geese are the most prominent raising raucous long into the night. Toads and frogs in the spring are just as loud but in a different sort of deafening way, one more high pitched and at times sustained. We often hear coyotes over there and an occasional wolf howl.

I'm never prepared for the first cool weather weekend in the woods. I thought I had learned that lesson but here I sit out in a night air that is dropping into the thirties. The wind is still so at least I don't have that additional chill. I should have brought a hat, some long underwear, my fleece jacket. In my defense I didn't know that the nights were going to be this cold. I have summer scarves and leggings and a fleece vest. I thought these items would suffice. The fire is warm enough when I'm sitting right next to it but I am totally dreading the move away from that warmth. Which is going to be a problem when I have to pee. Sometimes all that matters is that moment when you know you must perform a bodily function that can no longer be put off, damned the cold. It must be done.

Also their is the annual re-learning that goes along with cold weather apparel. Which combinations of clothing provide the right amount of warmth without losing flexibility? Are the wool socks going to make my feet sweat to the point of freezing my toes as the sweat cools? Can't this sweatshirt work without long underwear underneath? I thought it would be fine. I was fooled by the hip little sleeve ending that attaches to my thumbs. I suppose this blog post is testament to the fact that my palms are plenty warm.

I find myself again thinking about the basics, only this time it's my clothes.

I want to pile the fire high with logs. It is a frustrating and peaceful impermanence on a chilly late summer night. I ask for more and he points me to the woodpile. I know that that chopping will warm my muscles but that doesn't stop me from the shuttering cringe I feel as I see my breathe in the air.

I don't mean to complain. Not all in. I'm just caught in the intensity of cold as it clenches the muscles of my body.

I can't believe I didn't bring a hat. Worst of all, I forgot the flask of whiskey.

Sure enough the next day is bright and beautiful. We do our usual visit with the farmers at the market. The little one has struck up a friendship with a Mennonite girl. The two of then run all around only stopping when other vendors offer apples and pears and cucumbers, little treats to keep their energy up. I shyly make my way to her mother and admire her lap quilts and handmade dresses. We are nothing alike, us two mothers, but we come together over our girls. Later I wander away to get my eggs and realize I haven't seen Lotus Bud for a long while and I stretch my neck to scan the market. The other mother notices me looking and walks over to assure me that the girls are near. She just knew that I was looking and now I find we have something in common, the things that is most important, we share the responsibility of keeping an eye on the precious ones at the market.

When we went out on the river we saw both an eagle and a loon. Should be good fishing was my first thought. A very large woodpecker is doing her business on the shore where we stop. She is loud and thundering through the trees. Another eagle flies up above. No kidding. It is a quintessential American and midwest moment.


Time to pour the libations and celebrate. And then get our lines caught in the trees.

The decision to stay on the river late into the day, nearly until sunfall, at least til the sun fell behind the shoreline trees, was the best decision of the day. That decision allowed us to capture a few more moments of summer memories.

Although it felt very much like early autumn. We wrapped ourselves with blankets and the little one huddled on the chilly ride back to the launch, a ride made even chillier by the speed of our return.

I'm making a park bench. At least I'm trying to find the time to put it together. With all the projects and boat rides and visits to the market, it is hard to get some spare time. Also I'm working around Dave who has his own building project going, trying to share his tools without getting in his way.

And then there are the little interruptions by the girl who has found a feather and wants to display it somehow, who is always misplacing her work gloves and generally needs to be in the middle of everything as this makes her feel helpful and part of it all.

Even in these are last days of summer, there is still so much to see. The prettiest caterpillars come around, the prettiest ones are always the moths.

Mushrooms are thriving in all the bright colors alongside the neutrals.

The first rounds of apples (Zestars) have come and gone. All that are left in this area are the seconds, free for the taking at the market, full of bruises and cracked skins.

Sometime this summer, my girl grew up. She is tall and smart and beautiful. She is curious, adventurous and at times, mischievous. She is helpful, silly and always ready to go. I love every aspect of her personality and it is a delight to see her learn more about this world and the woods.

And this man. He makes the best daddy in the world. We've been together for over twenty-two years now and I love seeing the gray coming in on his beard. It looks much better than the gray coming out on my head. These two - they make quite a team.

Despite all the busyness we still find plenty of time to laze around and stare at the tops of the trees.

So, you see, this summer was the best that I can remember. All of us heading in different directions all the time, yet coming together in the moments that define our family. We might be looking in different directions yet we are doing it together. Either that or we just need to work on our selfie skills.

I am ready for the Fall, my favorite season. I'm ready to move on to the adventures we've got planned for this season. And the new school schedule that has changed all of our lives for the better. The early mornings, the homework, the way we come together in the woods.

Cheers to the last days of summer. May the Fall be just as fun and bright!

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