Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is This The End Of The World?

For days, my family and I watched the reports of Hurricane Sandy, and the development of "The Perfect Storm".  As it approached the East coast and we saw how far reaching this hurricane is, including inclement weather for us here in Michigan, my kids asked me "Is this the end of the world?"

They have heard that the world will end in December of this year.  They are wondering if this is just the beginning of weather events that will build to a cataclysmic end of life on earth.  Kids will believe anything.

As I sit in my warm home while ice and sleet are pinging against my windows, thrown by 50mph wind gusts, my heart and prayers go out to the people on the East coast, the people in the mountains, and all those affected by this massive storm system.  I am safe, my friends and family are safe, and I am grateful to live in a region that is pretty unaffected by the weather.  Michiganders know that if you don't like the weather here, wait five minutes, it will change.  But in my lifetime, I have never seen flooding, a tornado, or a blizzard.  We don't experience earthquakes or hurricanes.  We have four beautiful seasons, and the worst weather event we ever see is an occasional ice storm in winter.  We always have ample warning, and if we do get an ice storm, we hunker down for a day in our homes, because the next day it will either rain or snow and the ice is gone.  This is Michigan, after all.

When I was a kid, news of a coming storm was a source of excitement.  Again, we never experienced deadly or catastrophic weather, just summer thunderstorms and winter snow, so I cannot speak from experience regarding severe weather, and certainly do not speak for the people who have lived through it.  But a forecast of 12 or more inches was a reason to celebrate.  No school tomorrow!  These days, my kids get the day off if we get 2 inches or more of fluffy white stuff, which I find utterly ridiculous.  Two years ago, the IIC (Idiots In Charge) cancelled school one day in January, and it was 40F degrees and raining all day.  So now our kids miss school for a chilly rain?  Puhlease.  I walked to school on days when there was 8 inches of snow falling and the winds made the air feel like 10 degrees.  Below zero.  If a Spring thunderstorm blasted in, we stayed at our desks and kept learning.  When Indian Summer hit in October and it was 90 degrees outside, we didn't complain because there was no air conditioning in our school, we rejoiced because it meant one more time through the sprinkler when we got home.

It wasn't just that we were hardy.  We embraced the weather as kids.  Whatever season, whatever precipitation, whatever temperature, we found something about it to celebrate and get outside.  Thunderstorms meant sitting on the covered porch to count the seconds between a lightening strike and the big boom that followed.  Snowstorms meant ice igloos, snowmen, and frozen toes.  I still remember limping into the house for dinner because my toes were so cold and red I couldn't walk on them, and the feeling of taking off my snowboots and the pain that ensued as my feet warmed up.  It was a good pain, the pain of knowing I didn't stop playing for a minor inconvenience like frostbite.

So is the world ending?  No.  It's just weather.  Deal with it.

I saw the news reports from Hurricane Katrina, from the Tsunami, from the raging fires out west.  I know people lost their belongings, their homes, and tragically, sometimes their lives.  The elements give us what we need to live, and sometimes they take life.  But the weather is no more to fear or blame than cancer, or driving in a car, or even sleeping in your home at night.  Every day, everywhere we go, we don't know what unforeseen circumstance can take our lives.  A criminal with a gun, a drunk driver, a silent tumor, a rotting tree that falls in the road just as you're driving under it.  Each morning when we wake up, we don't know what will happen.  That's the joy in living.  Some things we avoid, some things we create, some things we just deal with.

I have taught my kids to be safe in inclement weather.  Don't stand under a tree when its lightning, don't drive on icy roads, wear warm clothing when its cold.  But still my kids worry.  It's always the what if question.  What if a bad man breaks into our house?  What if a tornado rips up our home?  What if we are in a car accident?

My kids have fears that I didn't have as a child.  As their mom, I have the same fears they do, but because I am an adult, I have tools for coping and not letting fear govern my life.  But my kids worry more than they should.  It bothers me that they are so exposed to the news that the scary stories they hear have so much power over their thoughts.  It makes me sad that children have to cope with the reality of life long before they are emotionally capable.  We don't shield our children, we don't protect them.  They hear it all, they see it all, they know it all.  They just don't understand any of it.

I don't have an answer.  It is what it is, and I can't change society or the media or the world.  I simply keep focusing on the positive, and hoping my kids will learn from my example.  There is beauty and goodness in our lives everyday if we will look for the quiet examples set for us.  If a teacher takes an extra five minutes to help a child, it won't make the news, but it can make that child's day.  If a stranger holds a door and smiles, that simple act of kindness whispers "You matter to me".  On a day like today, when the cold wind is blowing ice and snow against my face, I am happy to be home and safe.

As I watched video footage of all the people stuck in airports today, my first reaction was "how awful!".  Those poor people can't shower, have to sleep on hard floors, and are stuck right where they are with no choice.  But then I think, they are not in the storm.  They are safe.  For the moment, that's all that matters.

I pray for the people that are stuck in the middle of the perfect storm today.  I feel for their loss, and the devastation of their communities.  But I rejoice for the millions that are safe in the midst of the storm, for the people who made it to a shelter or simply went somewhere else until its over.  I am grateful that those people will find the strength to go on and rebuild their lives, with our help.  I am confident that our country will come together and do what we can as people to get the victims of the storm back to their lives.

So when my kids ask if this is the end of the world, I tell them no.  It's the beginning of an opportunity to be grateful, and to help.  The weather destroys, and we rebuild. Human nature is to take what comes, deal with it and go on.  People become stronger, they survive, they see the good in the middle of the devastation.  My kids have fears I never had, but they also have the chance to be stronger than I ever was.  See?  There's good in everything!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Toll Booth Is On The Wrong Side!

Debbie is coming, Debbie is coming, Debbie is coming!  Today was the day my friend Debbie would join me for a few days, and I was so excited for her arrival!  Let me tell you a little bit about my friend.

Courtesy of Google Images
Back in the day, when Debbie and I were stalking members of Fleetwood Mac during their "Say You Will Tour" and beyond, we would take long road trips to follow the band to various states for concerts. While I drove (because I'm OCD and I have to be the driver) Debbie would pull magazines from a huge satchel, flip through the pages, and tear out any page that had something pretty on it.  This…drove…me…crazy.  One simply does not destroy a perfectly good magazine by ripping out pages.  She would then remove the mailing label and save the magazine carcass for recycling, filing away the ripped out pages.  Debbie has boxes and boxes full of files for "pretty things".  I was grotesquely fascinated with her obsession, like when you have to slow down to look at a car wreck.  With the advent of Pinterest, Debbie now has more boards than anyone I know, with a board for every color, every room of her house, every outside area, every accessory, even a board for different types of clothes.  She will pin one picture to umpteen different boards.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore, and I asked her why.  Why, in the name of all that is good on God's green earth, does she file away all these pictures?

Her answer is simple.  She likes pretty things.

Debbie takes the challenges she has faced in life and turns them into opportunities to grow, and she seeks the positive lesson in every situation.  She knows the world can be an ugly place, so she wants to make it pretty.  She is even dreaming of starting a website that connects people with pretty things, hence all the Pinterest boards and files full of ripped out pages.  She believes in beautiful things, and wants to share them.  I will only grudgingly admit that I admire her for it.

I like to simplify my world, remove all the clutter so I can clear my mind and my time to focus on things that matter.  Debbie likes to fill her world with beautiful colors, textures, fabrics, art, and music to fill her mind and heart with beauty.  I run away from the world; Debbie runs into it full-speed and embraces every moment filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly, because she has the amazing ability to find something good in everything.

Debbie is a beautiful, smart, strong, and joyful woman.

That being said, Debbie is also kind of a wimp, though I had no comprehension of the depth of her wimpiness  prior to this trip, and I've known her for 20 years. She claims she is not a camper, but I know she likes camping with me and Rooney.  Because she loves pretty things, which I really mean as a compliment, when Debbie comes, I glamp up the campsite.  For her, I'd do anything.

Having previously set up my glampsite, I woke early on Sunday to freshen things up and take care of a few necessities before she arrived.  I started inside the camper, kicking an unhappy Rooney outside and cleaning all the surfaces with organic orange cleaner (not so much because I'm an environmentalist, more because it smells really good) then vacuumed the significant amount of dog hair left by Rooney in the rugs and on Rooney's, oops! I mean, Debbie's bed.  Then I showered, started a fresh pot of coffee, and headed outside.

Rooney had been howling the entire time I was in the camper, because he gets very upset when he can't see me.  So I gave him a bone to chew and went to work cleaning the tables outside, adding water to the wildflowers in a vase, watering the mums, and sweeping the mats.  I filled the empty wine bottles with lamp oil, put the hurricane lamps on them, and took a final look to make sure everything was pretty and perfect, just like Debbie.

Courtesy Google Images
I then made five trips to the water pump with my 7-gallon water jug to use it to fill the tin can with water.  Of course, every time I walked away with the empty jug, Rooney howled until I returned to the campsite with a full jug.  I kept thinking there has to be a way to design a harness for Rooney to carry the jug on his back.  Then I could just walk him up to the pump, fill the jug, and let him carry it back.  Maybe next year I'll figure that out.

Then I had to perform the unpleasant task of dumping my black tank into an external tank, and hauling it up that steep hill in the campground to the dump station.  Last year, I invested in the Thetford top-of-the-line external dump tank, a spectacular device that makes this "crappy" chore much easier.  I love the swivel wheel in the front which makes it so easy to maneuver the tank away from the camper and over to the car, and the design which allows me to raise the handle on the tank and hook it over my vehicles hitch, without having to lift the tank.  I drove to the dump station pulling the Thetford tank behind, dumped, and after hosing down the tank, drove back.

Whew!  By now it was noon, and I only had a couple of hours before Debbie arrived, so I loaded Rooney in the car and drove to Paradise for firewood.  Filling the back of my car with loose wood, I inspected each piece for snakes before throwing it into my vehicle, and again the guy who sold me the wood said,

 "It's too cold for snakes, trust me."

I arrived back at camp with a good supply of firewood, stacked it all outside, then surveyed my surroundings.  Debbie would arrive any minute, and as I looked around at my clean glampsite, with the river running swiftly below us, the sun shining through the trees, and a fire crackling, I knew she would be happy here.
Okay, I don't actually stack my firewood like Gary Tallman of Montana, but his website has inspired me!

Filling a basket with butter toffee peanuts, I put it on the table by the fire, grabbed a book, and sat down to read and wait for my friend.  I didn't wait long, for five minutes later she pulled in!  Debbie is here, Debbie is here, Debbie is here!

Courtesy of Google Images

She didn't even unload anything from her car, instead Debbie went straight to her camp chair to unwind and enjoy the fire.  I asked about her trip up, just to be polite, and was shocked at her level of anxiety regarding this trip.  By the time she reached Clare, two hours south of the Mackinac Bridge, she was having panic attacks about driving over the bridge.  She had never driven over the Big Mac and was terrified.  She said she kept envisioning the conversation she would have with the toll booth attendant where she expressed her fears and the attendant kindly offered to drive her vehicle for her.  I thought, "Uh oh, she was in trouble".  She then rather indignantly told me that before she knew it, she was actually on the bridge, thinking, "where is the damn toll booth?!"  I had neglected to include, in my pages of instructions for Debbie, the fact that the toll booth is on the other side of the bridge, in the U.P.  Debbie proclaimed, 

"Well, the toll booth is on the wrong side!"  

Courtesy of Google Images

She made it over the bridge without plunging off the side by focusing on the taillights of the car in front of her.  Good call, Debbie.  Once she reached the other side, her relief at having crossed the bridge was so great that she stopped to buy a Diet Pepsi and celebrate.  Per my instructions, she knew that the rest of the trip would be unencumbered by McDonald's and Gas Stations at every corner, so after fueling her thirst and her gas tank in St. Ignace, she began the best part of the journey, driving up M-123 to Paradise.

Debbie enjoyed the rest of the drive, but as is normally the case, she was unable to take in much of the surroundings because she was busy following my pages and pages of directions.  She did comment that the only restaurant she saw on the way was called "The Bear Butt Bar and Grill".  At this point, Debbie was really wondering what I had gotten her into!  
Courtesy of Google Images

I told Debbie of my desire to retrace my hike to Clark Lake with her.  Because I had managed to post the picture of the bear from Oswald's Bear Ranch, with no explanation, Debbie had seen it and assumed, as I hoped she would, that I had seen the bear while hiking.  I began telling her a rather embellished story of my quest for the bear, when she interrupted me with objections to following in my footsteps.  When I got to the part about seeing the sign on the side of the road for Oswalds, she was visibly relieved, but still nervous about the next day's hike.

I had talked to so many locals, and DNR officers, about the bear, and repeated to Debbie what I had learned from them.

"We won't see a bear, Debbie.  Trust me."

Debbie reminded me that I had neglected to tell her the toll booth is on the wrong side, so trust was apparently becoming an issue for her.  She was far more nervous about our foray into the wilderness than I realized, and started expressing all her fears.

Debbie:  "What about mountain lions?  My husband said there are mountain lions here."

Courtesy of Google Images

Me: "Your husband is just trying to scare you.  There are no mountain lions here.  Trust me."

Debbie:  "What about snakes?"  (She shares my phobia)

Me:  "It's too cold for the snakes to come out.  Trust me."

Debbie:  "There are moose up here.  What if they charge us?"

Me:  "We would be lucky to see a moose, but we won't.  Trust me."
Courtesy of Google Images

Debbie:  "What if we get lost?  There are no cell phone signals here!  What if we bump into evil hunters?  What about foxes and coyotes?  And WOLVES?"

Me:  "Trust me, we will be fine."

Later, Debbie unloaded her car, and carried in a lot of food.  Why did she bring all this fancy food?  I have nuts and M&M's and soup, what more do we need?  But she brought fancy cheeses and crackers, pasta salads, veggie salads, scrambled egg casseroles, and wine.  Lots of wine.  I don't even drink wine.  When she stepped outside to get more things from her car, she called out that Rooney was eating the entire basket of butter toffee peanuts I had set out for us.  Uh oh.  This could be bad.

My Bed
Once we had her all settled in, I showed her how to make her bed.  Sleeping in the tin can is an almost holy experience for me.  My bed is in the back of the camper, and stays made up with my bedding all the time.  I have very nice bedding for the tin can, it is my one weakness for "fancy", and my bed is heavenly.  For Debbie, I have to put down the table and pull out the couch in the front of the camper to make her bed each night, but this year I left the sleeping bags at home and also made her bed with fancy bedding.  Once we were both comfortably resting in our beds, with Rooney giving Debbie dirty looks from the floor, she called out to me,

"I brought a wilderness survival guide.  I am going to read a few things to you."
Debbie's Bed

Oh boy.  For the next hour, Debbie read to me the safe and proper way to handle many situations.  We learned the following procedures:

1. How to Scare Away a Bear (You know, the bear we won't see?)
2. How to Avoid a Charging Bull (we substituted Moose for Bull, but I had a hard time picturing Debbie in black pants and shirt waving a red flag at a Moose)
3. How to Defend Against a Mountain Lion Attack (if a mountain lion jumps on our backs from a tree, I'd say this section was pretty useless)
4. How to Survive in Quicksand (Hmmmm….)
This isn't really the Mackinac Bridge, but you get the idea!
Courtesy of Google Images
5. How to Survive in a Car Plunging Off a Bridge (Remember the photo from my earlier post of a barge passing beneath the bridge?  Well, now if a barge is too tall and hits the Big Mac while one of us in driving over it, we will know what to do.   Scream.)
6. How to Survive a Jump or Fall from a Bridge (As if either one of us would be in the right frame of mind to remember to clench our butt cheeks as we hit the water.  Seriously, that's what the guide told us to do.)
7. How to Survive a Poisonous Snake Bite (Doesn't matter, we will both have died from a heart attack at this point)
8. How to Survive a Bullet Wound (Okay, so I do carry a gun, but I really don't plan to shoot Debbie with it.)

There were more, but you get the idea.  Debbie was scared.  Wimp.

Before we fell asleep, I commanded Rooney not to throw up half-digested butter toffee peanuts in my camper, and I revised my plan for tomorrow.  I promised Debbie I would drive us all the way to the parking area (I was pretty sure I could make it with four-wheel drive), and from there it would only be a quick ten-minute hike to Clark Lake.  I told her that the other places I wanted to explore could be driven to, instead of my usual hiking, and that she could stay in the Yukon anytime she felt uncomfortable getting out to explore.  I had a full tank of gas, we weren't going that far, and we wouldn't see any wild animals.

"Trust me."

Courtesy of Google Images

Friday, October 19, 2012

Part 2 - We're Not In Kansas Anymore

I left you last with the image of a beautiful campsite and a peaceful night.  This trip to the U.P. was one that I had planned for a long time and looked forward to with much anticipation, and like so many things you dream of, the reality did not match the fantasy.  It was way better!

Friday morning I had to drive 38 miles to Newberry for gas.  Every place I stopped, I asked the locals about bear sightings.  I told them that I planned to do quite a bit of hiking and was hoping to see a bear in its natural habitat.  They all had wonderful advice for me, but always ended with "But you won't see a bear.  They're here, but trust me, you won't see one".  I guess bear sightings are not common, because the bear have not become habituated to humans and will hear and smell us long before we see them.  Still, I remained hopeful.

Heading back up 123, I passed Tahquamenon's Rivermouth, and pulled into the rustic camping area there to check it out.  I am a huge fan of rustic camping, though I rarely do it much anymore, because I'm getting older and sleeping on the cold ground with the snakes and a pesky shoulder injury is not as fun as it used to be, but the beauty of this camping area could be enough to make me give it another try.  Then I drove through Paradise, headed west, and Rooney and I arrived back at camp by 2:00pm.  We explored the riverbank for about three hours, made our way back to camp, ate, and I settled in with a good fire and my laptop to plan the next day.

On a side note, internet service in the U.P. is…well, honestly, it isn't.  I have a mobile hotspot app on my phone, but cellular service is almost non-existant.  Almost, but if you're lucky, and the clouds are hanging at the right altitude and the wind speed is between 5-7mph and there are enough breaks in the clouds and you place your phone in one spot (the trick is finding that one spot) and patiently wait, you can get a signal, only if you are a Verizon customer, for brief flashes of time.

Which is what I did.  I found that in the evening, if I placed my cell phone upright in the front right window of the tin can, I could get a weak signal, but only if the light switch for the camper was turned on.  Don't ask me why, but if I turned off the light, I lost the signal, and the phone wasn't even plugged into the charger.  So with the light on and the phone strategically placed, I enabled the hotspot and fired up the internet on my laptop to check satellite maps for unmarked trails of interest.  As I drew a crude map to use, the wind blew and the signal went out.  In order to restore the signal, I found, through trial and error, that I had to shut down the computer, shut down my phone, wait five minutes, turn the phone on first, wait for the signal, activate the hotspot, then turn the laptop on, manually search for the internet signal, then I was good to go!  I filled in a few more spots on my hand-written map, sneezed, and the signal went out.  Going through the whole process again, fifteen minutes later I was once again online until a cloud covered the moon and I lost the signal again.  I gave up, threw my map into the bonfire, and decided to wing it.  Rooney and I went to bed early, because tomorrow was the day I had waited for, the day I had dreamed of for months, the day I would walk the northeastern corner of the U.P.

Saturday dawned bright and cold.  The temperature was perfectly chilly, since I have heard tales of large poisonous flesh-eating snakes that attack without warning by dropping from trees (maybe I wasn't told that, it could be my imagination) and the guy I bought firewood from in Paradise assured me that it was too cold for snakes, and "snakes won't come out unless it hits 70 degrees, trust me".  So I plugged in my little TV, played with my antenna, and got fuzzy reception on the only station available, in Canada.  Keep in mind, Canada is on the metric system, so while I obsessively waited for a local weather report on a station with spotty reception at best, I neglected to consider that the predicted temperatures would be measured by Canadian standards.

When the weatherman predicted a high this day of 17 degrees, eh? I did not know what that meant.  Would it reach 70 F or not?  I could have gotten on the internet to convert the prediction, but that would have taken an hour, so I decided it felt pretty cold and I would be safe from gigantic snakes with a personal vengeance for women and Newfoundlands.

I was so excited to begin my journey!  Rooney and I drove just a few miles up the road to a two-track, where the map had indicated a parking area just off the road.  Michigan's DNR is usually reliable for marking trails and parking areas, so I was a little surprised when I started down the track in my Yukon and did not find a parking area.  I drove a bit, wondering "Where is the damn parking area?" The surface was getting a bit dicey for driving when I came upon a small clearing to the side, big enough for about 4 vehicles.  Even though there was no sign, I assumed this was the parking area and pulled in.  I gathered my pack and extra water for Rooney, then set off on foot.

What a glorious day it was!  Cool, but with clear skies, the sunshine bouncing off dew-laden leaves and sending out pinpoints of jeweled light.  It was so quiet, too, with only the sounds of birds I had never heard before calling, and the occasional quail skittering about in the brush.  Rooney and I walked at a relaxed pace, and we had not gone far when I noticed a track in my path.  Bear!  How exciting!  The bear tracks went on for quite some time, sometimes veering off to the left or right, then showing up again 10 -15 feet further down the path.  Rooney stopped to sniff, discovering a fairly recent pile of droppings.  My excitement growing, I thought we were about 30-60 minutes behind the bear, and I had high hopes of seeing one and crossing another item off my bucket list.

We had been walking for about 45 minutes, following the bear tracks, when suddenly Rooney froze!  The hair on his back stood straight up, he lowered his head, and from his throat came a low, quiet growl.  At this very same instant, I was filled with a scent, not a particularly pleasant scent, that was unfamiliar to me.  It was a heavy, musky odor, kind of dirty but with a sweet smell behind it.  I knew, I just knew, it was a bear.  The tracks at my feet veered off into a low field, and Rooney was pointed that way.  I hooked his leash up, stood very still, and listened.  The scent was still very strong.  My eyes scanned the field with tall wildflowers and a few shrubs, looking for anything that seemed out of place. Was that movement?  I couldn't be sure.  Where is the damn bear? To be safe, I scanned the trees behind me, seeing nothing, and turned my attention back to the field.  Rooney whined and strained against the leash, but I held him tight and close to my side.  After a time, he relaxed, and we moved on.

A while after that, having seen no more bear tracks and wondering if I had been close, we came upon the parking area that the map had shown as being just off the road.  I had just walked an hour's worth of two-track that I could have driven, but I never would have seen those bear tracks from the vehicle so I didn't mind.  A large sign announced the beginning of the single-track trail to Clark Lake.

My quest to Clark Lake has a story behind it that is deeply personal.  For years, I was part of a community at a different Clark Lake, downstate, but recently experienced a world of hurt there.  I was seeking, more philosophically than literally, a new Clark Lake, a place that could heal me and restore my faith in people.

On the path, I had to pay attention to my footing, because it was a steep and sandy trail punctuated with gnarly tree roots and stones.  I reached the top of a steep hill, coming upon a man-made shelter that beckoned me to come inside and rest.  I caught a glimpse of the lake from this natural campsite, so after giving myself just a few minutes to explore the shelter, I forged on.  When I finally got my first clear view of Clark Lake, I was awed!  It's much bigger, and far more beautiful, than the other Clark Lake.  Finding a spot to sit, Rooney and I took in the stillness, the peace, the beauty, the quiet, and I was able to open my heart to God and have a good long talk with Him about my path to forgiveness.  This is the Clark Lake I want to live on!  But God, and the DNR, have different plans, so I stayed as long as I could, listening to the wind and hearing God's healing words, feeling His loving hand on my shoulder, crying a little bit, and asking Him for a sign to guide me.  As I was standing up to leave, I practically stumbled into another hiker, who was as shocked to see me as I was him.  He came from the direction I was headed, and explained to me that he and some friends were backcountry camping on the bluff overlooking Clark Lake, and he asked me what I was doing there.  As I tried to explain, he said to me, "Wait, are you talking about the Clark Lake near Brooklyn?"  It turns out that not only was he from my hometown, his job as a local official led him to inspect and give the license to our family business on the other Clark Lake, the one I was running away from.  Are you kidding me, God?  I ask You for a sign, and the only person I see in two days of hiking would have ties to Clark Lake?  What does that mean?

But he was a nice enough guy, and we talked for a long time about the serenity of this Clark Lake, and his experience camping in a tent that hangs from a tree overlooking the lake in a place where few people ever venture.  As I continued on, I saw his campsite, it was heavenly.  I have yet to figure out why I ran into that guy, at that time, in that place, but eventually I suppose it will all come to light.

I wandered off the single track from time to time.  For the next 5 hours, I explored, I listened, I saw beautiful things.  A few times I think I was lost, but I'm pretty good with direction and eventually found my way back to the two-track I drove (walked) in on.  During the day I had come upon several smaller lakes that weren't on any map, some beautiful wildflowers, and many interesting birds.  I scared a few deer, which had Rooney off and running, but he couldn't catch up to play with them.  Once I got back on the two track, I retraced my steps and followed the bear tracks once again, but never saw one.  I know it was somewhere near, but would not allow me to see it.

By this time, Rooney was worn out.  After drinking some water, we reached the Yukon to drive to the next trailhead.  We only had about 3 hours of daylight left, I thought this might be a good time of day to see a moose or a bear.  I really, really wanted to find a bear.  Driving northwest, I parked at a snowmobile trailhead, left Rooney passed out in the car, and hit the dirt in search of wild animals.  Again, I followed some bear tracks, this one smaller, and held out hope that I might see one.  I walked for about two hours on parts of the Wilderness Trail, then looped back to the car, feeling dejected that no bear chose to reveal himself to me.  Where was that damn bear?

I drove up to Muskellunge Lake, spent some time walking around, then took a dirt road as a shortcut back to camp.  It was then, late in the afternoon, when I wasn't even looking, that I saw it.  It was shockingly right in front of my Yukon, on the side of the road.  With awe and reverence, I slowed down for a closer look…and saw….

Wait for it……..

YES!  I saw…….


I did a quick turn onto the dirt drive to Oswald's Bear Ranch, parked, paid my $10, and spent the next half hour standing on a viewing platform just waiting for a mama bear to walk far enough away from the 20 ft. high perimeter fence that held enough voltage to kill…well, a bear.  Finally, I got my photo of a bear in it's natural environment to send home and freak out my family and friends.

Oswald's Bear Ranch is a popular place to go, with good reason.  The owners accept bears from the DNR and other agencies who will not survive in the wilderness without intervention.  They care for them and give them a home in their natural environment (even though it's fenced in) so that the bears can live the way a bear should live.  Of course, they do become accepting of humans and will beg for visitors to throw an apple over the fence, but that's unavoidable in such a setting.  It was fun to watch the males defending their territory, watch the females nose around hidey-holes, and the cubs growl at each other, play-fighting.  There are distinct roles each of the bear plays at Oswald's, much like they would if they were roaming free, and it didn't take long to identify their roles.  The day after I was there, they closed for the season so the bears could be allowed to clear their dens, which were all part of the natural habitat, and prepare to hibernate.  In the Spring, Oswald's will re-open.  I think I'd like to go back then.

Rooney was not allowed out of the car at Oswald's (I think the owners were worried someone would mistake him for a bear and be frightened) but he was still pretty tired from all our hiking, so he was fine.  We arrived back at camp after dark, exhausted but content.

It had been a great day.  My dream was to explore the wilderness on foot (mostly) and see things I hadn't seen before, immersing myself in nature with no intrusion from people, and except for the man-sent-from-God-as-a-sign-I-don't-understand, I saw no one on my hikes.  How lucky I am to have a place in my own home State that is so pure, so beautiful, and so peaceful.  I am not in Kansas, I am in the "other" Michigan, where TV's and computers and cell phones don't work, convenience stores are impossible to find, the bear hides and the eagle soars and lakes are clean.  It was a good day for leaving everything behind while focusing on what is around me, that which God made and man has not ruined yet.  It was a day for thinking about all the things I can learn out here, lessons that will stay in my heart and help me be a better person when I return home.

I have struggled to express the magnitude of what I learn about myself in the wilderness.  What I can say is that my time spent hiking alone, with my dog at my side, strengthens me and frees my mind to consider the role I play in my own life and that of my family and friends.  It allows me to not just see myself more clearly, faults and all, but to see myself the way I want to be as a more generous, kind and patient woman.  I am a solitary soul in the woods, but I am not alone.  It is here that I can see God, and be inspired to do more and love more and be more.  It is here that I find peace, and every time I go, I carry that peace with me when I return home.

I hope you are enjoying my story so far.  I still have so much more to tell!  For now, I will give you a little teaser…

When someone says "Trust Me", don't!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

I recently returned from a nine day trek throughout the Northeastern corner of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and I experienced so many amazing things that my outline already has my story broken into at least five posts!  This first post in the series recalls the beginning of my journey, prior to the days my friend Debbie joined me.  It was a solitary time of exploration, both of the land and of my heart, and I am excited to share it with my few real readers (thanks again!) and my thousands of imaginary ones.

Photo Courtesy of Bob Stovall
The drive from southern Michigan to the U.P. should take about 5 hours, but because I can never be without a hot cup of coffee, resulting in frequent stops, it takes me about 7 hours, and with each passing mile I felt less stress, less shoulder pain, and more clarity in my thoughts.  With Eddie Vedder playing on the iPod, I made my customary final stop before crossing the Big Mac at the Mackinac Rest Area, to climb with a reluctant Rooney up the steep trail to the scenic overlook.  It's a bit of a ritual to look out over miles of treetops, take a deep breath, and simply be in the moment.  Then it's off to the bridge, which used to be a source of anxiety but I have now gotten so used to hauling the tin can over the grates that I can actually look out at Lake Huron on my right and Lake Michigan on my left and enjoy the stunning view from the crest of Big Mac.

I will admit, a ship passing underneath gives me a brief flash of it crashing into the bridge, but that story comes later.

As I drove over the bridge and entered the U.P., I said to Rooney, "Hey buddy, we're not in Kansas anymore".  That's what I always think when I enter the U.P., because it is a place like no other, removed from what we consider the civilized world and into a world that is a bit behind the times, yet more civil than home. I had gotten a late start on my day, so I decided to stop at the Straits State Park for the night.  Bad decision.  It was raining, and I had so much stuff packed in the trailer for "glamping up" my campsite that I had to pull out the awning on Twinkie and unload wicker furniture and a little red wagon just to get in the camper.  I didn't even unhook from the Yukon, I planned to just sleep and get up early, leave by 8:00am for my real destination.

I turned on the first of two full propane tanks, fired up the furnace in the tin can, and settled into my dreamy bed to read and listen to the rain.  The temperature was predicted to drop to 34 F that night, but I was warm in bed.  However, I could not sleep.  I was a little depressed, and very anxious to get to Tahquamenon Falls, frustrated that I had to stop for the night.  After a restless night, I woke in the morning to one compelling thought; I was freezing!  The furnace had gone out, and would not restart.  After packing everything back into the camper, I stopped at the ranger station and asked for advice on somewhere to go in St. Ignace for furnace repair.  Each place I went to sent me somewhere else, always maneuvering the tin can into tight parking areas.  Finally, at the fifth stop, the Mackinac Heating and Cooling owner came outside, checked a few things, and discovered my propane connection had shaken loose underneath the camper.  He fixed it in two minutes, refused to let me pay him (I think he kind of admired me for heading into the wilderness alone) and I was on my way, three hours later than planned.  It was all good though, because my next stop would be Tahquamenon!  I bought a large fresh cup of coffee in St. Ignace, and fifteen minutes later took the exit for M-123, at which point there would be nowhere to stop for coffee or a bathroom until I reached my campsite.

Arriving at Tahquamenon Falls State Park Lower Falls Campground, I was surprised to see a long line of campers in front of me, waiting to check in.  What were all these people doing here?  I was supposed to be camping in a sparsely populated campground in the Fall!  Don't these people know it gets cold up here?  And there are bears?  Geez.  I was lamenting all of this to Rooney, because I frequently talk to my dog on long solitary trips as if he is a person, when I noticed the license plate on the camper in front of me.  Kansas.  Hey, people, you're not in Kansas anymore!  Rooney and I got a good laugh out of that.

When my turn came in line, I was in for another surprise.  Most state campgrounds in Michigan have a "site specific" reservation system, meaning when you reserve online you can choose a specific site.  I like that system.  A few though, including Tahquamenon, are not site specific and you just make a general reservation for the time you will be there.  I assumed that I would check-in, and the ranger would show me the available sites on a map, and I would pick one.  That seems logical.  But we weren't in Kansas anymore, and they do things a little differently in the U.P.  When I pulled up, the ranger told me to drive to the lower loop, pick any campsite that didn't have a camper or tent on it, drive back up the hill, park, and let him know which site I would be on.  As I pulled out to roll down the big hill, it suddenly occurred to me that the five campers in front of me were also driving around, picking their site.  What if one of them took the site I wanted?  Oh crap.  I drove into the campground loop, quickly found my perfect site, but based on the surprisingly low number of empty sites, I had to assume that one of the five in front of me had chosen this site as well.  Looking for a shortcut to head off in front of the other drivers, I felt like Ben Stiller in "Meet The Parents" when he was racing his future father-in-law home from the restaurant.  I cut through a one-way campground drive, going the wrong way, cursing at the dog-walker in front of me who wouldn't move out of the drive, cutting my eyes over to the two campers going the right way on the next drive over.  One looked like he was heading back out, the other was still surveying sites.  As soon as the dog-walker stopped to let her dog sniff a tree, I swerved around her and pulled forward like a bat out of hell, darn it! the other camper was in front of me!  When I got to the top of the hill, I tried to beat that other camper into the ranger station, but he and his wife walked in just ahead of me.  I held my breath as the ranger asked them which site they wanted, he paused, looked at his wife, and said "5".  Yay!  I wanted 4.  We would be neighbors.

After checking in and happily driving back down the hill to the Riversbend loop, I figured out why my new neighbors didn't take site 4.  In my haste to quickly assess sites, looking for the right view and privacy and pretty trees, I neglected to notice that in order to back into site 4, I had to turn the camper at a 90 degree angle and squeeze the tin can between two very large trees, with about 6" clearance on either side.  It took me 6 attempts, with my new neighbor watching me and shaking his head like I'm just a dumb woman, but I got Twinkie in.  I wasn't sure how I would pull her out, but I had 8 days before I had to worry about that!

It was already 1:00 in the afternoon, and I had a lot of work to do!  Normally, I camp simply, but the one time each year Debbie joins me, I "glamp" up, because Debbie is not, by nature, a camper, and I try to make our surroundings really nice for her.  First thing, I got out of the Yukon, shouted to my neighbor "I got her in!", he laughed, then I hooked Rooney on his lead line and hooked the other end to the picnic table.  Rooney can run away and pull a large picnic table behind him, but he only does that if I try to walk away from the site without him.  I gave myself a moment to take in my site.  Standing next to Rooney, I planned where to hang my bamboo fencing, how to set up my chairs and wine bottle hurricane lamps, then I turned and went still as I saw the view behind my site.

I could look right down at the Tahquamenon River from my site, and hear the lower falls that were cascading just around the bend.  Peace.  I was filled with peace.

It took me several hours to set up camp, but the finished result was worth it for Debbie.

My campsite selection is very important to me.  I need some privacy, a view, the ability to place Rooney's lead line where he can sit next to me by the fire, but not get too close to set himself on fire, which he has done before.  I need trees spaced just right to hang the fence.  I need to be close to the water spigot, so Rooney can see me when I fill my jug with water.  (Otherwise he runs after me, picnic table and all).  But mostly, my site has to feel right.  This site was perfect.

I always look for wildflowers, even when I'm not Glamping!
After setting up tables and seating areas that we never once used, and placing some wildflowers in a vase, I was finished.  By now, it was getting chilly, so I fired up the furnace, pleased that it seemed to be running properly, and more pleased when I didn't smell propane outside Twinkie's door.  I wasn't sure if that connection held during my race through the campground to get my site.  But it did, and the tin can was warming up.  Relieved to be done with the work, I took Rooney for a nice long walk to find his "poop path".  Wherever we go, Rooney selects one spot to do his business every day when we walk.  If I don't walk him there, he doesn't poop.  He picked his spot, thankfully not too far away from the camper, as those early morning walks were cold, and we walked on down to the lower falls.  Seeing them surrounded by Fall color again gave me the sense that I was in the right place for this moment.  Even Rooney seemed quite content!

I had planned to include more in this first post, but I have been criticized before for writing long posts, so I think I will end this with a few last thoughts and write the rest in another few days.
My camp was set up, Rooney and I had walked, we had both eaten, the campfire was dying and the sun had set on this long day.  I was so full of anticipation for the rest of this trip, but also wanted to make sure I wasn't missing a moment while looking ahead.  The moon was almost full, and I wanted to take the steep path behind my tin can down to the river.  Rooney was worn out, so I put him in the camper while he checked his emails and updated his Facebook status (just kidding, he wasn't really doing that.  At least, I don't think he was really doing that).  Using only the moonlight to guide my steps, I walked down to the River, sat on the bank, and thanked God for this opportunity, this beautiful place, and a full life.  I wasn't in Kansas anymore, but I was home.