Tag Archives: woods

May Miscellany

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On this eighth day in May, out here on the Fox Lake Road, one big pile of snow remains in my yard. It is on the west side of the garden shed, so it misses the bright morning sun. A little more protection is contributed by the wild chokecherry tree on one side, and the field on the other. Unless we get a big rainstorm, I think it may last until June!

Not twenty feet away from the unseasonable snow mound, the forsythia is in bloom. Just across the side yard, at least four different types of narcissus are showing off their brightest yellows and oranges. Hyacinths perfume the air just outside the kitchen door. Snowdrops, which started flowering a month ago, right through the snow, are still putting forth their pale blue blossoms.

Last evening, I opened windows to let in some fresh air, along with the sounds and smells of spring. The air turned cool in the night, but I was toasty warm under the covers. This morning, I woke up when I heard the furnace come on. That drove me out of bed in a rush to close windows; I have no intention of trying to heat the outside!

The sun has come up bright and strong. The big dog is napping on the back porch, in a pool of sunshine. I stripped the bed first thing, with the intention of washing the sheets and hanging them outside on the clothesline to dry. Though it’s my day off, I have no other household projects planned for the day. There is plenty to do outside.

Through the last week, with so much yard work to catch up on, I’ve kept to a specific after-work ritual. I greet the dogs, and invite them outside. I stow my bags inside the door. I pick up my bucket and hand cultivator, then drop to my knees. Anywhere in the yard, as it all needs attention.

It is slow progress, but steady. One day it was the peony bed, another the long day lily bed. I spent several days weaving my fingers in between daffodils to pull out the grasses that have already moved in, and the fallen leaves that provided passage for them. At least one hour on my knees, every day, before I think about walking the dogs, making dinner, and all of the other things that fill an evening.

Today, with more time to at my disposal, I could tackle a bigger job. The lawn mower could be cleaned, oiled and put to good use in my yard, which never did get that last fall mowing before the snow came. Clearing the yard of leaves and windfall is another all-day job. I could plant peas and lettuce in the garden; they can stand the cool weather. Blackberry brambles need to be cut back from the side yard where I keep the compost bin. They moved in, and their sharp thorns have made emptying my bowl of kitchen scraps a hazardous affair. The garden shed still needs a coat of paint.

As I plot out all the things that need to be done, I waver. On the one hand, there is no time to waste: before I know it, the time for planting the garden will be past. It will only take one good rain to bring out the mosquitoes, and any work in my yard will be impossible without full armor of chemicals and netting. Soon, the summer season will be full upon us, and my energy will be sapped by the busy-ness of my work days. The time is now.

And yet…this is May. The forsythia is in bloom. The yard smells heavenly. This is the perfect time of year – before the bugs come out – to wander the woods with the dogs. There, the Dutchman’s Breeches, Spring Beauties and Trout Lilies are blooming. The wild ramps scent the air with the smell of onion, and will soon be ready to harvest. In moist areas, there is hope of finding morel mushrooms. If I’m going to take time to enjoy this season, the time is now.

So, what to do? For now, I think I’ll pour another cup of coffee and think about it.

 

Gathering

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There’s a party at my house.

It happens every day this time of the year.

Not right now…mornings are too cold…and it will be over long before sunset.

It starts about one o’ clock in the afternoon, when the sun passes over the rooftop, and shines onto the west side of my house.

That’s when they fly in.

The air is filled with them as they come from the woods, to land on, crawl over and squeeze under the warm, white panels of vinyl siding on my house.

Ladybugs.

Or, perhaps, Asian Beetles: the more aggressive, prolific and disliked cousin of the ladybug.

Houseflies come, too, to sunbathe on the walls.

Spiders attend, but I’m afraid they come only for the food.

Mostly, though, it’s ladybugs.

They stay all afternoon.

If I open the door, several come in, either on purpose or just by the accident of being crowded into any new open space.  If I step outside, I instantly have them up my sleeves, in my hair and tightrope walking along the metal frames of my eyeglasses. They wander, then regroup. They explore every crevice. They follow each other in single file or cluster as if in gossipy conversation.

So far this year, they fly back to the woods when the sun goes down.

In other years, they’ve wanted to move inside with me.

By the thousands.

Harmless or no, that is not acceptable. I would scoop them by the cupful out of the light fixtures and find them (or – worse – feel them) between the bed linens. They would drop by the dozens from the ceiling unannounced. They’d  leave brown stains on the windowsills and waxy yellow trails on the glass.

I started by sweeping them up. Every day after work, I’d make the rounds of the windows where – no matter how carefully I sealed around them – there seemed to be a steady migration. I’d fill a dustpan…or two…or three…and toss them outside. They’d pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and be back for the next round.

I moved on to vacuuming them up. I filled five large vacuum bags over the next several weeks, without seeming to have slowed the influx at all. Then I had the idea of re-using the vacuum cleaner bag. I’d dump the contents into my compost bin, and use the bag again.

It was in the emptying of the bag that I realized the captured ladybugs were still alive.

Now, I can swat a fly or trap a mouse without more than a twinge of guilt. I merrily vacuumed up ladybugs day after day without a second thought…until that moment. They emerged from that vacuum cleaner bag as if just released from a train headed for Auschwitz. They staggered and leaned into one another as they got their bearings. Disoriented, and probably hungry and thirsty too, they stumbled around in the daylight, trying to straighten their little polka-dot overcoats. My heart was broken. I was not up for this.

I took a break after that, in my daily ladybug purge. They continued coming in such numbers, though, I couldn’t ignore it. Others that, like me, lived on the wood’s edge and were being inundated with the little beetles were hiring exterminators. They persisted in saying it was an infestation of Asian Beetles, I think because it made them easier to kill. Didn’t we all grow up thinking that ladybugs were good luck?

Finally, I bought a mild household insect killer. I sprayed it on the inside window frames and sills, and on the threshold of each door. If the bugs crawl through it, they die, and I sweep them up and toss them out. As long as they stay outside, they live. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s one I can manage. That’s how I handle the ladybug problem now.

Of course, I’d be happiest if they just contented themselves with their afternoon parties outside and we could set all the killing aside.

Every now and then, a ladybug flies in, missing the poison waiting at floor level.

I smile, thinking that’s good luck…for both of us.

Fairyland

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I used to meet a friend on the mainland, for a couple days of shopping and conversation.

Linda would drive across the state; I’d fly off the island. We’d meet in Charlevoix. Sometimes we’d gravitate north to Petoskey, for familiar sites, family history, bookstores and restaurants. Other times we’d go south, to Traverse City, for a change of pace.

Linda usually brought her dog on these mini-vacations, so we’d take turns: one of us would go in to check out a shop while the other stayed outside with the dog.

Once, in Traverse City, Linda went in to a New Age book store. I stayed on the sidewalk.

After a few moments, Linda came out. “She wants to see you!” she said, “That psychic, she wants you to go in to talk to her!”

Really?!?

In my almost fifty years of association with Linda, I can count on one hand the times someone chose to focus on me over her.

Charming, charismatic and funny, with a deeper, spiritual side and a manner of listening that made any speaker feel important, everyone – from bartenders to shoe salesmen and even my own children – would rather talk to Linda!

Why had this woman asked to talk to me?

Was I in trouble?

Maybe she felt I was loitering? Surely Linda would have told her I was waiting for her.

If it was the dog – if she loved the look and wanted to know the breed or if I shouldn’t be lingering outside with a dog – I would be quick to tell her the dog was not mine.

What could it be??

I went inside. She gestured for me to come over, and offered me a seat. She leaned back in her chair and gave me a big smile.

“So…” she said, “I can tell that you see the Wee Folk.”

What would make her think something like that? What would make her ask it?

I am small in stature, perhaps it was a matter of “like is drawn to like.”

It has been pointed out to me that I smile, even when alone in my car with no one to be smiling at. Perhaps I was smiling, out on the sidewalk with the dog, and she felt it was the smile of someone who associated with Wee Folk.

Perhaps she was a fake psychic, and was trying to draw me in to her strange world by giving me weird imaginary powers.

What to say?

Any reference to weirdness or odd-ball ideas or charlatanism were out: this woman had summoned me when she could have been speaking to Linda, who actually is psychic, and understands all of it much better than I do, and who most everyone in the world would rather be talking to.

Of course I would be kind.

I considered brushing it off with a flip comment: “Some people think I am one of the Wee Folk,” but her gaze was sincere.

I told her the truth.

“I don’t,” I answered, “but I see where they live.”

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In my walks along wood-lined paths and roadways, sometimes – deep in the woods – an area glows as if lit from within, though there is no obvious source of light.

There must be a break in the canopy of treetops, that lets the sunlight through.

Of course there is a practical and understandable explanation.

But when I see a far bright spot in the center of a dark woods, with grass and leaves and mosses of diminutive size, glowing like the saints in old paintings, with twigs laid out as if by plan, I think of the leprechauns and faeries and wee folk.

If I listened hard enough, I’m sure I’d hear their music.

If I waited, I might even catch a glimpse.

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Carrying On, Oblivious

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We had a severe winter storm last December that damaged many trees here on Beaver Island.

As the Winter snows melt away, the Spring waters recede and the deep mud dries up, I’m able to walk the dogs through areas that have been impassible for months. We often come upon trees that have fallen, casualties of that long ago storm. The big dog usually goes over; the small dog goes under. Most times I go around.

Last week, preparing to go off trail once again to circumvent the large treetop that was still in my path, I noticed a change that brought tears to my eyes, and caused me to investigate further.

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This is where the tree begins, far into the woods. The weight of the snow on its branches caused it to bow, and it eventually snapped. It took another, smaller tree down with it.

It is laid out through the woods, forty feet or more of it, from heavy trunk to the tiniest, topmost branches, which are spread out across the woodland path.

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And, close-up, look like this:

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Yes, oblivious to the fact that the trunk has been severed from the earth, that death is imminent and unavoidable, this tree is about to unfurl its leaves in a show of Springtime glory!

One of my entries here on WordPress was selected for “Freshly Pressed” a couple weeks ago. I think it’s a pretty big honor. I know it’s very flattering.

That distinction brought several new readers and “like”-ers and “follow”-ers (Welcome!) to my blog. It also made me afraid that I would never again have anything to say that would come close to that quality of writing. Which would mean that from here on out, everything I write will be a disappointment (Sorry!).

It really can be quite paralyzing.

Many years ago I worked with a young man named Jeff, the summer after his high school graduation. He had been a popular boy, a football player, the class president, well liked by both students and faculty. He’d had a wonderful high school experience, and he was smart enough to appreciate it. He was also intelligent enough to be thoughtful, and he was afraid. “What if those were the best years of my life?” he wondered, “How can anything else measure up?”

These are similar to my fears about this blog, since being “Freshly Pressed.”

I had opportunity to talk to Jeff ten years later. He’d learned that fresh challenges present themselves, new experiences bring joy, and those high school memories fade into the past, so that they are no longer the yardstick by which all other experiences are measured.

“And how did you come to learn that?” I asked him.

“Well, I guess I just blindly kept going, and things worked out,” he said.

So, with that magnificent, doomed tree and that thoughtful young man as examples, that’s what I’m doing.

Maybe one with a better perspective than I have can see that it’s hopeless. Maybe my best is behind me.

Oblivious to all that, I carry on.

Looking Up

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I look down when I walk.

I like the patterns of leaves and pine needles strewn across the path.

I enjoy seeing the way my footprints and the paw-prints of my two dogs mingle with the heart-shaped hoof prints left by deer, and the large twiggy prints left by ranging flocks of wild turkeys, on the road created by the logging trucks that cuts through the woods behind my house.

I like to watch the dogs as they, by turns, walk purposefully forward as if headed for a specific destination, meander – nose to the ground – investigating what went this way before us, and run, full out, after a chipmunk or robin or squirrel.

Out of necessity, I watch the ground for safety’s sake. In the winter, ice; this time of year, it’s holes in the road or wind-fall branches or frost-heaved rocks that could trip me up.

So it happened that I was almost a mile from home this morning, before I noticed the sky. Such a beautiful, intense blue! How could I have missed it?

More important, what if I had missed it?

How many things go unnoticed because I’m looking down when I should be looking up? And what a metaphor for life!

It’s a fine thing to be well-grounded, but I intend to spend more time looking up!

 

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